Mind Mates: More Thoughts on Romance

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I’ve written in the past about my thoughts on romance in literature, but as I’ve been making more progress on the rewrite of my young adult romance novel, I’ve had a few more insights into what makes a good romance.

In popular romance, the soul mate is the one person who can offer a character complete fulfillment and happiness. Frankly, that makes me want to puke. Therefore, I would like to propose the replacement of this trope with something far superior— the mind mate.

I abhor romances that are all fluff and lack substance. This is especially evident in elemental romance but can also be seen in romance as a genre. The romance overflows with butterflies and weak knees, but all of that comes across as contrived when the leads are lacking a deep connection. I would much rather read about the mutual exploration of two minds than the magnetism of a new crush.

Intellectual stimulation is rarely featured in popular romance, which is a shame because intellectual stimulation is incredibly stimulating. However, even if the characters aren’t intellectual, they can still participate in mind mating. They can doubt and inspire one another and learn and reflect together. Such connections not only deepen their relationship but also enhance the likeability and realism of each individual character. A romance based on a shallow character connection is not interesting, and likewise, a character that cannot connect with other characters is not interesting.

In my young adult novel, the romantic leads’ cognitive functions cause conflict between them. Rationality drives Marty’s actions whereas harmony drives Jordan’s, and they must both learn to harness their strengths while developing their weaknesses, but the fun (conflict) is in that journey. My characters don’t drool over each other or even touch one another, but they still manage to have romance and, dare I say it, an extraordinary romance, due to the mating of their minds.

In conclusion, real romance requires the syndication and resultant strengthening of two minds in the face of highly discordant cognitive functions, biases, and thought patterns. *Insert heart pounding*

A Feeling Unlike Any Other

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So, I had this little problem a few months ago. Basically, I realized that I wanted the primary theme of my book to be something other than what it was [insert face palm]. Unfortunately, that realization is necessitating months upon months of rewriting my manuscript. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was hoping to have my book ready to send to an editor by the end of this year, but there’s no way that’s going to happen anymore.

Truth is, I don’t really even mind that much. I had been really ambitious about my manuscript last spring and summer, but since then, I’ve been able to calm that ambition, which, honestly, has been for the best. While I like that I’m an ambitious person, I also dislike it sometimes. I got so caught up in accomplishing everything I wanted to with my writing that it made me very stressed and a little crazy. It’s been refreshing to put my writing in its proper place. As much as my soul yearns to share my work with others, I know that isn’t essential to my life; there are more important things in life (i.e. God, relationships.)

Also, I am much happier now that I’ve taken a new angle on my story, so it’s worth it to me that it’s taking longer to finish than I had intended. Honestly, ‘taking a new angle on my story’ probably isn’t strong enough language to describe the changes that I’m making. I am revamping the entire thing. For starters, the book is no longer for the Christian market but for the general market. It does, however, have Christian themes. While the inner journey of the main character hasn’t changed a whole lot, the plot has. It is much more intriguing and powerful than it was. It’s also a bit of a mystery now. The new plot really makes the theme resonate much more loudly than the old one did. My book was originally about the soul’s journey to becoming less self-absorbed and more selfless, which, while still thematically present in my book, no longer serves as the primary theme. The primary theme is the contrast between love as an action and love as a feeling and how both must be expressed if one wants to love virtuously.

Another big change is the character of the protagonist’s love interest. Originally, he was a gentle, quiet, deep-thinker, but now he is a snarky, neurotic, quiet, deep-thinker. I didn’t make the change because I enjoy writing snarky characters, although I do. I made it because it enhances the theme. While my protagonist embodies love as a feeling, he embodies love as an action. Although he is aloof and insensitive, he has a servant heart. My protagonist, on the other hand, feels great empathy and love for people but is selfish in her actions towards them. My protagonist and love interest’s different views of love are interesting and attractive to each other yet they are a big source of conflict. I also had to change the interest level of the love interest. I am a sucker for a second-chance romance (i.e. The Notebook), and that was what I had planned for my novel, but that no longer made sense once my theme changed. The love interest originally was crazy for my protagonist, but now she spends a lot of the book guessing whether or not he likes her. I also had to change his sense of humor. I naturally tend to give the main characters my own sense of humor, but I think it’s important to make the humor of the protagonist and love interest slightly different. Obviously, they both have to have a similar sense of humor for there to be chemistry, but they can’t be the exact same. Basically, I had to put a little extra effort into giving the love interest a snarkier, darker sense of humor than I’d normally give a love interest. And I’m not going to lie—that has been incredibly fun for me.

