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)