Ben's picture
Ben from Australia is reading My Booky Wook by Russell Brand December 11, 2011 - 2:39am

If you'll pardon me borrowing lines from Foreigner, I have a character development issue I'm struggling with.  I've got two characters who have a complicated history (that I'm still trying to figure out), but I do know that they were in love once and their relationship fell apart, and now, years later, they're back together again.  But I'm having trouble figuring out how they first met and got together.  The protagonist is in his early twenties and is pretty fucked up having being partly responsible for his father hanging himself, and his lover is about ten years older than him, but I'm wondering what the drawcard for her is...  Specifically, I'm trying to answer the following questions:

  1. Where did they meet?
    Don't say a bar - that shit is utterly cliched and I don't know anyone in reality who's met someone in a bar and fallen in love with them.  I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it's not a direction I'm interested in going here.
  2. How did they come to be together?  In other words, what was their courtship like?
    I feel that this is going to be influenced by where they met.
  3. Why is she attracted to him?  Why is he attracted to her?
    What makes two people fall in love?  How do you describe a gut instinct type thing?

The story I'm writing isn't some sappy little rom-com either - but the relationship between the protagonist and this older woman is a key aspect of the story.  So, please, share some ideas; share your own experiences.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club December 11, 2011 - 3:49am

Since you've mentioned "share your own experiences," I hope you don't mind me sharing mine. Your characters age difference is familiar to me. My boyfriend is eight years older than me, and we met two years ago when I was sixteen. Right off the bat sixteen and twenty-four aren't exactly compatible ages to most people. (People are still offended when they find out how old he is.)

Simply put, he was a friend of a friend and we met at the friend of a friend's BBQ. I was in a horrible mood that day and don't really remember anything special, but according to Dan (my boyfriend) he tried to get my attention multiple times, and I kept ignoring him. After that day we started hanging out more simply from proximity: my friends hung out with his friends. The more we talked, the more we became friends, until three months later he was my best friend. Forgive me if this makes me sound like a whiney teenager, but at that point I was miserable because of our age differences. I had it in my head that we could never be together because it is socially unacceptable. The summer I turned seventeen, I moved to Lake Tahoe to work for my aunt. Two weeks before I turned seventeen, Dan and another good friend came up to visit me for a weekend while my aunt was out of town (with permission of course). The plan was for them to spend the night and we'd head to Sacramento (home town) in the morning. That night is without a doubt the happiest and most tense night of my life (again, I'm only eighteen so forgive me if I sound like a dumb teenager). The three of us built a bonfire in the backyard and grilled pineapples and ate smores. At one point I asked Dan if I could borrow his chapstick (even though I had mine), just so that I could feel where his lips had been. Later that night we went inside to my aunts movie room and watched American Beauty. Jordan (the good friend) had fallen asleep half way through the movie, so it was just me and Dan. Keep in mind, at this point I'm sixteen. During the movie Dan and I inched closer and closer until I was using his chest as a pillow...well almost. I made sure to keep a small panda bear plush between us. After the movie was over we just let the menu repeat and repeat and repeat while we talked about anything imaginable. Even now when I hear the American Beauty theme I'm taken somewhere completely different. During our talk he paused and smiled at me before leaning in and giving me a hug. When he pulled away I apparently looked startled because he said, "Sorry, I just wanted a hug." I then kissed him on the cheek and said good night. We eventually fell asleep on the couch together and in the morning I woke up in his arms. Absolutely terrified that our friendship was ruined, I jumped up, shoved the panda in his face, and ran into my room to take a shower. The rest of the day we didn't talk about the previous night, and acted completely normal. A few days later Dan came back up to Tahoe and gave me a letter telling me that he's in love with me. 


Sorry if this story was a bit more personal than you wanted. I tried to omit certain details. Also, I'm hesitant to post this as I know from a certain perspective it can sound very trite, and well, like it's coming from a dumb teenager. Plus I don't think I'd ever be able to articulate how incredible that night was. Explaining it, I can imagine people thinking, "That's it? You didn't even have sex, what's the big deal?" I hope I'm wrong. 

Anyway, I hope this helped you in some way. Good luck on your story, and let us know what you decide to do!

Brian Ingham's picture
Brian Ingham from Stillwater Oklahoma is reading There is No Year by. Blake Butler December 11, 2011 - 4:14am

Hmm...well as far as where they met is concerned, I'd like to hear a little bit more about your protagonist. What was his relationship like with his father? Did he kill himself when he was a young boy or immediately prior to the story beginning? How is he coping with the death? A morally flawed character like this who is surrounded by a tragic life changing event could very well find himself trying to drown his sorrows in a bar(but i do understand how cliche that is and i dont blame you for wanting to go a different direction) Depending on 1)how he's trying to deal with the death and 2)what type of character the female is, maybe they met at a type of group therapy and she is also dealing with a recent tragedy that completely fucked her life up. They're immediately drawn to one another and after a few meetings they start to realize more of a connection(partly through grief/a need for human contact) and decide to see each other outside of their counseling.