In other news, Splickety Publishing included my short story, A Very Bad Girl, in their Halloween issue of Havok Magazine. It was very exciting for me to be published because I had never been paid for my writing before. It felt so special to receive compensation for my creativity. When you get paid for your art, it affirms that your art has value. I’m not saying that art doesn’t have value if it’s not shared because I believe it does. However, when you get paid for your art, it makes you feel like your art has value to society, and to an artist, that is a feeling unlike any other.

If you’re interested in getting a copy of the magazine, you can purchase it here.

 

Failure to Laugh at Puns Becomes PUNishable by Law

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Social justice has finally been realized. Today, in a landmark victory for lovers of wordplay, Congress passed a law that makes pun enjoyment neglect a federal offjest.

“While I know there’s a special place in hell reserved for people who despise puns,” Senator Barb Corkley said, “It’s comforting to know that those criminals will be quipped into shape during their time here on earth.”

“Putting people in the punitentiary for this offense will make our society more fruitful. I’ve guava feeling our economy will flourish due to the increased creativity cultivated by wordplay. Trust me, this will be apearant within a couple of years,” opined Congressman Brandon Renaud.

“Since the legislation has passed, my insomnia has all but cured,” said Wanda Winkler. “I used to be a major chicken, losing sleep every night, fearful about my children’s future. But now I know that my kids will be safe because those senseless thugs won’t be able to get away with any fowl play anymore.

Rumor has it that a band of groan men are starting a grassroots campaign to obtain the same protections for the appreciation of dad jokes. With today’s victory under their belt, they are confident that they won’t get loopy in the face of the current charged political environment.

Unhappiness, Obsession, and Strength

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I feel like I constantly have to relearn the lesson that trying hard to make myself happy makes me extremely unhappy. I have always been an ambitious, goal-oriented type of person—not the type who likes to wait around. Basically, I like to make things happen. I like checking them off my checklist or deleting them from my calendar. There are many things I desire from life, and although I have been trying to do a better job of not being so selfish with my time, I’ve realized that I need to go a step further. I need to transform my mind. I hope to do so by reducing the amount of mental energy I spend obsessing over getting everything I want from life.

I truly believe that I need to wage a war on my mind. While having a thought in itself isn’t necessary sinful, I believe obsessing can be. And while none of my desires in of themselves are bad (i.e. getting my book published), putting too much hope in the happiness I will get from obtaining them is. It makes me self-centered and anxious, both of which make it impossible to pursue God and His righteousness single-mindedly. And that is what I truly desire more than anything; the only problem is that my lesser desires get in the way of this.

I don’t know about you guys, but I really want to be strong. Not physically strong but virtuously strong. I want godly virtues to be so prominent in my mind that whenever I encounter a stressor—i.e. sleep-deprivation, worry, or loneliness—I automatically react to the stressor in a virtuous manner. Virtue won’t have to be yanked out of me but rather will arise naturally from within. I wholeheartedly believe that anchoring too much of one’s happiness to something of this world counteracts this aptitude. You can’t be strong when the thing that’s grounding you is anything other than God because only God is everlasting.

Unless you cultivate a mind focused on the pursuit of virtue, your actions won’t be virtuous. You cannot expect to think one way and act a different way. You can’t focus on ungodly things and expect your actions to be godly. That’s just not how it works. So, my friends, let’s join together in focusing on the good.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

 

Quirkiness, Dry Humor, and the Lovable Rogue

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In my last post, I said that I especially enjoy writing romantic chemistry between my characters. I’d like to elaborate on what I think makes good chemistry. Last week, I finished listening to the audiobook version of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. While I loved this book for many reasons, the chemistry between the two main characters, Peter and Lara Jean, really catapulted it towards the top of my list of favorite young adult books. (Side note: When I was a teenager, I used to read books like Wuthering Heights and Far From the Madding Crowd for fun, but now that I’m an adult, I read books for teens. Ironic, no?)

