Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Dealing with Divas

Sometimes smack in the middle of crafting a novel, characters get bossy. They demand a new scene, a fresh perspective on their lives, and, on occasion, a story of their own.
Let's face it, women are bad enough in real life. We throw our weight around, and act like Who, me? I'd never do a thing like that.  Innocence is our currency.  We interchange it freely while doing precisely what we like.  In all fairness, I won't saddle all women with this particular characteristic, but I'll admit I do it. The real question is, how did I expect my characters to be any different?

My first experience with bossy characters occurred when I finished writing Sam James. Early in the morning, it hit me that Samantha's boss, Vanessa Sumers, had her own story to tell. I was surprised as anyone to learn that Hitler Barbie (someone not unlike Meryl Streep's character in The Devil Wears Prada) had something more than her collection of designer handbags and bad relationships to talk about.  But she did.

The idea of characters leading the author is exciting. Who knows where they might take you.
Here's where patiently dealing with divas took me:

 Excerpt from Vanessa Sumers:

Normally, it was good to be the queen.  Vanessa Sumers had the largest office on the floor, an imposingly massive mahogany desk, sleek silver chairs, and a spectacular view of the city.  Even though her desk faced away from the view, it gave her a feeling of superiority to have the city behind her.  As the queen, she was obliged to turn her back on the carefully laid out streets and shops she loved and keep an eye on her minions instead. 
Today, they needed it.
With an inner sigh, Vanessa gazed out the bank of windows and open glass door separating her inner sanctum from the main office.  The front desk—set perpendicular to Vanessa’s—was the home to her secretary.  Samantha—completely engrossed in whatever she was doing on her computer—pointedly ignored the man in a white short-sleeved shirt and tie standing on the other side of the desk. 
He cleared his throat.  When the secretary still didn’t acknowledge him, he began drumming his fingers on the desktop.  Noisily. 
This is what drives catholic nuns to rap schoolboys’ knuckles, Vanessa thought in irritation.
After a moment, the secretary glanced up. “Is there something I can do for you, sir?” She asked in a flat tone, her eyes were already back on the monitor.
                “As a matter of fact, yes,” the man replied. “I’m looking for my fiancĂ©e.  Perhaps you’ve seen her.” 
                “That mousy old thing?   I don’t know what you see in her.”       
                Vanessa saw his lips draw into a grim line.  Here we go, she thought.  Leaning over the front desk, the man thrust a finger into the secretary’s face.  “You’re talking about the woman I’m going to marry!”
                As if his outburst made him more interesting, the secretary turned to him, lifted her chin, and looked up at him through long lashes.  Wrapping her fingers around his tie, she pulled him down until their faces were inches apart.  Her voice filled with naked invitation, she said, “She doesn’t have to be.”
                Shock registered in the man’s frozen form.  Then, as if throwing caution to the wind, he pressed his lips over hers.
                Vanessa tapped furiously away at her keyboard.  The secretary’s computer emitted a loud tweet.  Without releasing her grip on his tie, the secretary flicked her gaze to the I.M. on the corner of her screen.  With a soft chuckle, she first made eye-contact with Vanessa as if they were sharing a joke (a look which Vanessa returned with disapproval) and then turned back to the man.  “Apparently this is ‘inappropriate office behavior,’” she reported.
                Tossing a crooked grin in Vanessa’s direction, he shrugged and turned to the secretary.  “Is that so?  Then she’s really not going to like this.”  With that, he placed both hands on the secretary’s face and kissed her firmly on the mouth.  Firmly and loudly.
                With lightening speed, Vanessa typed another IM. 
                Sam pulled herself far enough out of the man’s arms to glance at the message.  “She says she may vomit.” They both snickered and smiled sappily at one another.  Ick.
                “Seriously, though, Sam, is it just me, or do you keep getting better looking?” he asked, grinning in his classic lopsided manner.
                “It’s probably in direct relation to how ridiculous your ties are getting, Chris,” she said, the fabric still clasped in her fingers.  Vanessa couldn’t help be agree. Sam smoothed the tie out, her brow furrowing as she tried to make out the pattern.  “Really?  Is that a hobbit?”
                Chris yanked the tie out of her hands, a wounded look flickering across his face.  “My fashion sense is completely unappreciated here.”  He added in a mutter, “They love my ties at Dungeons and Dragons...”
                That was too much.  Vanessa attacked the keyboard once more.  Sam, already snickering, read the message aloud.  “Vanessa says she’d like to set fire to your whole collection of ties.”
                “Fine,” he said resignedly, tossing his hands in the air. “I know when I’m outnumbered.  I only came by to remind you of dinner, Sam.”
                “Perhaps I won’t be able to make it,” she replied breezily, lifting her chin in defiance.
                In a quick movement, he snatched up her left hand.  “This,” he said, indicating the diamond, “means I have first dibs on your time, missy.”
                Vanessa shook her head.  Really, what was wrong with men?  Luckily, Sam had been well-trained in how to respond to that sort of possessive behavior.
                “No, no, no, no,” Samantha replied, “That means you have great taste in jewelry.” She gazed down at the ring.  Vanessa could almost see her eyes twinkling.  Girls and diamonds, she thought.  
                “And apparently women,” Sam added, almost as an afterthought.  “Now, get out of here before Vanessa finds a legitimate reason to sack you.”  She stood up to kiss him on the cheek. 
                A feeling of pride blossomed within Vanessa at the interchange.  This certainly wasn’t the same mousy secretary who had manned the office a year ago.  Samantha was completely transformed.
                Chris made his way out of the office, Sam watching him with a small grin.  “I do enjoy watching that man walk away.” 

* * * * *
(Excerpt from Vanessa Sumers, rights reserved by the author)

Like all strong women, female characters demand our attention.  Acting on their direction may cause the plotline to spin in a completely different direction than we planned at the beginning. However, following their lead can also open new vistas that take our breath away. 


  1. I love it! I'm glad I stumbled into your blogosphere. Great imagery!

  2. Me too, auntie! I've been up & running for a few months now. And our dear Cindy is to blame for the prettiness of everything! She's a genius.