I would see their courtship being a very volatile one since they would both have so many emotions so close to the surface, but one where they are both overwhelmed by each other in every sense. Very extreme in nature, can't control how attracted they are to one another but its a roller coaster--one minute they're ripping each others clothes off, the next they are screaming, getting physical w/ each other, stuff is being thrown/broken, etc. Maybe the first time around it's a very superficial relationship. Maybe they're both the type of people who are addicted to things that they know are bad for them, and they cant figure out why they're so enamored but they also can't ignore or deny it and no matter what happens they always seem to come back to one another. I see the guy holding back the fact that he is partly responsible for his fathers death from her while she has her own secrets that play a part in her seeking counseling.

 That's the first thing that came to my mind...hope it helped in some way. I would love to read an excerpt or something in the future. Hope you get it figured out soon!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts December 11, 2011 - 5:33am

You ask a lot of very smart questions that can only be found in the story existing in your head. I will instead respond with more questions.

Is the relationship origin story really vital to the story? (it could very well be depending on your approach to the story, but doesn't have to be.)

Having been in a few scant long, rocky relationships, I barely ever give thought to first encounters. Firstly they are not extremely interesting, maybe shaded in charm and lust at most, but mostly it's that feelings become discolored with time, things you liked may be things you lost (her daring, witty sense of humor) or warning signs you chose to ignore (his intensity turned out to be rage issues.) The important times in relationships are discovering new angles on a person, not when you first lay eyes on them (love at first sight is kind of insulting to read about anyway.) Hooking up is about taking advantage of opportunity, seize the day (or, seize the girl!), love is groomed through conversation and tribulation. Maybe a better area to focus on is the conversation/event that lead to them getting back together despite their earlier dissolve.

What are your characters' backstories? What do they do, what makes them go to the places they go? The type of person they are will take them to a place where they intersect (quick scenario: he goes to pay his deadbeat father's gambling debts and finds that she's his bookie.)

What roles do they fill for each other? (She likes to tend to sick animals, I need someone stronger than me (to open the mayonnaise jar of responsibility (bad mixed metaphor)))

You infer a status difference along with the age gap, she's wiser and more responsible, how can you flip that status for him to be desirable to her? Maybe he's got a fast car (and she's got a plan to get them out of there.)

Dean Blake's picture
Dean Blake from Australia is reading December 11, 2011 - 5:52am

What a coincidence. I recently saw someone four years older than me for about two months. In our case, it was me who did all the courting at the start, as she'd always wanted someone older.

We met at a dinner party. Then we met again at another dinner party. Then we met again at yet another dinner party - that's when I asked for her phone number. She wasn't that interested in me to begin with - the turning point occured when we started speaking a lot on the phone, and when I took her out for dinner and then took her for a drink and then walked with her by the river and held her hand. I didn't win her over by meeting her standards. I won her over by sticking true to mine.

She frequently asked me, "Why can't you be older?" and I'd always say, "Why can't you be younger?" We spent a lot of evenings drinking wine, arguing and kissing.

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. December 11, 2011 - 7:48am

@Raelyn--I don't think that story makes you sound like a dumb teenager at all.  In fact, I think it's a good example of all the weird ways we can meet people and how they hold a significance to us.  I especially like the part about the chapstick, that would be great in a story.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words December 11, 2011 - 11:03am

Ben - I can't forgive you quoting a Foreigner song - blech >P

I met an older woman about 10 years ago, we started a relationship, it fell apart, we rekindled it years later, and it ended, although much less messily the second time around.

We met at a cycling event, we are both avid cyclists. She was one of the organizers, so before I'd even seen her, people were talking about her, and I was keen to meet her. She rode up, both of us saw each other and Blam! there was a definite double-take on both our parts. We went out a few times and eventually the relationship took. it was one of those ineffable fate-type moments.

As for your characters, what drives this older woman? Is she a cougar by any stretch? Is she disillusioned with men closer to her age? Is she resistant to this relationship with the younger fellow? I think that pinning down her motivations will probably help.


.'s picture
. December 11, 2011 - 11:13am

Love is something made up by advertising executives. 

So on the topic of character development, I can't seem to figure out what my protagonist wants. I have everything else planned out, the characters, the plot, the theme, but not the goal of the narrator. The novel seems a little autobiographical so this could be the reason for it. I tried to write it down in my notebook with the rest of my outline but still my protagonist stayed quiet.

Does he want power, money, love, sex, knowledge, fulfillment, pain? These words are too vague when I stare at them in my notebook and give me no ideas for specific goals.

Here is some back story: A bit of a noir story here. Journalist Adam Kent is on his biggest assignment yet, to penetrate and report on the underground drug culture. His boss (a coke head) has bigger intentions than just a juicy ten page story. Kent is given an envelope with a endless funded debit card, a disposable cell phone and list of people to investigate for reference points to start his assignment. Kent immediately starts to spend money on liquor and strippers and an expensive presidential suite at the best hotel in town. Kent doesn't' question where the project is being funded but instead enjoys the ride. Kent starts to meet shady, powerful characters of a drug ring that are all connected together in some way. 

