Friday, January 25, 2013

The Exhausting Heroine

As the new cat on the Alley I wanted my first post to be something deep and moving. I was praying about it and God gave me this. He sure has a great sense of humor.

So… we've all been there. You know, wishing you could stretch your hand through the pages of that open book to slap some sense into the heroine. I mean, I am a woman and I can admit that sometimes women can be exhausting! -Fictional and otherwise.

Of course there needs to be conflict in your story. I have yet to see anything worth reading take shape without a hearty helping. Often times, the conflict is the most vital ingredient to your plot. But does there have to be so much . . . drama?

Building conflict in your story is a lot like making a pizza. There is the bland, starchy foundation. We here in St. Louis go for thin crust in a big way, but for your story, the base can’t be flimsy so let’s go deep dish. Be careful not to tip your hand by revealing all the flavors and that one secret ingredient to come, but toss up something that says right off the bat why the cards are stacked against your characters. At this point, usually somewhere in the first 15-20 pages you are simply establishing that the conflict is there.

And can I just say, as a side note, I've never understood those people who think the crust is the best part of the pizza. I mean, it’s completely necessary (and delicious) but it's just one layer that begins the creation of the pizza—or the conflict. If the crust is the best part you might as well save yourself the extra calories and order breadsticks. Just sayin’!

Okay, so back to your story. Next, you make things a little saucy—throw in some spice to kick up the flavor and suddenly your conflict is more robust. Something is revealed that ups the ante and awakens the reader’s appetite. Be careful, not too much sauce because it can weaken the crust, but spoon over enough here to entice the reader to invest in how the hero and heroine are going to defy the odds.

Now you make things interesting when you start layering on the toppings. Maybe some danger, competition, doubts, betrayal. Bam! Yes, we get it. Falling in love isn't always rainbows and butterflies. Sometimes it’s a tough journey. A lesson in trust, forgiveness, or sacrifice. Or maybe even a throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-risk-it-all angle where a heart is even more exposed and vulnerable.

Things are looking pretty tasty at this point. But sometimes, an author decides to toss on a few anchovies here. This is when your main character becomes what I like to call The Exhausting Heroine. Oy, there are far too many of these! 

These are the kind of women who stand in their own way. They deny their happiness, run away, cry, lie, hide from their feelings when we, the reader, know that they will eventually put on their big girl pants and make the right decision. (The resolution is essentially the cheese—the glue that pulls all the pieces of the conflict together.)

And yes, I realize my pizza metaphor is totally out of control at this point, but let’s just go with it.

Drama can’t just be thrown in to lengthen the story, because, quite frankly, it aggravates the reader. It makes us lose sympathy for the heroine, and most often has us rolling our eyes and stifling the urge to yell at our book like a man watching a football game—berating the players who can’t hear him to let them know they are blowing the game (Or their Happily Ever After.)

You want to create a story that can pull off these self-deprecating moments and make them about something more substantial—meatier—than insecurity. We all have insecurities, don’t we? But if that hunky hero is on bended knee, handing over his devotion and his love and the girl runs off spouting “It just couldn’t work out” sob stories . . . well, sister needs a good slappin’!

Make your conflict big! Make me care, sympathize, and maybe even crave another slice of trouble before you wrap it up. Conflict doesn’t always have to be frustrating, it can be fun or suspenseful.

So, as much as I loathe a wimpy, self-sabotaging heroine, I got to thinking about how God might be able to say the same thing about me. Ouch!

You see, He is the ultimate hero. He’s offered up every part of himself, given his love, grace and forgiveness without question or pre-requisite, and yet . . . sometimes I run away. I question if I deserve a Happily Ever After. Sometimes I doubt that his plans are really for my good. Even when, like any great hero, he shows up and saves me time and again, I still have moments when I let my head commandeer a heart that knows better.

How do we get out of our own way and really live in our Happily Ever After?

Put your trust in the Hero that will never let you down. Oh, yeah, and when your prince gets down on one knee, for heaven’s sake, say YES!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...What ingredients make conflict really work for you without trying your patience? And have you ever read, or maybe even felt like, an exhausting heroine?

Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little mischief makers and would challenge anyone to a cutest family contest. Represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.


Pepper said...

I. Love. THIS!!!
(Btw, Amy that pic at the end just made me swoon from the inside out)

Okay, so now I'm cringing, because almost ALL of my heroines deal with insecurities and I need to figure out if they're exhausting or not. I totally get what you're talking's the "cheese pizza AGAIN" feeling. Too much with nothing new.

Add pepperonis already!! :-) or bacon. or sausage...any meat will do.

Great analogy. (and I'm a thin crust eater too)

Jeanne T said...

