22 May 2011

Damsel in distress - believable characters and emotional balance

My writing drought unfortunately hasn't finished yet but I'm fighting it. I was going to write about learning on e-courses and online conferences but I was braindead for a several days and even looking at my keyboard made my eyelids go heavy and droop. I hoped someone would come and wave their magic wand and dispel the horrible thing, but I waited and waited and...nothing happened.

Then I read a very interesting post on Too Stupid To Live heroine on Heroes and Heartbreakers blog and thought Why don't I write about another post in Believable Characters series? It shouldn't be hard. I like writing about people I know. And who would I know better than a Damsel in Distress, since (clears her throat, embarrassed) I am a bit of one.

Key characteristic: Damsel in Distress usually lives a charmed, playful life, where there is no place for mundane problems. She has a strong sense of being special, and above and beyond rules and laws. She dances on meadows, picking flowers and chasing butterflies. She doesn't worry about paying bills, or what's for dinner. Whatever her age, she is always a little girl, who loves fun and have no sense of danger. She gets herself into trouble because she looks at the world through rose-tinted glasses or because she doesn't feel vulnerable, just like Sleeping Beauty who goes to a tower she's never known existed, speaks to an old woman she's never met before and tries something she doesn't even knows the name of (spindle).
DiD always looks young and her clothes usually emphasise this. Long, floating, flowery dresses, hats, long hair, a bunch of flowers in her hand - yes, you've got it right! DiD loves her freedom and being special. She's proud of being different.

On the other hand her youth, energy, enthusiasm for what's new, genuine curiosity for people and the world make her an attractive person. She makes friends easily and has many of them. She is a great listener, can 'read people' and is gentle. Since she needs people to support her, she avoids conflicts, keeps her opinions to herself and is a great peace keeper.
She doesn't care about the future, often she would not have a concept of future beyond the next week. She doesn't plan her life beyond the weekend. Forget marriage, children, commitments. Some Damsels in Distress forever remain damsels fading into spinsterhood with a wilted daisy chain on their head.

The black side of a DiD is a Troubled Teen (again: whatever her age) - out-of-control, ignorant, angry young woman who would get into trouble with the police, gangs, or unwanted pregnancy and expect her parents to turn up and rescue her. This type is even more selfish and manipulative than her more innocent sister. With her lack of sense of danger, feeling of being special, invincible and entitled she wastes her life away on proving (or rather not proving) her point.

Relationships: The key word is dependence. Damsel in Distress can't make decisions for herself and needs other people to lean on, feed her, entertain her, organise the life for her. She has trouble committing to one relationship and will happily jump from one to another. And since she can't live by herself, she goes from one relationship to the next straightaway, without reflecting on what went wrong with the previous one. She comes across as being innocent and vulnerable, and attracts men who want to take care of her, or who feel she's easy to domineer.

Typical backstory: Damsels I've met in real life were of two types. First one- with overprotective (or even controlling) parents, never had to grow up and take responsibility for her life - there was always someone to rescue them (usually Daddy, hence Damsels are often Daddy's Princesses). They grew up being special, for whatever reasons - be it being the only child (daughter), the youngest one, or maybe the sick one? Although they may (intellectually) know the world is a scary place, they never had a sense of it since they have always been protected.
Be mindful, there may be a serious child abuse lurking behind these lovely pictures of caring parents. The worse the abuse, the stronger the connection between the abuser and the child, and 'coming to her rescue' may be part of the game.

The other type is a child who experienced abandonment at an early stage (usually in the first 2 years); the abandonment didn't have to be of the scale of abuse or even purposeful. A typical scenario is a single full time working mother, a mother who became sick for a longer period (e.g. had to go to hospital, or was depressed) and couldn't take care of the child. The girl then had to 'fend for herself' - she's mastered how to make people look after her, but hasn't learnt the sense of real danger, or worse - since she knew how to make people do things for her she's gained a (absolutely false) sense of omnipotence, just like toddlers have.

Typical jobs: DiD loves their freedom and would hate mundane 'nine to five' jobs. She has short attention span and needs constant stimulation. DiD loves variety and hates making decisions. She is often an Eternal Student, moving from one course to another and collecting certificates, diplomas and other academic trophies. If you want to add external conflict, give your DiD a boring, repetitive office job, leaving which would require far too many decisions to make and a few people to upset.

Motivations: safety and security, but also freedom to be herself and lead whatever lifestyle she likes. She enjoys being different and would go to great lengths to emphasise it.

Biggest fears: being abandoned (yet again), left to fend and make decisions for herself ; loosing her freedom; not being special; boredom

Potential for growth: Although Damsel in Distress seems to be a little passe these days, I believe that she can be an interesting character to have in your romance novel. Not only she can be likable (unless it's the Troubled Teen you have) but there is great potential for growth!  Just imagine this sweet, helpless, spineless flower girl meeting a man who hates damsels in distress. Imagine that journey she embarks on to become a strong, assertive, independent woman and win her man's heart. All you need to do is to help her realise the world isn't as safe place as she thinks, get off her backside and start taking responsibility for her own life and future. So much room to grow.

More about Damsel in Distress in media here.

Examples from film and literature: Persefone, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen's Emma, Jane in Tarzan, many of Bond girls or my favourite DiD - Abby Harper from My Family comedy series.

Do you think there is still place for Damsels in Distress in contemporary romantic fiction? Do you like them? Or rather feel like teaching them a lesson on danger and independence?

07 May 2011

Writing drought and other misterous conditions

Since the beginning of April I have been struggling to write. At first, I though I was just tired - there were good reasons to feel so - February and March were very intensive with revisions and rewritings for my OCD book, research and attempts to get a first chapter and a synopsis finished on time for Great Beginnings contest, Alzheimer blogging competition, an online course to learn to write better synopsis, writing for this and the other blog, tweeting, and on the top of that big decisions to be made in my day job.

