[Repost] Shiny Happy Characters

~ By Melina Kantor

When I was 27, I had to leave New York and move back to California.

And back into my mother’s house.

Now, I love my mother. And I love her house. And it would be wrong to complain about living in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area.

But I was 27, and in love with New York. But even with my recent MA from Columbia, I couldn’t get a job with a salary high enough to be able to live there.

The plan was to go home for one year, and save enough money to go back.

I could not have been more miserable, and I was not at all shy about saying so.

One Sunday morning, I came downstairs and tried to make breakfast. There was nothing I wanted. Sure, the kitchen was well stocked, but I wanted take out from one of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan. The kitchen could have been filled with fresh baked pastries straight from Paris, and I wouldn’t have cared.

Cue the tantrum.

I went to the living room and gave my mother an ear full. I was a failure. I would never be 27 again, living the life of a single girl in the city. My opportunity was lost. Even if I went back in a year, which by the way I was absolutely, positively going to no matter what just you watch, I was going to be 28 and it wouldn’t be the same.

Everything was ruined. I was a complete and total failure.

Okay, so I was being dramatic. Forgive me. Being around my mother causes me to act like a teenager.

My mother waited for me to finish, and looked up from the couch. Her response? “You’ve been reading too many of those books with pink covers.”

In other words, too much chick lit.

Now, I think we’d all agree that there’s no such thing as too much chick lit. Her point was that I was reading about too many 27 year old single girls in New York, living the life I wanted, and having their happily ever afters, and that none of it was real.

I still thought I could have made the “chick lit style life” my reality if I’d just tried a little harder.

But my mom was right. I was reading about too many protagonists who had great shoes, cute apartments, cute pets, good jobs, great social lives, and a love interest.

Yes, of course there are plenty of 27 year old women who do have those things. But many of us, especially in big cities, don’t. I know many readers read chick lit to live vicariously and escape. But honestly, there are some books that used to make me feel awful.

I still refer to the protagonists in those books as “shiny happy characters.”

I’m not saying that characters can’t be happy and successful. I’m not even saying a character has to be likable. I just think that even in the lightest and happiest of stories, it’s important that the protagonist have her fair share of struggles and challenges, and not just guy related.

Otherwise, it can be hard to relate. Especially for those of us who live in real New York apartments where we keep our blow dryers on the bedroom floor because our bathrooms have no outlets and our socks in a drawer under the television because we don’t have an inch of space to spare.

I did move back to New York after a year. I got a decent apartment. And a job, and a cute dog. I made friends and built a life.

But still, life’s not shiny. Not at all. And my friends’ lives aren’t shiny either.

My characters all live in New York, are in their late twenties, and single. But I do my best to keep it real. In fact, my tantrum in my mother’s kitchen inspired a scene in my first book.

What to you think? Do you enjoy living vicariously through “shiny happy characters” or do you prefer a protagonist with some real challenges?

Leave a comment and let us know!

Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.

4 thoughts on “[Repost] Shiny Happy Characters”

  1. What a good question. I like characters with real life issues who have so much drive that they somehow manage to escape for a while and do something different. (Like spend the summer in Greece, Israel, etc.) While away, they meet different challenges, and come back to attack the real life situations with a new perspective.

    I’ve been criticized about my characters being too shiny-happy, but the truth is, that’s my world view. Even the time, way back, that I maxed out my credit card and was forced to rethink my groceries AT THE CHECK-OUT so I could buy enough disposable diapers for day care for the next week–at that point, I was a little scared about being so close to the edge, but also hopeful. I knew I had to take control, and I believed I could, and I was blessed that things were no worse. Now, if I’d lost my job . . . my world view might be different.

  2. ChickLit-Writer

    I’m all about characters with real challenges! πŸ™‚ I’m also a bit of a fan of real pace in a book, and a film. If things move too fast I find it unbelievable and then I lose interest! πŸ™‚

  3. Re-reading my comment, I realize that my comment about broken heels and George Clooney come across as more than a little snarky. I honestly didn’t mean it that way; Louboutins and George-clones have their place in chick lit, and if I had never been introduced to and devoured those books, I wouldn’t be inspired to write myself. I just meant that shiny happy characters don’t speak to where I am in my own life right now.

  4. Hi, Melina–great post! I personally prefer characters with more depth and some challenges to face, and that’s what I like to write about.

    Like most of us I read to escape, but as I get older I find I’d rather escape with a heroine who’s worried about how she’s going to pay the rent because she lost her job, or how she’s going to support her daughter after a divorce, or even (because I will always love my HEA romances) how she’s going to handle her attraction to a guy who’s completely, absolutely wrong for her. These situations definitely aren’t what I’d consider shiny happy chick lit, but I’ve read about them all in some very funny, very touching books.

    A heroine whose biggest problems are breaking the heel on her favorite Louboutin pumps, or evading the George Clooney clone trying to get her into bed just doesn’t evoke much sympathy in me when I’m taking care of an ill parent or watching friends struggle after a job loss. But of course, we all love different things, and there’s no right or wrong in what we enjoy, just our own opinions and experiences. As my dad always says, that’s what makes horse races.

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