The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.
Several of the reader comments about my novels Finding Treece (FT) and Kitty-Kat (KK) mention to chemistry between the lead characters. I have no idea how it got there, but I went back and read parts of the novels and they are right, you can feel it. I know I did not knowingly write it into the stories. As I’ve said before, I create the characters, their backstories, the situation, then let them act it out. These women connected on their own as the story unfolded.
I recently read two books in a four-book series by Anna Stone, Her Surrender (HS) and Hers to Keep (HK). In the first of these, the chemistry between the leads was palpable and drove the story. April and Vickie were two extremely strong-willed women who were on opposite sides of a proposed development project. Yet despite the fact that in the context of the story they were natural enemies, you could just feel the connection between them.
In the second, neither one of the lead characters were what could be described as strong. One, Camilla, was rich and powerful while the other, Lindsey, was not, but both were emotionally damaged and stumbled through life. Despite their similarities, I had trouble believing they belonged together. There didn’t seem to be a natural connection between the two women. The author tried. There was lots of sex, lots of I-love-you’s, but no spark. April and Vickie sizzled without the sex. Even when they were fighting you knew they belonged together.
Chemistry between real, live people is relatively easy to see. How they look at each other. How each responds to what the other does and says. How they touch, and how they react to that touch. But all we know about fictional characters is what the author tells us. Both as a reader and a writer, I am interested in how this gets communicated in the realm of the written word.
One thing I noticed in these novels is how the characters’ backstories are revealed in the book. When the novel starts, the author knows the backstory, the reader does not. In both FT and HS, Ms. A. learns Ms. B’s history at the same time as the reader. We share the ‘aha moment.’ In HK the reader is told Ms. A’s background, and related hang ups, but Ms. B is kept in the dark until she worms them out, and vice-versa. Does that make a difference? I don’t know, maybe. Perhaps by sharing with Ms. B. the discovery of Ms. A’s flaws we empathize and understand her reaction. We are going through the same process of discovery, so we identify with Ms. B.
Another difference I see in the relationships that when two women voluntarily let each other know what their hang-ups are. When they refuse to do this until it’s wheedled out of them it sends a message that the two aren’t connecting at a visceral level.
There is an early scene in FT where Treece refuses to let Dani buy her some expensive earrings. Dani is confused, and a little hurt, until Treece explains to her why she can’t let that happen. Even though Dani doesn’t agree with it, she understands. Had Treece not opened up, the reason had to do with the way her mother treated her, Dani would have felt pushed away. Instead she felt closer to Treece.
In HS Vicky explains to April that her drive for success came from her father’s rejection of her. Had she not explained, April would have continued to see her as a power-hungry executive. In HK, Camilla tries to hide her medical condition from Lindsey. Lindsey hides the fact that she abandoned her art career. There is a separation between the women that all the hot sex in the world couldn’t overcome.
In KK, after their first night together, which involved what they called ‘slightly kinky sex,’ Nan voluntarily opens up to Kat about being an exhibitionist. Had she tried to hide it, Kat would have been left confused, and possibly repelled, by her behavior. Instead she was drawn into it.
IMHO, it is the willingness to talk about the hard stuff, the hang-ups and weaknesses, that lets the reader see and feel the chemistry between two people. And by letting the reader make these discoveries as the characters make then, the author draws the reader directly into the relationship.
Progress Report: I did take up the story I’d nearly abandoned. I’ve added another character, although I haven’t used her much yet. I realized that one big problem was the timeline. It was too compressed. I’m working to get the events separated, which will make it a much better story. I don’t expect to finish it before the first of the year, but am shooting for Ground Hog Day.