For the first edition of StoryNotes, I wanted to focus on Lemon’s character, since she’s the heroine of my debut novel, as well as a challenging personality to write. If you haven’t read the book, this post doesn’t include any spoilers, so proceed!
A (RELUCTANT) STAR IS BORN
When I first had the story idea for Lemon Lavender, it came from asking this question: What would it be like if you had this flashing neon sign of a name, but wanted to be invisible? I immediately landed on a name for my character—a mash-up from two commercials during a TV show I was watching—and Lemon Lavender was born. I loved the name immediately, and it never changed throughout the course of my writing and editing. Originally, the title of this novel was just Lemon Lavender, but as I got deeper into it, I realized that adding “Is Not Fine” had a better ring to it, and it provided a sense of what the novel was about—a girl struggling with life.
While she might’ve had that unforgettable name, what Lemon didn’t have was a personality. And I wanted it that way. Enter the challenge of writing a character who doesn’t have a lot going on to draw readers into her story. I was nervous about this, because some of the most fantastic books feature characters who leap off the page from the very start. Would anyone want to stick with Lemon for the novel if she wasn’t all that interesting?
“Desperately, I look down at my own clothes: a generic long-sleeve shirt in blue; basic jeans with no swirls, sequins, bling, or bedazzles; shoes—just black Converse, not too clean, not too dirty. Overall, I don’t strive to be ugly or pretty. Just plain and vanilla with a large dose of invisible.”
A PERSON OF INTEREST
This was the difficulty—making Lemon have enough of personality so that you, the reader, wouldn’t get bored. (And I, the writer, wouldn’t nod off while writing about her.) Because Lemon wants to be invisible, she never gets involved in school activities or bringing attention to herself through academic success. This made her different from female YA characters who start their journey with a lot of goals, like to succeed in advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities. I needed Lemon to be the opposite of that, in order to give her a point to grow.
So I started with a few things she did like—slushees and her best friend. Add in some dry humor and a healthy hate for gym and running, and I had the basis for a character who I think is like a lot of younger people…someone who isn’t sure what they like, because they just haven’t had a chance to find out. Someone who doesn’t have a passion, doesn’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and isn’t gifted in a particular sport or hobby.
“There’s nothing wrong with her, but like me, she isn’t flashy. She doesn’t wear short skirts and a lot of makeup like Marisol or flirt shamelessly like Chelsea. We aren’t cheerleaders or jocks or anything else that draws attention. Neither of us fills any superlative, like best-looking or most outgoing. We’re just regular girls.”
As a “regular girl” myself, I hoped that readers would be able to see themselves in Lemon, just as I did. And as she encounters turmoil and heartache, that they could root for her to finally realize who she wants to be.
We all go through this, and oftentimes, continue to go through it as we change and experience new things. While Lemon was a tough character to write since she didn’t come with a fully-formed personality, she taught me that we are all multi-faceted, even if we don’t have a particular way of identifying ourselves. Those of us who tend to like shadows are just as interesting as those who get the spotlight.
Next time, I’ll share my thoughts about the theme of Lemon Lavender Is Not Fine, and why it made some people mad (including my mom!).