Thursday, July 28, 2016

Success and Who You Are

by Annabeth Leong

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever read was about how a character has to want something, and that something ought to be more interesting than “to stay alive.” (This advice was from Holly Lisle). In romance and erotica, I’d argue that an addendum is needed: the something the character wants ought to be more interesting than “to fall in love” or “to get laid” as well. Basically, the way I read this is that a character ought to want something beyond the basic laws of the genre, because that’s what makes them actually have character.

I thought about this very explicitly for my book The Fugitive’s Sexy Brother (which I’m not linking to because I’ve requested rights back, and it now needs to be re-released). In that book, my heroine wants to make enough money with bounty hunting to pay her rent. My hero wants to prove to his brother that being good with computers is a legitimate way to be strong. My villain wants to keep his sexy car (a Lotus Elite 2008, California Edition) from being repossessed.

As I considered our topic, I realized that all of those wants are ways of defining what success means to each of these people. For the heroine, it’s paying rent through a chosen profession (one which is, like ours, prone to unpredictable income). For the hero, it’s recognition from his brother. For the villain, it’s driving that car around.

So when designing these characters and pushing myself to go beyond basic survival or finding love, I would up focusing on success.

Success, I think, is that feeling that we’re okay the way we are, that we’ve done the right thing with ourselves, and that other people can see it, too. There’s obviously overlap in what makes people feel we’ve arrived (money often helps!), but the stuff that really gets inside us is personal.

It’s that one ostentatious purchase, that one stubborn person coming around, or being able to write that one particular check. It’s character-defining.

(I’m keeping this short this time—now that I’m home again, I have a lot of family stuff going on. I hope all of you are well! I enjoyed reading your posts on the topic, and I hope to come back to commenting soon! <3)

10 comments:

  1. That looks like a good definition of success, Annabeth, and it helps explain why other people's perceptions of someone as a success or a failure are often irrelevant to that person's experience.

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    1. Thanks! Yes, I've thought a lot about why those disparities so often come up.

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  2. You said:
    Success, I think, is that feeling that we’re okay the way we are, that we’ve done the right thing with ourselves, and that other people can see it, too.

    That's a pretty good gauge of success. If we're happy with ourselves, it does make things easier.

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    1. And the dark side of that is that sometimes it's near impossible to be happy with ourselves...

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  3. Welcome back, Annabeth!

    This is a nice, neat definition. Success is getting what you want. Of course, sometimes when you do, you discover that you were wrong about what you truly desired.

    Which makes an interesting plot conflict in itself.

    I just finished Giselle's Anonymous, which is a perfect example.

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    1. Thanks! Still working on feeling back, but glad to be here. :)

      It's a weird feeling to get something long-desired and realize it isn't what I expected. It makes for good novels, for sure.

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  4. When I read your definition it makes me think, I wonder, if maybe success is a matter of temperament. I've often thought monogamy is a matter of temperament, some people are cut out for it more than others. Maybe some people are cut out to be more comfortable in their own skin then others, while those who see the world in terms of losers and winner will never be at Peace.

    Garce

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    1. I think there's something to this. I know some people who seem naturally comfortable in the way you describe. I'm not one of them. Part of what set me on the line of thinking I wrote about here was realizing that no matter what I do I don't really feel successful. I don't know what thing would make me feel that way. That definitely seems like temperament.

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  5. Being able to feel that you've done the right thing is definitely a form of success. Or, at least, it's impossible to feel completely successful if you don't feel that you've done the right thing. I'm not sure that my own successes at that outweigh my failures, but they help.

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    1. Every little bit that those things can help is good. I've found that awards (or even nominations) actually do something for me, and lately I've tried to soak it up. I need all I can get.

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