Thank heavens my internal writer stopped me. No one--not even a hair stylist-- would read about a teen getting her hair cut and watching it grow out again. But the alopecia angle struck a chord with me, and I knew it was going to take me somewhere.
After a good deal of brainstorming, Oribella Bettencourt began to emerge. First I saw her hair—thick and wavy, honey and sunshine, falling to just below her shoulder blades. Losing such magnificent hair would be devastating. But to be engaging, the story needed much more.
The key, I decided, was in Oribella’s past. All I had to do was create it.
Putting Ori’s childhood together was relatively easy. I envisioned her as a girl whose mother had groomed her for stardom since Day One. That meant no play, no snacks, no sun, no friends, no boys. No anything that could damage Ori’s exquisite looks or distract her from her mother’s goals. In that environment, it was inevitable for Ori to grow up believing her appearance was the only meaningful part of herself.
Okay, that made sense. But why was Oribella’s success so critical to her mother Rhonda? An excellent question, and one my readers were sure to ask. Characters, like their flesh-and-blood counterparts, need reasons for what they do.
Now I had to look into Rhonda’s childhood. Something so traumatic and compelling must have happened when she was young that it changed the course of her life. Fine. Rhonda was abandoned by her glamorous mother Arianna and raised by her stoic grandparents. Because of that, she never outgrew the feeling that she wasn’t pretty or talented enough to be worthwhile.
Good deal. Now why, exactly, did Arianna abandon her daughter? Oh-my-gosh, I had to know that, too!
Hmm. Arianna was a self-centered girl who felt she was too good for the
Now why was Arianna so self-centered? I refused to go there. If I kept at it, I’d be writing the story of Oribella’s ancestors on the Mayflower.
But then I had a grasp of why Oribella believed Rhonda’s goals were her goals. I knew how Ori developed her chameleon-like ability to be whatever pageant judges wanted her to be. How she grew to be the perfect Stepford teen.
Once I knew what Oribella wanted most in life, I dangled it at her fingertips and snatched it out of reach, throwing her world into chaos. Ruining Ori’s life didn’t feel good—it never does—but without that catastrophe she wouldn’t have discovered the real, live person inside her beautiful shell.
Which, I hope, is a lot more interesting than watching hair grow.
Thanks, Jan! :)