What I have figured so far on the subject: Does Kent want to uncover the truth of a huge conspiracy or climb the ranks of the racket himself for greed?

Oh, never mind, I think I just answered my own question.The character just feels a lot like Clay in Less Than Zero but in a Bonnie and Clyde story with a lot of twists so it is hard to get into the characters head at all but instead trying to watch his actions from a distant.

David Shepherd's picture
David Shepherd from shepherdsville, KY is reading Idoru by William Gibbson December 11, 2011 - 11:43am

Seeing as how he is so young it might be a good idea for him to be an ex student of hers in highschool. They were together through his highschool years and half the appeal of the relationship was the secrecy. Once he graduated the relationship lost it's flavor for both of them. Now that they've decided they should try again, maybe they've both had bad luck in other relationships and always had th other in mind, they could be exploring if there was more of an attraction than just the danger of being caught. Also it might be a good idea to leave the fairy tale feel of commercialized love out of it to make it more real. Make it so that they care for each other and they see the possibility of something deeper so you can show their relationship blossom throughout the story. It sounds like your protagonist is on the road to recovery for some things so this sort of slow working relationship could fit in nicely with your story. An idea for how they got together is that she was the head of some extra-curricular activity like drama club or something so they have that shared interest and it would help add some depth to them.

David Shepherd's picture
David Shepherd from shepherdsville, KY is reading Idoru by William Gibbson December 11, 2011 - 11:46am

You don't have to limit yourself to only those two goals. Anything could happen, he could want both and be more than just selfish and greedy or just well intentioned.

.'s picture
. December 11, 2011 - 11:52am

^ Good idea. I forgot I have my class lectures to print off too, I'll re-read those.

Ben's picture
Ben from Australia is reading My Booky Wook by Russell Brand December 11, 2011 - 5:47pm

Thanks everyone for your very insightful points and prompts - you've all been helpful in one way or another, and a few ideas are starting to come together.

I'm not sure whether their first encounter will even make it into the story, but I feel that it's important for me to understand how they met and why they were attracted to one another as it's going to tell me more about who they are as characters.  At the moment I'm leaning towards him being a complete mess, and her being a rock of support for him, which fits with the inference that she's wiser and more responsible and has more life experience than him as she is older.  But I'll mull it over some more...

In the meantime, if anyone else has anything to contribute, please do!!

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones December 11, 2011 - 10:02pm


1) with how people meet, it helps me to look for the weirdest way weird people meet. for instance, keith jesperson (the happy face killer) met his wife at a hamburger stand she worked at. their meeting was facilitated by her leaving the hamburger patty on the grill by mistake.

i point this out not for any morbid reason, but because no matter how unusual the situation is, or how fucked up your chracter is, if people are meant to come in contact, they will. through the most benign and banal of ways.  people do meet in bar situations, or fast food joints (as i mentioned) but those meetings, as you can see, don't have to follow any specific cliche.

2) that depends on how long they've been together.

3) love is weird, i dont know. what attracts you to people?

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig December 12, 2011 - 2:21pm

I always have my characters meet in really benign ways. It's more real that way, in my opinion. I mean, some people have outrageously cool and interesting "how we met" stories, but most people meet at a bar, at their workplace, through mutual friends. I am married to a man 9 years my senior. We met on a forum for Marines (we were both in the USMC at the time) and after a few years of online friendship he got stationed near me, we met, started dating, etc.  It is unique in some ways (we met on the internet, but not with the intention of meeting a mate) and completely cliche in others, when we got to meet in person, there was a spark, we dated awhile, decided to make a go of it.

As for your last question...that's rough. I mean, everyone has different things they are looking for, and different things that make them fall for someone. When I have to write something like this, I usually take a look at the thought process, falling in love is confusing in a lot of ways, sorting out the butterflies from the real deal, and all of that. So I let my narrator take a look inside the heads of the people falling for each other.

Ben's picture
Ben from Australia is reading My Booky Wook by Russell Brand December 12, 2011 - 8:58pm

Thanks, Charles and Renee.  Some of the issues you've raised are things that I hadn't originally considered, and yet seem so obvious now - and the same goes for what a few other people have said too.  I find the dynamics of interpersonal relationships to be fascinating, especially when you throw in the deep-seeded feelings of love, attraction and desire.  And instinct.  Describing these things in words - writing them out in a form that is both clear and yet not lecturing people - that's a real challenge.  But your responses have prompted further thoughts and ideas in me, so thanks again!!

Any other ideas/suggestions/experiences, people?

aliensoul77's picture
aliensoul77 from a cold distant star is reading the writing on the wall. December 13, 2011 - 10:50am

Love is never having to flush the toilet.

.'s picture
. December 13, 2011 - 1:14pm

Or putting the seat down.

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 December 13, 2011 - 3:36pm

Sky rockets in flight, afternoon delight. =D