Monday, October 09, 2006

Street Smart and Irina Derevko

I've writeen 5 books so far (Oreos with Chai, Desi Divas, Oreos with Chai (complete rewrite), and How to Salsa in a Sari). The first four were adult novels, and the last one a YA. Now the central heroine for all 5 of these stories was an average looking, studious brunette with a great job (in the case of the YA, excellent grades), excellent friends, no love life to speak of, and major family issues.

Hmm...who does this sound like (barring the major family issues)? Most of my main characters so far have been strange versions of me. Book-smart, homebodies with average lives. Is this normal? My characters have been born in every major junction in my life and I see so many shades of myself in each of them.

Maya in Oreos with Chai was written when I was just about to be married. The whole story is about a girl who can't seem to commit and is terrified of marriage. In the end she realizes settling with one person isn't so bad.
Sejal in Desi Divas is about a girl who idealizes marriage and wants some change in her life. In the end she realizes that the guy isn't going to make all her problems go away. I was newly married, discovering life isn't all perfect, and terribly homesick during that period in my life.
Maya in Oreos with Chai II was about a girl who was avoiding marriage in a major way in spite of pressure from her parents to give up her career and focus on the marriage. In the end she realizes that just a career doesn't make a person happy. I was at a major crossroads in my career at the time.
Malini in Salsa in a Sari is about a girl who is fiercly possessive about her mother and is afraid of the new life they are moving toward. I had just started my new job and was wondering what the future was holding.

I have a feeling I know why I have so much trouble with characterization. Since all of my heroines are versions of me, I feel that they are fleshed out people. After all, I know myself. But I don't think their personality comes across on paper the way it does in my head.

The new heroine of my next book THE SARI SISTERHOOD, Zara, is calling for me to write her. She is street-smart, take-charge, and not afraid of using her sexuality to get her way. She doesn't love to read, she doesn't feel sorry for herself when things go wrong, and she sure as hell doesn't stay at home on a Sunday night with a cup of tea and a novel. She's the type of girl who will be at a rave all night, at work at 6 am the next day and drinks her coffee black.

For those of you who watched ALIAS, I have a vision of a young Irina Derevko (Syndey Bristow's mother, BY FAR the best character on the show) as Zara Taylor. Smart, sexy, cunning, and a very gray character. Nothing black or white about her. Totally the opposite of Dona Sarkar.

Zara is someone I admire the qualities of, but know I can never pull it off. Aspiring to be my heroine...this might actually be the secret to getting this book to be my best yet :)

What about you guys. Are you characters versions of you? Or are they what you wish you could be?


Shannon McKelden said...

That's really great insight, Dona!! My characters, too, are versions of myself, but more like the core of me, not my life. None of my characters have had my life issues, but their fears or growth patterns have all been my fears and growth patterns. It's an interesting concept. I have always liked that my characters also seem to be what I have always wished to be, stronger, braver, more sure of themselves (at least in some parts of their lives).

Anyway, I hope you realization helps you out! Great seeing you this weekend!

Dona Sarkar-Mishra said...

Thanks Shannon!

I think what people say is true...we do write what we know :)

Great seeing you gals too. We should meet up for drinks in Seattle sometime!

Marley Gibson said...

I think when I first started writing, that my heroines were me. (That's probably why they didn't sell! LOL!!) But as my writing grew, I think my characters did, too. I stepped away and started creating more -- those "pretend friends" I made when I was little. I do still add quirks that are mine (I've had characters with tree nut allergies, who were in the band, who worked in events -- all things about me), but they're not me. I think the more I can pull myself out personally from my writing, the better.

Good job on figuring it out, Dona. I love all of your titles and I hope someone swoops up your YA immediately...sounds like a FAB concept!

Marley = )

Simone Elkeles said...

Amy in How to Ruin a Summer Vacation is like me, although my sister totally doesn't agree. In Leaving Paradise, Maggie is the exact opposite of me and she was really hard to write. I'm outgoing, Maggie's not...I had to change the way I wrote because of her. My editor had to remind me when Maggie started acting like me. I think it's harder to write someone NOT like you. Dona, we're all rooting for you!

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation available NOW!
Leaving Paradise 4/07
How to Ruin my Teenage Life 6/07

TinaFerraro said...

Great insights, Dona, and made me really want to read your books!

In TOP TEN USES FOR AN UNWORN PROM DRESS, Nic is the 16 year-old I wished I'd been. While we're both outgoing, she takes the bull by the horns, while I basically watched and daydreamed.

In HOW TO HOOK A HOTTIE, I created 17 year-old Kate who was determined to be a millionaire by 20. She's a real leap from me, and while I loved exploring her thoughts and reactions, it was fun when our personalities overlapped--usually having to do with insecurities and guys.


stephhale said...


I definitely agree that when I started writing my characters were all different versions of me, only skinnier! LOL! Now that I've switched to YA, I think that maybe they still have elements of me, but now I like using my characters to do things and act in ways I would never have the guts to. I love getting them into situations that I would have daydreamed about in HS, but never would have had the courage to explore. :)

Dona Sarkar-Mishra said...

Hmm, so I think the moral of the story is, you can make your characters like you, but put them in situations you would never be in, and see how they react...LOVE IT!

Thanks gals!

GeminiWisdom said...

My characters have some of my qualities, but physically of other people. My best friend has a hard time reading my second book because apparently, every time the character opens her mouth, she pictures ME. *shrugs*. Go figure.

GeminiWisdom said...

Oh...and ALIAS used to be one of my favorite shows before it was cancelled. My favorite character was Vaughn

Young Adult Authors said...

I think this must be a writer thing or something, but when I started out my characters were like me, too.

Now, I take parts of emotions I've experienced or can relate to and create characters who use them.

In my last YA, my character Shelby definitely had the independant streak I have, but she struggled with trusting herself. I could relate. It's like method acting or something...

Marley Gibson said...

I almost feel better calling them best friends. They aren't the same as me and they have different interests, but I know how to think and feel like them.

Perfectly said, Kim! That's how I feel, as well. And just ask my hubby, sister or writing friends...I talk about my characters like they're real. Because they are. I picture them in my head and they have a certain 3-D quality to me.

Marley = )