In my novel, I have a 14-year-old character who is supposed to be falling in love for the first time in her life. She’s supposed to feel the things and want the boy and get all distracted and stuff . . . and that totally did not happen in the first three complete versions of the story. As it turns out, writing the romantic aspect of a story is actually my least favorite part. I’m much more comfortable writing the relationship between brothers and sisters or teachers and students than boyfriends and girlfriends.
I’m the kind of writer who goes on my own feelings (which I can manipulate to an extent to fit the mood of the scene), but also on my own memories. There’s a major problem with creating a character who’s supposed to be all twisted up over a guy when you’re in a semi-stable relationship where there is no question, no doubt whatsoever, as to where it’s heading. One of my critique partners wrote in the margins, “Who knew Devin could feel things?” at a scene where Dev basically melted when Todd came in the room. Until that point, Devin had never mentioned Todd, and after that point, the Devin/Todd relationship was basically a given. There was no tension, no build.
Part of my issue was the fact that I willfully forgot how it felt to be a teenager in love. Falling for boys in high school did not constitute a good time, as they never felt the same way and I generally made an ass of myself–also not something I plan to put Devin through. Through the years, my concepts of “the perfect relationship” changed as I muddled my way through a real relationship and pieced together who I am both with and without a significant other. These mental caricatures of myself have influenced Devin’s character development a little more, mainly in the way her focus is directed. [The following statement should probably bring me great shame] I am far more focused and centered when I’m not worried if such-and-such boy might like me, and the only time that isn’t a concern is when I’m in a relationship OR I’m so done with everything that I have literally no desire to ever date another human being again (spring semester when I was 19 was the best, hands down).
My concepts of how romance should work tend to go against me here, as well, considering I despise dating (nothing like trying to be what you think the other person wants/hiding certain aspects about yourself while simultaneously trying to figure out who the other person is as his/her core/what the other person may be hiding)(okay, so I might have a trust issue or two). In most of my writing, I tend to have my characters’ romantic relationships suddenly appear from pre-existing close friendships, and when possible, I try to skip the dating phase (because who needs to date someone when you already know everything about him/her?).
I forgot, because I use an amnesia-like coping mechanism to deal with emotional trauma, that sometimes it’s the friendships that stem from the crushes. Through many recent conversations with my brother, I remembered that some friendships are actually bred from romantic interest and pure fear of rejection (or, in Devin and Todd’s case, the friendship is sustained that way). It’s funny to watch (as an outsider) as people willingly friendzone themselves instead of taking the risk. If a relationship actually manages to occur, then dating is basically like therapy for all of the time spent stressing out.
Devin, my 14-year-old heroine, is definitely going to be the girl that does this. She has some insecurities: she’s not the best student while Todd pulls straight A’s; she’s afraid he sees her as an annoying little sister type rather than an intelligent, attractive young woman; she’s afraid he would rather date a super-feminine girl named Daisy who was raised on a farm in Savannah rather than a tomboy from the suburbs of Phoenix.
Rather than ask Todd or consider that he may also be intimidated by his own list of excuses, Devin will relegate herself to the friendzone. My next challenge, then, is to write this dynamic in such a way that my readers feel Devin’s struggle while not getting annoyed by it. That’s the great thing about fiction–in real life, your friends let the struggle go on too long and in the end, it stops being funny and you just want to smack them both. In fiction, the lady with the Word document can say, “That’s enough, annnnnnnnnnnnnnd now you’re together.”
Tell me, friends, have you ever done what Devin’s doing? How did it work out in the end? These are stories I really, really want to hear (hint: there’s a comment box if you click “Leave a comment” at the beginning of this post).