Teatime Tuesday #25

Welcome back to Teatime Tuesday! And thank you for your patience with last week’s delays.


Today’s tea was fairly typical for me. For my afternoon treat, I had a Triple Berry scone from Paradise Bakery. (I’m not actually sure which three berries were used in the recipe! I even checked their website, but couldn’t find the answer. I’ll have to ask them next time.) It had a sweet glaze on top, so it felt a little redundant to add jam and clotted cream–but I went ahead and did it anyway.


For my tea, I steeped up a cup of Sansia Black, purchased from Butiki Teas (which is now closed, sadly). Sansia Black is very smooth, especially for a straight black tea, and it has a honey-like undertone to it. As I’d hoped, the honey notes went really well with the sweetness of the scone.

Thanks for joining me for tea!

The Problem of the Everygirl

This post was difficult for me to write, because I didn’t want it to sound overly strident. Turns out, I hold some strong opinions when it comes to fictional characters. (No surprise there, really!) In the past, I’ve talked about how I tend to read with a focus on character, rather than plot. When I open a book, I want to read about fascinating people who do amazing things. However, I care more about who they are as people than about what they’re able to accomplish.

This can be a problem.

In bestselling fiction, protagonists tend to be “everymen.” In the case of the YA genre, where the protagonists are usually female, they are “everygirls.” Often struggling just to survive, these protagonists inspire our sympathy because, even though they are caught up in extraordinary circumstances, deep down they are just like us. They care about their families and friends, and they want to survive and find love and all kinds of relatable desires.

This is not a bad thing, in itself. But all too often, I find these stories difficult to enjoy. The protagonist’s name becomes a challenge for me to remember, because she resembles too many other protagonists in YA novels. When I finish the book, I am unable to describe the heroine in detail to my fellow readers. Instead of having a distinct personality, she reacts like most people would in her situation (especially if they had her background/upbringing).

Contrary to what you might think, this does not mean that these stories are poorly written. Often the protagonists have complex motives and realistic emotions… But they are still forgettable, and while their circumstances are highly interesting, they are not. At least, not to me.

Now, let me pull back for a moment and confess that my standards for ‘interesting’ are high. (Perhaps too high!) Based on reviews I’ve read, plenty of people can read a story about an everygirl and be satisfied with it. But then again, readers love to encounter a character who is unique, who has a distinct personality and voice. So why not satisfy everyone? A main character can have a unique personality and still care about many of the same things readers do. She can be sympathetic and an individual.

Unfortunately, I think one reason why protagonists in YA don’t always feel unique is because they’re trying to be unique in the same way. Many YA heroines are closed off emotionally because of tragic events in their past. In expressing this part of themselves, they tend to be sullen and antisocial and a bit caustic. (Again, this isn’t a bad thing in itself! It just blurs together with other YA protagonists who possess these traits.) They are untrusting—but given their circumstances, they should be. They are survivors, and many of them are skilled with weapons—but again, given their circumstances, they need to be.

In other words, Katniss is a cool character, but I’ve already read about her. (Also, I think a lot of people in Katniss’s situation would act at least a little bit like Katniss.) So it’s important to try to make a protagonist unique, to differentiate her from other YA heroines. But how exactly do you create a character with a distinct personality?

Well, a character with personality has patterns of behavior that are specific to her. Those patterns should contrast starkly with those of the other characters in the story, so readers can see the difference. Most stories get that part right—but I believe a heroine who is truly unique will behave in certain ways regardless of her background and current circumstances (i.e. whether she’s rich or poor, whether her home life was good or bad, whether her life is being threatened or not).

Basically, I want to read about a protagonist who has specific and definable traits (hot-tempered, energetic, shy, a goofy sense of humor, etc.), but not just because her parents got divorced or she lives on a farm or something like that. Those things are still a factor, of course; our circumstances and background affect us. But it shouldn’t be the only factor, the primary thing I know about her. I want to know what a protagonist would be like if I met her in high school. I want to know which result she would get in one of those silly personality quizzes in magazines, the ones that don’t have a category for “damaged by a dark past” or “just trying to survive.”

Most of all, I want to be able to describe a protagonist in enthusiastic detail to my friends, when I go on to recommend the book to them. (“Oh, you’ll love her. She acts like this most of the time, but then she does this crazy thing when she’s stressed out, and also she reminds me of this person we both know, because…”) I want to feel like I’m introducing my friends to an interesting person, not a generic character who gets tossed around by the plot—no matter how thrilling that plot may be.

In the end, I want to read about all kinds of protagonists, not just “everygirls.” Having a unique protagonist makes a story more entertaining, and besides, it makes me care more about the heroine and her journey. And isn’t that something all writers want?

Note: I may follow up with more on this subject later, with tips on how to create/define a particular character’s personality.

Teatime Tuesday #24

Hello again, everyone! I’ve been working on a blog post about protagonists (specifically, female protagonists in YA), but for today, I have another Teatime Tuesday post to share.


This week, I had a special treat in the form of some lemon poppyseed tea cake from Wolferman’s, courtesy of my grandmother. It was dense and moist and surprisingly sweet–particularly the frosting, which I loved. (This cake did not last very long at my house!) I tend to be a chocoholic, but I really enjoy lighter flavors like lemon, especially during this time of year.


As for my tea, I’ve been hooked on Verdant’s Laoshan Autumn Green lately, which is probably my favorite green tea at the moment. (Verdant’s spring harvest teas will be coming in soon, though, so I may have some new favorites to share soon!)


I also have a bonus teatime picture to share, courtesy of my friend and former college roommate, who made Earl Grey cupcakes last week. (She even let me take some of them home!) They were light and spongy, and had Earl Grey buttercream frosting. Also featured in the photo is a Hufflepuff mug, purchased from our epic visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter a few years ago. (I have the matching Ravenclaw mug, of course!) We had Lavender Earl Grey tea from Rishi to go with the cupcakes.

Once again, thanks for joining me for tea!

Teatime Tuesday #23

It’s Teatime Tuesday again!


This week, I’m revisiting an oolong tea from Verdant called Shui Xian Wuyi Oolong, which I described in a previous post. It’s both a uniquely delicious oolong, and a good example of one with a classic floral profile (as opposed to the more heavily roasted types).

This week, I paired my tea with an extra special treat, a cupcake from Sprinkles. They have a shop in Scottsdale, where they make tasty cupcakes that just might be my favorite dessert ever. (I’ve even had them instead of cake on my birthday.) My favorite flavor is Chocolate Marshmallow, but they’re all excellent. This particular cupcake is a new flavor, Triple Cinnamon, with buttery cinnamon frosting. It pairs surprisingly well with oolong tea; the cinnamon creates a contrast with the juicy floral notes, and enhances them.


That’s it for Teatime Tuesday! Thanks for joining me. I hope to have more writing-related posts to share with you over the next few weeks.