Here is my secret for writing good romantic chemistry:

Make one character regularly say or do ridiculous things and make the other character regularly respond with eye-rolling to these things while secretly enjoying them.

You see this kind of chemistry everywhere. One character is the manic pixie dream girl/guy and the other character is the sour puss with the dry sense of humor. Think Luke and Lorelai from Gilmore Girls. Their chemistry works so well because she is sweet and quirky, and he always responds with dry remarks, but we all know deep down that he adores Lorelai’s quirkiness. There’s something so lovable about that type of chemistry. We want to see the quirky, cute one melt the “heart of stone” of the sarcastic, cynical one. Usually, the male is the dry one and the female is the quirky one, but it can be the other way around. For example, in The Big Bang Theory, Leonard is the lovable nerd while Penny responds to him with sarcasm.

In To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Peter tends to have a flirty, ridiculous sense of humor that Lara Jean pretends to be annoyed by, although the reader knows she secretly enjoys it. Because romances are usually marketed toward women, getting the male lead right is often more important than getting the female lead right. While women want a female lead who is kind, relatable, and funny, we read the book or watch the show for the romance and chemistry generated by the male lead. So, it is important to make him fascinating.

The most popular trope for a fascinating love interest is the lovable rogue. Think Han Solo. Or Mr. Darcy. The lovable rogue defies social conventions, speaks his mind, and thinks more highly of himself than he ought. As much as I hate to say it, it helps to write a bad boy. But the bad boy has to actually be a good guy—we just don’t know that until we get to know him more, usually towards the end of the story. Over time, it must become apparent that he has qualities that cause the reader/watcher to feel empathy towards him. Peter definitely falls in this category. He is an arrogant, popular high school jock; everyone loves him and he milks it. Yet, as the story progresses, we learn that he has a sensitive side—that he is extremely loyal—and that there is more to him than meets the eye. This is a powerful theme in general for a novel because it is so true in real life. We often judge people and overlook them rather than take the time to get to know them and learn who they really are.

As important as it is to create romantic chemistry between characters, it’s also important to create non-romantic chemistry. For example, in Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Lightsong fulfills the lovable rogue trope. While there is romantic chemistry between him and Blushweaver, who perpetually rolls her eyes at him, there is also platonic chemistry between Lightsong and his priest, Larimar. Lightsong speaks his mind and whines a lot while Larimar is perpetually patient towards him. Lightsong tries to provoke Larimar, but he rarely can. Every now and then, Larimar reacts, albeit just a tad, to something Lightsong says or does, and the chemistry between them is beyond precious.

 

Passion, Sacrifice, and Banter

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I’ve been thinking about romance a lot lately. One of my friends and I had a conversation about it a few months ago, and she was telling me that she dislikes a lot of romance in the books she reads. Also, my pastor has recently talked about how problematic the portrayal of romance in our media is. It has really gotten me thinking because I’ve always loved romance stories. I have read articles before about how too many romantic novels can be bad for the soul. I would say I agree with that. Usually, too much of anything is bad. Also, I really think it depends on the type of romance that you read/consume. I like to read romance that is cute, not erotic, that has substance, and isn’t cheesy.

As a matter of fact, the young adult romance book that I wrote five years ago, which I am currently reworking, talks quite a bit about how being obsessed with romance can be destructive. The protagonist’s obsession with romance makes her incredibly self-absorbed and causes her to make poor decisions.

I think the main issue with romance stories is that they can be self-indulgent. They feature a whirlwind of passion but often lack meaningful connection. I liked something that my pastor said recently about romance. To paraphrase, he said that the passionate, early stage of romance isn’t real romance. Real romance is drawing close to one another again and again over many years. I really liked that. The concept of fighting for intimacy in the face of difficulties, despite the costs, year after year—that sounds incredibly romantic to me. It’s the sacrifice that’s involved that really gets my heart racing. And I think that type of romance is good because it reflects God’s sacrifice and persistence in loving us.

