I had a bit of an Arya Stark complex growing up. (I still have one, but I've become much better at hiding it) I wanted everyone to tell the truth; to behave nobly and kindly and with pure intentions. My illusions were shattered at an early age. When I was at my most frustrated, when I wondered why certain people had come into my life only to cause pain, my mom comforted me with: "Everyone serves a purpose, even if it's just to be a bad example." I took this to heart; she was right, after all. And I did a lot of vicarious learning.
Now, to be less dramatic - I'm still hopped up on cold meds; sorry - this bad example rule applies to so much more than meanies in the schoolyard. In my horse career, I've watched brilliant teachers and bad teachers, learning what not to do just as I learned what to do. Every horse served a purpose: I learned what I wanted, and what I didn't want. What I could work with; what hurdles couldn't be cleared. The same applies to writing.
A writer's most valuable resource? Literature. Hands down. Some books are master works of poetic prose, overflowing with brilliant lines and inspired character development. Some books are not. We learn from them, all of them. Some books, bless their hearts, stand out as examples of what not to do with my own fiction. In that way, every book I've ever read has served its purpose.
Thankfully, Charlotte Bronte's classic love story Jane Eyre is a good example. For whatever reason, I hadn't read it previously. I love her sister's novel, Wuthering Heights, and I love Jane Eyre even more. Bronte's prose is more pleasing than Austen's; Jane is stoic, stern, and resilient; Rochester is eccentric and entertaining; Bronte's affinity for the pastoral and hints of the supernatural make for a narrative that is both real and whimsical. In short: it's a classic for a reason.
My favorite aspect of the novel is the foundation of Jane and Rochester's relationship; it's built on chemistry and compatibility, rather than external traits. "Plain" Jane and "ugly" Rochester become beautiful to one another. While I'm not saying that this circumstance should be employed in every novel, and while there's certainly nothing wrong with having attractive male and female leads (I write mine as such), I appreciate the emotional and mental chemistry. There's beauty to be found beyond the physical. So, in honor of Jane Eyre, a writing prompt, one that I live by:
Describe a protagonist without leaning on overtly sexual language.
Ben tended to have a dramatic effect on people, and Asher was no exception; Ben was the kind of man other men wanted to fight, or run from. He was friendless and graceless and cold.
And once upon a time, she’d been so in love with him it had hurt. She felt, as Asher watched her, that he knew that; it felt like he knew Clara hadn’t been the repercussion of some fast, dirty night in a club. Like he knew they’d made her in this house, on the soft leather of the sofa in the den.
The patio door opened and all of them jumped; it was that kind of night. Ben came in first – tall and big-shouldered and sinister in dark casual jacket and jeans, his deep brown hair windblown along the crown and his lean cheeks dusted with stubble. His eyes – Clara’s eyes; they stared back at her every night when she tucked her baby to bed – raked over them, but he swept from the room wordlessly, going to find Alicia.
"We don’t exactly…” Specialize in shared time, was what she’d wanted to say. But the way he was watching her, the way the Jim Beam was warming the hard edges of his eyes…she couldn’t make herself say it. She took a deep breath. Careful, a voice in the back of her head whispered. She had to be so careful; this wasn’t Ben: sleepovers and protection and getting himself kicked off cases. She wasn’t sure how to maneuver around the man at her table.
“Wouldn’t you,” she started again, “like to take this two weeks and catch up on all the vacation time you won’t use?”
He shrugged. “Does Clara still wanna go to Disneyworld?”
“Okay. One: yeah. Every kid wants Disneyworld. And two.” She laid a hand on his shoulder – it was hard and smooth with muscle beneath his jacket, but not clenched; not tense – and leaned low over his face, searching the familiar, hard lines of it, amazed at the openness of it tonight. “What’s up with you? Getting kicked off this case should have made you angry enough to punch walls.”
He smiled: lazy and sideways. “I won’t lie: I had a lot to drink before I came over here.”
Jade sighed. “My God, you don’t make it easy on a girl.” She stepped around behind his chair and put her hands at the base of his neck. He had a nice neck: lean, corded, strong. He leaned into her touch as she worked her fingers up to the back of his head and raked them across his scalp, through his hair. “Don’t play games with me,” she said softly. “My home is yours; you know that. But don’t yank me around for the fun of it.”
~ Whatever Remains