CHRISTIE CRAIG ON PLAYING MATCHMAKER

Author Christie Craig gives aspiring authors some hints on what to do when "Ms. Jabberer Meets Mr. Tall, Dark and Silent" — Or "How to Play Matchmaker."

Shala Winters, my heroine in Shut Up And Kiss Me, my June release, is a bit of a jabberer, and guess what my hero can’t stand? Yup, you got it — Sky Gomez can’t stand a jabbering woman. In the book he states: He would walk uphill, naked, and barefoot, through the snow, and a bed of porcupine needles to avoid a jabbering woman. I bet you can figure out just how well that works out for him too, can’t you? Basically, there is no escape, not even an uphill path through the snow or porcupine needles. Sky is stuck with Shala and her endless chatter. I make sure of it. Ahh, love in the making.

We’ve all heard the saying, opposites attract, right? We’ve read the books and love it when the right-winged Republican and the left-winged Democrat find true love. (Ever presidential election, I wonder how James Carville and Mary Matalin do it.) Or how about when the wanna-be CEO chick falls for the bad boy on a Harley? Or the football player who goes bonkers over the bookworm? Or when the beauty finds the beast. So is matchmaking that easy? Is hooking up our characters on the page and writing a book a reader can’t put down as simple as finding a zigger for your zagger. Is all we have to do is find your character’s polar opposite?  The answer is a resounding yes. And an equally resounding no. Have I confused you yet? Hang in there with me, I might be able to explain.

Face it, love ain’t easy in real life, but in our books, love has to be even harder. For our books to be good, the reader expects, wait, let me rephrase that, the reader demands, conflict. It’s the conflict that makes the story pop off the page and makes the reader unable to put the book down. It’s conflict that makes that magically push and pull between the characters. And from where does conflict derive? In most part from the differences, the goals, and in the believe systems of our heroes and heroines. Just for fun, let’s consider one of the following scenarios:

Hanna, in town for business, big business, stepped out of the B&B she’d stayed at last night and clutched her FrankinCovey briefcase/dayplanner tighter as she starred at the hunk wearing a black Tee-shirt tight enough to show off his six pack. He leaned back on the Harley and his gaze traveled down her body, reminding her how butter moved over a hot ear of corn. Slow ... slick, and delicious.

“When ... when ... Last night when you said you’d give me a lift this morning, I thought ..." She blinked. “You’re not serious, right?”

“Serious, as a bad sparkplug.” His smile flashed half cocky, crooked, and completely adorable. Her melt-in-the-panties reaction to him pissed her off to no end. She should have known his offer to get her to Hardecker and Dennison’s office would turn out like this. Good lord, why had she let herself trust him? He’d been nothing but a stranger she’d met in a strange bar in an even stranger town. She knew better than to trust a guy who smelled like leather and filled out his jeans that good.

“You don’t want me to climb on that bike wearing this skirt.” She pulled out her phone to call for a taxi, and damn it, she had to hurry. In thirty minutes she was supposed to meet the CEO of Hardecker and Dennison. Being late wasn’t an option. A bit of panic stirred in her chest. Her boss expected her to land this client. Her promotion depended on it.  

Mr. Hottie, still looking hot, cocked his head to the side as if checking out her skirt. “Not only do I want you to do it. I’m looking forward to it.” Slowly, his eyes lifted to her face. “What’s wrong? Afraid of getting a little wind in your hair?”

She gritted her teeth when she looked back at her phone and saw the lack of bars. “No, I’m afraid I’ll show my ass!” she muttered honestly never mind that she’d spent thirty minutes getting her hair perfect, too.

His gaze, which hinted of sinful fun and playfulness, and nothing of responsibility or commitment, the things that made up Hanna’s life, lowered again. “But it’s such a nice ass.”

The sexual tension, the chemistry, and even the plot, it all emerges from the differences and the conflict between these characters. As romance writers, getting that tension and chemistry on the page is essential. However, once the sparks fly, once all that yummy tension has caught fire, burned and sizzled on the page, once your hero and heroine got their zip and zag going, there’s something else your readers expect and demand. They insist you tie a pretty little bow around the relationship and make them believe that Hanna and her Harley rider are going to live happily ever after.

But can opposites really have a happily ever after? Well, if you ask the experts, they’ll tell you it’s very unlikely. Thank goodness we romance writers don’t listen to the experts. Or wait? Should we listen to them? Dadblast it! I’m afraid so. If we want to give our readers a fulfilling yarn, we have to make our stories believable and lifelike.

So how do we bring the opposites on the page, milk it for all the good stuff, and still fulfill the happily-ever-after need for our readers? We do it by making sure our opposites are not complete, full-fledged, card totting opposites to each other. We do it by finding something in their lives, in their pasts, in their personalities, that they have in common. Something that draws them together more than their differences pull them apart.  Often the thing that pulls them together is the thing that one of them is lacking.

Do you remember that famous line in the movie Jerry Maguire? “You complete me.” Ahh, simple words, but a powerful message. Plus, it’s an unconscious method humans use to find a mate. Relationships experts agree. We often seek out people who will help us meet up to our own potential. Oh, and these people do have a higher chance of making a relationship work.

So, basically, your characters must complete each other. To Hanna, her career is everything, but maybe she longs to, and needs to feel the wind in her hair? Does Hanna need the bad boy to teach her to let go, to let loose? And Mr. Harley, who knows, maybe he’s an ex high-powered lawyer, who after discovering he had brain cancer has been given a second chance. He respects work ethics, but he’s determined to teach Hanna that work isn’t everything. Maybe he’s the son of the CEO she’s supposed to meet and he knows the deal Hanna is about to make will cost her more than anyone should pay. He’s not really all play and no work, but he recognizes the off-balance in Hanna’s life. He saw what it turned his own father into and doesn’t want that to happen to anyone else. How you decide to bring these two people together, to show their soul-mate potential is your own choice, but when you do it, you also need to convince your readers that Hanna and Mr. Harley will be able to set their difference aside and walk into the sunset together.

In Shut Up And Kiss Me, the thing Sky and Shala share is something deep and emotional. As children they both lost their parents in tragic accidents. While the scars they carry are unique to each of their circumstances, their flaws and their personalities stem from similar situations. They are more alike than they are different, and this understanding they share of each other, creates a bond that makes them perfect soul mates. She might talk a bit much, but Sky needs to learn to talk a little more.

So go ahead, go find your opposites, your zigger to your zagger, throw them on the page together, watch the sparks fly, and then find what it is that will keep these two people together for a lifetime.

- Christie Craig