One of my goals as a writer is to write different types of stories and different types of characters so my readers get something new with each book. Of course, I’m still me so there’s a certain amount of consistency in storytelling, word usage, and sentence construction that's bound to come through. The other thing that I believe (hope) spans all of my stories is the core of my characters. My characters have a strong sense of self.
I’ve posted before about unashamedly writing happy romance. I’m proud when I hear people say my books are fluffy or smexy or low angst because I’m in this gig to make people feel good and hopeful and warm. But the reason for my low-angst snuggly stories isn’t the stories themselves, it’s the characters in them. Said another way, my stories tend to weigh in low on the drama scale because my characters weigh in high on the sense of self scale.
What do I mean by a strong sense of self? Life throws up roadblocks and impediments to everyone. Some people get way more than their fair share and some get lucky with only a minimal amount. The people I’m most drawn to in life are those who navigate the world with thoughtfulness and positivity. They don’t wallow when something goes wrong; they pick themselves up and work through it. They don’t spend their time focusing on all the bad but instead they focus on finding contentment. Those people have an inner strength, an inner optimism, an inner drive, that carries them through the bad times in a way that makes the bad less pronounced.
When I read characters like that, I see the world as they see it and their outlook is bright. They are not the sum of their worst experiences or mistakes. They may have struggled, but they’re not damaged. The characters who recognize their own worth and navigate life like they deserve to find happiness and are valuable and strong enough to keep it are the people I choose to write because I believe we can all be those people. We all deserve to like ourselves and find happiness and I hope seeing characters who do that on the page will help readers believe they can do it for themselves. I also hope the act of reading about those characters will make readers feel good because life is short and we should grasp joy in every way we can.
Occasionally I see a blog post or a social media post or an article implying that a book is more worthwhile or more intellectually challenging or more complex if it focuses on pain or drama or loss. They imply that a story that’s happy and light in its core is less meaningful, less insightful, less deep, less difficult to write. I see those things and I smile at how very wrong they are because you know what? It’s easy to find the sadness in life.
Teenage angst is called that because as youths, most of us don’t have the tools to get past the angst and struggle so we get stuck in it and all we see is the sadness. And as adults, we can fall prey to the same thing. We only have to pick up any newspaper to realize there are horrors and struggles at every turn. Conversely, happiness and optimism aren’t easy to find. In fact, I sometimes think escaping the turmoil and finding joy is the greatest life struggle we face.
The challenge in our short time on this rock isn’t figuring out how to see the problems, the injustices, the ways in which people are knocked down. The challenge is knowing those things exist, but still seeing the beauty and possibility in the world around us and in ourselves. Writing a book with a core of joy and contentment that can transcend the page and land in the reader's gut and heart is by no means simple, but my goal as a writer is to give readers characters who see the hope and beauty in life so we can witness the world through their eyes and remember that we too can find our happiness. If that’s not deep, meaningful, and worthwhile, I’m not sure what is.