The Joys and Challenges of Creating Unique Romance Characters
When creating The Love Project, TB and I began with the concept of a romance where an advice columnist would fall in love with the letter writer she was supposed to be helping to find love. I'll start by saying I'm an avid reader of Dear Abby, and also of a local Boston Globe columnist named Meredith Goldstein who writes Love Letters, and whose memoir, Can't Help Myself, was one of the early starting points in creating the character of Joni Fisher.
Right away we sensed this book would be different from our previous two collaborations, where instant attraction led our main characters into the bedroom fairly early in the story and deeper emotions built over time. The Love Project would be a slow burn romance, one where our characters would become friends first before developing romantic feelings or attraction.
Believe it or not, the first thing we established about Hope was her name. We needed her to be able to call herself something clever when she wrote her letter, and we loved being able to play with Hope/Hopeless. But if Joni's project was going to be able to help her, we knew we needed a really good reason why Hope was hopeless about love.
As the story took shape, it became very clear to us that the cause for Hope's distress was that she fell on the asexual spectrum, in her case demisexual, and did not have the knowledge or awareness about this type of sexuality to understand and express why she felt so different from most of the people she knew.
Both TB and I have written characters in the past that are not "typical" stars of a romance, including a character with OCD and a character with autism. One of the joys of these projects is affirming that love is for everyone. The challenge is getting it right while making the character feel real. Research is a necessity.
For The Love Project, I read multiple articles about demisexuality, blogs written by people who identify as demisexual, as well as visiting several message boards and social media groups. What I found is there are as many ways of being demisexual as there are people who identify as such. Demisexuality does not involve a diagnosis. There's not really a list where if you check five or more items a doctor will tell you that you're demisexual.
Although, like all really important things in life, there is a Buzzfeed quiz to help you decide if this identity might be right for you.
It's never easy to bring a fictional character to life in a convincing way, but I find it even harder when I'm trying to balance the "textbook definition" of a character's condition or identity with the reality that there is no such thing as a "textbook definition" person.
We didn't want Hope to feel like a checklist. On the other hand, there were a few things that stood out in my research. One was the feeling of being "broken" before they found out demisexuality was something real that other people experienced. Another was the sense of utter amazement expressed by some demisexual people who may never have truly believed sexual attraction existed in the way friends or movies claimed, and then suddenly experienced sexual attraction for the first time, sometimes well into their 30s, when the circumstances were right for them. Both of these elements became important parts of Hope's journey throughout the story.
One last thing to say is that while Hope represents one possible expression of demisexuality, she is by no means meant to be the definitive example. She has her own quirks. Not recognizing when people flirt with her, for example, is a quality some demisexual people share, but certainly not all. Similarly, being bi- or pan-sexual is possible for demisexual people, but many identify as straight, too. Every person is unique. But what TB and I "hope" is that getting to know Hope will broaden and enhance the way you think about love.