So, I had something of a epiphany this morning, the day after I attended the Virginia Festival of the book. I sold a few copies of my novel Worst Impressions which has really received a lot of great reviews from many people whom I presume are teens. And while sitting there I wondered what makes Worst Impressions and books like these–where you start out with a character like Liz, shy, tomboyish teen buried deep inside her own personal shell. She’s just an every day girl. Spunky. Pretty but not exceptionally so. Smart. Plays basketball. Yawn. Meh. Kids like her are a dime a dozen, right? High schools are loaded with them.
So what makes a Liz special? Or even a Bella (who I just finished watching on the Twilight movie)? Why do teens fall in love with these kinds of characters?
It struck me as I was watching, Twilight.
Ordinary girl, extraordinary circumstances.
Every ordinary girl dreams of living an extraordinary life. They dream of being noticed. They dream of being somebody’s “the one.” The don’t just dream of it–they long for it. I know I did. I spent the better part of my teen life and early 20s dreaming of being someone’s “the one,” of being swept into realms of unknown excitement with the love of my life holding me and guiding me the whole way.
I’m the reason the ordinary girl, extraordinary circumstance formula works. Me and girls like me.
The reason why we love Bella so much is because even though she’s pretty (Hollywood wouldn’t have it any other way), she’s kind of this dorky, awkward plain Jane girl who is living an extraordinary life when she catches the eye and heart of a vampire. As readers, we want that to work! As the ordinary girl, I want her to have the extraordinary life where she’s “the one” for some sparkly vampire. And if she doesn’t get him and he rejects her–we are ANGRY! Not just a little angry but 1-star review angry. Don’t mess with our ordinary girl!
I think the same could be said for Liz. She is propelled into these extraordinary circumstances when the two most popular, most gorgeous guys in school suddenly take notice of her in very different ways which sends her life into a new realm of excitement. And kids root for her to win. They want her to land the great guy to be somebody’s “the one.”
If you look at why some “ordinary girl” stories are more/less successful, just think about the formula and how the ordinary girl fared in the end. If she didn’t come out on top, the book probably bottomed out.
My lesson in this is not to mess with my ordinary girl, especially as I prepare to write the second book in this series. No matter what kind of turmoil I put my girl Liz through (and it will be a lot)…we know where she’ll land in the end.