Loved this, Amy. I'm a gluten-free crust gal, so most of those are thin crusts. Just yesterday I was talking with my crit partners about a crucial part of my story, and they essentially told me I need to go deeper with my heroine, bring in a better reason for her roundedness than what I created. Oh, how I didn't want to hear that, but...they are right. So, I'm working on deepening her story and her wound. Your thoughts are what I needed today.

BTW, I love that pic at the end too. :)

Elisabeth Pettifore said...

Ugh! I HATE it when heroines do that. Let's just let the circumstances that prolong the book be just that- circumstances and out of her control. I think I've put a book down more than once because of this.
Great topic and great analogy. You made me hungry :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Great post, Amy. I love the comparisons to pizza. I'm told I need to work on the motivations behind my character's actions so the reader doesn't think she's just a glutton for punishment.

Angie said...

Oh my, are so witty and hilarious!! I LOVE this!!!! I CANT STAND a self-sabotaging heroine! Oy, is right! This past year I've tried to give my characters more motivation for their actions than just feelings. I try and make sure that internal and external struggles play a role in why they do crazy, devastating things. Your pizza analogy is great! Who wants anchovies anyway? ;)

Angie said...

You do a very good job of tying internal and external struggles so even though your heroine (she's a woman, right) has insecurities, her motivations are always tangled up with external struggles. Just sayin'!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks for weighing in ladies! So glad it's not just me :)

Pepper, from what I have read of your work you do a great job of making the characters relateable. Part of that is because those insecurities bond us, make us human and vulnerable. I love seeing that side of a heroine. Makes me feel like I am walking her struggle. The conflict, however, bodes better for me if it is intertwined with something deeper than self-doubt. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Jeanne, I go gluten-free alot too! Not a bad way to go! So glad my perspective here was helpful! Whatever makes us re-examine our stories through new eyes is a good thing. Even if it is painful. :)

Thanks for stopping by Elizabeth. It's Friday... it does kinda feel like a pizza night, huh?

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Julia, we ALL need to work on this. Sometimes it is too much about what is going on the in characters head. We need both internal and external conflicts to make a story work. External action and circumstances can propel the story much faster and keep the pages turning with more interest and less angst. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Ang, I'm glad it struck a chord. Its like the bible tells us not to exasperate our children... I wish some authors (often really talented ones) would stop exasperating me :)

We want to step in and fight for our heroines, feel what they feel, but that is difficult to do when they are simply drama queens.

Thanks sweetie!

Casey said...

I couldn't say it better than Pepper...this post is full of meaty goodness. Which is perfect for this carnivore. ;)

Beth K. Vogt said...

So happy to see you hear at the Alley, Amy!
And now ... I'm craving pizza. I must call my GF friend, Jeanne, and ask her to meet me at a local restaurant for a good GF pizza. (Yes, it can be done.)
And yes, I'm digressing ...

As I read your post, the word "plausible" came to mind. Make your plot twists plausible. Whatever your heroine does -- for goodness sakes, make it plausible. Don't drive your story ahead with a hissy fit -- drive it ahead with real tension.
Good stuff!

Lisa Jordan said...

I had pizza for lunch with the Little Darlings. Otherwise I'd be craving some right now.

I loved this post, Amy! Full of humor, sass and lots of truth! And that last photo--oh my happily ever after heart...

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Nicely said, Beth! Oh yeah, and dominoes actually has a pretty good gf crust :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

And thanks Lisa and Casey! Oh that picture was taken several years ago but it is just plain romantic. I could swoon all over again :)

Ashley Clark said...

Amy, love this blog! Overly-dramatic female characters are one of my pet peeves, and I feel like sometimes authors use them as a cop out from establishing real conflict in the story. One of the things I try to do to keep my leading ladies grounded is to make sure the stakes are believable and high enough that their reaction seems believable as well, and that it's one we identify with as readers. Great job today! :)

Debbie Stehlick said...

Well put Amy. I get really frustrated when the heroine sabotages herself over and over. I feel like shouting "Enough Already!" I want to root for her, but it gets exhausting. The conflict needs to be real. I like what Beth said about needing to be plausible. The blog was truely enjoyable.
P.S. Loved the picture-perfectly romantic:)

Karen Schravemade said...

What an awesome first post! The exhausting heroine - ummmm - methinks I might be guilty here! You've given me a lot to think about. Great stuff.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Thanks for the support, ladies! So glad this got us thinking about how to improve our stories :)

Joanne Sher said...

LOVE this post, Amy - great thoughts. SO glad you're an Alley Cat! Definitely need to ponder this stuff.

And FYI. I was NOT hungry before I started reading this post. Just sayin'...