As far as writing goes—I really enjoy writing romantic chemistry. I love putting my protagonist and love interest in opposition with each other. But most of all, I love writing the banter. I love making my characters argue with each other, surprise each other, and bond over inside jokes. The sillier, the better. If I had to give up writing action scenes, I’d be fine. But give up banter? No way!

I think romance storylines can be beautiful when done correctly, but it is good to remember that they are just that. Stories. And stories can never compare to real-life love.

Writing for Teens

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The greatest difficulty in writing for teens is making the characters sound authentic. Because a few of my writer friends also write young adult lit, I thought it’d be fun to interview my 15-year-old sister, Sarah, to give us insight into the mind of a teenager. Some questions are silly, and some are serious. Enjoy!

What makes a good story? I like what you like. A lot of comedy and romance stuff. I feel like the characters’ personalities [are most important.]

Do you have a favorite catchphrase? Wack.  It means that things are weird.

Would you say deer are cute or beautiful? I’d say more cute. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but you think of them more like a cute way like Bambi.

What advice would you give to an adult trying to write a book for teenagers? Just spend a week with teenagers. Have some teenagers be rude and some be lonely, and then there are lazy people and all these athletic people.

What is your opinion on vases? I use them. I mean—they’re something that’s just there when you need your flowers not to die. I mean—I’d rather plant flowers in a pot, but if somebody buys you flowers in a package, you can’t plant them. So, vases are all right.

Yanny or Laurel? Laurel. I mostly heard Laurel, but I sometimes heard Yanny when I was far away.

What is it like to be a teenager in today’s world? I like the clothes. The people are rude. All you hear about at school are the people who vape and drink. 15-year-olds and 13-year-olds.

Any idea why you’re so snarky? I like to have fun and laugh a lot. And being snarky is the only thing I’m good at.

What are your favorite smells? I like a lot of fall scents, so like pumpkin… I like cranberry scents. I like vanilla cupcake a lot. And beach scents like the ocean. I like the smell of Pensacola beach. I do not like lilac. Blah. It’s my least favorite. And I like the smell of pizza.

Insights/Applications:

  1. Don’t overuse slang. Sometimes authors try to pump up the slang in their books to make them more relevant to teens, but Sarah honestly doesn’t use much slang. Plus, it dates your book. Although Sarah said it is her catchphrase, I wouldn’t use the word “wack” in my novel. Even if all the kids are using it now, likely no one will know what it means in five years.
  2. Teens aren’t dumb. Some people think writing like a teenager means dumbing down your writing. That’s not true. I didn’t include this in my interview because I don’t want to get political on my blog, but Sarah and I had a good discussion about current political/social issues. A word of caution, though. Make sure that the teens in your book don’t sound overly formal/precocious. While The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite young adult book (ALL THE FEELS!!!), my one complaint is that many of the teenagers sound so overly sophisticated/eloquent that it negatively affects the believability of the store world.
  3. Add some sass/sarcasm. Both my little sister and I tend to be sarcastic, but I would say she’s more sarcastic than me. So, I jokingly asked her a question about why she is so snarky. While too much sarcasm is bad both in fiction and real life, including a consistently sarcastic character in your book is a surefire way to please teens. I am currently listening to a young adult audiobook, The Distance Between Us by Kasie West. I read it a few years ago and liked it and thought I would listen to it again while I’m working on my own YA novel for inspiration. I wanted to know what teens liked about the book, and so I read the reviews on Amazon. By far, the most-mentioned element out of all the reviews was the readers’ love of the protagonist’s sarcastic voice. I knew teens like sarcasm, but I was surprised by how much. In my opinion, here’s why Kasie West’s sarcasm worked well for her book:
  • The sarcasm is non-disparaging – Sarcasm isn’t cool when it makes fun of a people group.
  • The sarcasm is incredibly witty – If you’re going to use a lot of sarcasm, make it funny; otherwise, it’s annoying.
  • The sarcasm has a purpose – The protagonist uses sarcasm to avoid talking about her real feelings and realizes this as the story progresses.

Writing for teens isn’t easy. But writing for people just on the cusp of adulthood—when they’re deciding the values and beliefs by which they will live the rest of their lives—is worthwhile.