Welcome, Meredith! I so enjoyed Just Friends with Benefits and was impressed with the ensemble cast you created. How did you go about creating the vivid ensemble cast, especially Stephanie?
When I first started writing Just Friends With Benefits, it wasn't called Just Friends With Benefits. And the intended plot was completely different than the storyline that ultimately developed.
I initially envisioned Stephanie Cohen as the girl I always wanted to be. The "cool" girl who was always confident, always knew the right things to say to guys, always dressed in expensive clothes, always the life of the party. This is the character I introduced when I submitted the first 25 pages for critique by my classmates at Gotham Writer's Workshop.
My classmates enjoyed my pages but most confessed to liking and relating to my main character only after they read how flustered she got around her friend and old college crush, Craig Hille. They weren't as interested in the girl who confidently scoped out the room, saw her friends and knew the party could really begin now that she'd arrived as they were in the girl whose cheeks flushed and knees wobbled when walking towards Craig. What they liked most about Stephanie was her vulnerable side.
At that time, I was already close to one hundred pages in, but I knew the original Stephanie had to be recast as more of the girl who reminded my readers of themselves or their best friend as opposed to the girl they envied. But how?
I used to write an anonymous personal blog and sometimes I lacked the restraint to hold back. I wrote about a guy I dated who made me feel not good enough. I wrote about some family dysfunctionality. And I wrote about my wishes for the future and fears that they'd never come to fruition. But I also wrote funny posts about PMS, my bitchy best friend from high school, and crazy nights out with the girls. As a writer, many people liked my posts. And even the readers who did not necessarily relate to me, liked me and were interested in my comings and goings and in my personal growth. And as a reader of blogs, I usually prefer those written by women to whom I can relate and nod my head in understanding. And so I decided to make Stephanie less like the most popular girl in school and more like me and other "real" women, only more interesting and more prone to get herself into trouble.
It was easy to draw from personal experience when writing Stephanie. One of my best friends is a married man who absolutely adores me and vice-versa. He is always there to share a laugh and give me the male perspective, a confidence boost and sometimes a much needed reality check. And so it was easy to write about Stephanie's relationship with her male best friend, Eric. Additionally, I've always had an easy time hanging out with guys. I love beer and baseball and am not that easily offended by vulgarity. Yet, I've also experienced the heartache of rejection, the emotional roller coasters associated with dating "the bad guy" and the uncertainty as to whether the guy I like likes me back. And so it was easy to write about Stephanie's easy breezy relationship with her guy friends as well as her trepidation concerning her love interests. I've also been known to throw back too many shots of tequila, trip over my own feet and fight with my mother about her endless interest in my love life. All of these things went into creating the character of Stephanie.
When I first started writing JFWB, I thought it was going to be about a generally "smooth" and confident woman falling in love with an emotionally unavailable man and dealing with the consequences of his douchiness. But it ended up a story about a somewhat late bloomer learning the difference between wishful thinking and reality. As Stephanie came alive, it became much more fun to watch her make the common mistakes and misconceptions women make when dating and sabotage her own relationships than merely a victim of someone else's poor behavior.
Thanks so much, Meredith! Good luck on your next writing adventure!