Friday, September 24, 2010

Third Times the What?

Revision is a necessary skill for any writer. Sometimes, no matter how carefully we plot and plan, the character dynamics just don't work out the way we planned them. It can be hard to know when you're going off the rails in the middle of a first draft, but if you're lucky, you can spot the trouble areas and fix them before you get all the way to The End.

Last week Serengeti Lightning, the third novella of my lion shapeshifter series, came out. Three is really the number of this book. I actually started writing it three different times before I finally hit on the right heroine to match the youngest Minor brother.

I knew from the start that I wanted her to be older than her heroic counterpart, but in her first iteration Mara was a tough, independent outsider introduced to the pride for the first time. She wore leather and rode a motorcycle. She would eat a sensitive (albeit muscle-bound and manly) guy like Michael Minor for lunch. In a short novella, I didn't have the pages to bring her into the world and crack the shell she'd constructed around herself. But the kiss of death was that even though I had invented her expressly for Michael, I just couldn't see them together.

Then came Mara 2.0. She was already a pride member, and while still older, she was a softer, gentler woman. This heroine was defined by longing. She wanted intensely to be loved, to have a family, to find the One. But when I tried to draw her into a relationship with Michael, I realized I couldn't figure out how I could get Mara to consider dating a guy she wouldn't take seriously as mate material. It had to begin as a fling, but in only 23,000 words, did I have the space to start a fling, have it grow into love, and then deal with the emotional fall-out of reconciling that love with the longing?

Enter Mara Ver3.0 (the keeper!). Already in the midst of a no-strings fling with Michael, Mara believes he isn't the settling down kind and decides to break it off with him in order to go after the life she really wants (with the picket fence and two point two kids). But Michael won't give her up so easily. This Mara is the pragmatic one of the relationship. The goal setter. The organized thinker. These traits contrast Michael as the emotional core of their twosome - and provide plenty of conflict. And in the end, they balanced one another perfectly, providing a match we can believe is going to go the distance.

I'm very happy with the way this pairing turned out, but it was definitely a longer road than I had anticipated to find Michael his perfect mate.

Have you ever changed a hero or heroine mid-stream to adjust the plot or relationship dynamics? Do you ever think a hero or heroine in a book you are reading would really be better matched with someone other than their author-designated significant other?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Alpha Hound Dog: the Puckster

It is not surprising that I love Glee. And I am about to share that love, along with a whole boatload of season one spoilers.

As a teenager, I was a theater nerd. Now, I'm a high school teacher. Show tunes and sarcasm? Yes, please! I was hooked from Glee's very first moment, which featured Jane Lynch screaming belligerently into a bullhorn. I felt as if the show had been written just for me.

Yet much as I love Glee, I'm a little surprised by how hard I've fallen for Puck.

Don't get me wrong. I hated guys like him in high school and, frankly, they're still a challenge to have in class. Puck is an extreme Alpha male, flaunting his muscles and Mohawk. A bully and a jock, he throws kids in the Dumpster. He goes through girls and women like Kleenex. He expects the world to fall in line for him--and frankly, it often does. That's so frustrating! He doesn't earn his success: he manipulates or intimidates his way into it. None of these things are qualities I admire. Puck doesn't exactly scream "hero material." Frankly, he's a pig.

So why do I adore him on TV?

Because he's an entertaining pig.

I officially fell in love during the football episode, when Puck trash-talked a kid across the scrimmage line: "I slept with your mom. No really. I cleaned your pool, and then we had sex in your bed. Nice Star Wars sheets."

And therein lies Puck's greatness: he's both blunt and confident, in a way that I've never been. He doesn't think five steps ahead (will this kid try to beat me up after the game?) He says what he thinks and he does what he wants. I find that both totally alien and incredibly riveting.

Yes, Puck is consistently and unabashedly awful. But this is what makes his glimmers of vulnerability so poignant. For instance: he impregnated his best friend's girl--and yet somehow I ended up feeling bad for him. After all, the girl tells Puck to his face that he's a loser who'll never get out of town, and rejects all his offers of help. (And yes, he then goes back to man-whoring.)

He's very selfish in his love/sex life, but as a friend he's loyal. His bark might be bad, and he might mock the other Glee club members, but he bites the outsiders who threaten to hurt them. I like that, and I like Puck. There's no way in hell I'd ever want to date someone like him, but I sure love watching him on TV!

So... what's the take-away message for romance writers? Yes, there is some relevance to this post. It wasn't just a fan rant. Puck is my introductory lesson in Alpha hero boundaries and opportunities. (I tend to write beta.) Perhaps we readers/viewers can forgive a lot of belligerence so long as...

(1) The Alpha character is entertaining
(2) his actions are sometimes admirable
(3) his choices create fascinating conflict (see 1)
(4) Readers/viewers understand his motivation
(5) We occasionally see vulnerability and/or sensitivity
(6) He's smokin' hot (shallow but true...)

Hurray! I've now justified this long look at TV.

Any other
Glee fans out there? I'd love to hear about your favorite characters, episodes, lines... or, even better, any writing lessons learned from this delightful show! Any thoughts you have on Alpha heroes would also be much appreciated.