I thought: I need holidays. So I went to South Island. I had nice time, but came back disappointed with Fiordland. It was well below what I expected to see. Maybe except for Queenstown, which pleasantly surprised my with its autumn colours and almost European feel. This is the best photo out of 115 I took while visiting Queenstown, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, NZ
copyright by Kate Kyle

So I came back, well rested, shortlisted in Alzheimer's Blogging comp, did not submit my entry to RWNZ contest, never wrote that synopsis for the e-course, still unable to write.
I keep calling it 'writing drought' but it's not really a drought  - I have lots of ideas for novels, non-fiction books, articles and even a textbook! It's not a writer's block, because I know that if I sit for long enough I would just got it out on paper.

It may be something to do with not being able to commit myself to writing. I keep thinking: 'It's a brilliant idea I need to write that book proposal, but which publisher I send it to?' But there are so many publishers that I could submit my book proposal to, I don't know which one to chose. So I then think that I need a agent first. But I need a book proposal to submit a query about. But how do I write a book proposal if I don't have a publisher in mind. And da capo al fine.
I just can't be decide, and so I spend another evening watching one of my favourite sitcoms on DVD and pottering about, feeling like I still have time, while I don't.

Has any of you ever had a similar problem? How did you overcome it? Any ideas how to break that blimmin' vicious cycle?

01 May 2011

The Charmer - believable characters and emotional baggage

Apologies for not posting for over 2 weeks but I've been through a bit of a writing&blogging drought recently. Today it's time for another romance archetype/stereotype, but a male one for a change - The Charmer. It's the type of character closest to Victoria L. Schmidt's archetype of The Woman's Man and Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, wine, madness and ecstasy.
I have come across many charmers in romance novels. It's a prefect hero for your story because in order to stay in a relationship (for the Happily Ever After) he has to grow.

Photo by Federico Stevanin

Key characteristics: The Charmer loves women and women love him. He is a free spirit, cheeky, cocky, simply likable. He can also be kind and loyal and knows his limits. He understands women, can be their best friend, support them and encourage to become stronger and more aware of their beauty, inner strenghts or charm.
In romance novels, and certainly in those medical one I've read, The Charmer is often a lover of life and fun, and teaches the heroine how to (re)-discover simple pleasures of life, spontaneity, fun and sensuality. he is the one who embarks on crazy adventures and is keen to try new things.
If you have a heroine who has dedicated her life to her career (would work well with The Perfect Nurse), who forgotten how to or is unable to celebrate sensual pleasures or fun, a heroine who would benefit from a self-esteem boost, The Charmer is your man. He will help her change.

Relationships: Although The Charmer would do a good, loyal friend, he is unable to commit to one relationship. He loves his freedom far too much and is scared of commitment and responsibility that comes with being in a relationship. Fortunately, this is exactly who you may need for your story, because with carefully set up conflict and character's arch you can help transform The Charmer into Mr Right. Interestingly, he forms strong friendships with women, but not with men and he is often rejected by other men and society for being different, or not manly enough (which is not true).

The Charmer is a dreamer, but he often doesn't have what it takes to achieve his dreams. He doesn't worry about money and often doesn't have them. He can be moody, loves sex and can make it fun and ecstatic. He has had many women and has broken (not on purpose!) many hearts. To him, all women are beautiful. He can see their inner beauty and can help bring it up to the surface (sometimes in Pygmalion's way), but no one will ever be as good as the ideal he is looking for. The ideal has a lot to do with his mother, and The Charmer may even be aware that his ideal Miss Right is a woman who could be both - a mother and a wife to him.

Typical backstory: Typically, The Charmer had a strong and close (too strong and too close) relationship with his mother. It was her who taught him how to understand women, how to be gentle to them and how to make them happy. His father is often an absent or distant figure, with little if any influence over the boy. Often, his mother taught him that men are bad and harm women (like his father harmed his mother) - that's why The Charmer doesn't like other men.
The Charmers I've met in real life often had Femmes Fatale for mothers - there is no woman more beautiful, sexier and more charming than her. Sometimes, the mother is idealised because she died in his early life and the young man has been searching for that perfect wife who would also be a mother to him (It sounds like one of your characters, Fiona, doesn't it?).

Typical jobs: As a free spirit, The Charmer will often hover on the fringe of society. He's a dreamer without the power of commitment so you won't find him among local businessmen, or on a list of high achievers. He rarely cares about his career, so despite talents, intelligence and potential, he will rarely have a powerful job, or he may even have no proper job at all. He's more likely to live like a hippie, or some other counterculture believer. He can work in other realms and dimensions - as a Shaman, a spiritual teacher, or be a pirate, a rock star or James Bond.

Motivations: the unconditional love (or his mother/wife), the total freedom (and other dreams), the thrill of having fun; also the fear of commitment.

Biggest fears: loosing his female friends, his freedom (hence fear of commitment and jobs with lots of rules, regulations and structure) and being exposed as a weak, unambitious dreamer (hence the choice of careers where ambitions don't count); also being prosecuted by the society as not being 'man enough' (I can see a potential source for internal conflict here).

Potential for growth: in order to remain in one relationship, The Charmer needs to learn to commit and be responsible. As he has not had a good male role model, he also needs to learn to be a grown-up man in the society, whether it's related to having a family or a 'proper' career. He may also need to learn how to interact with men (and that not all men wants 'one thing' and want to harm women).

Examples from film and literature: James Bond, Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates from the Caribbean, Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing.

I admit, I like having a Charmer as a hero, because there is a lot of potential for internal and external conflict with my typical, overly committed, serious, all-work-no-joy heroine. Do you like The Charmer? Why?
What is your favourite type of hero?