Further thoughts on revision –
February 10th, 2013
— Or: Why your editor’s (and readers’) reactions to characters in your novel may be unexpected.
I was thinking about how often Caitlin’s comments could be boiled down to: Your character needs to show more emotion in this scene.
This is not an unfamiliar comment. My Knopf editor asked me to do something similar, asking: Can you put the reader more into your protagonist’s head?
I do work on this. Honest.
But this morning these ideas sort of struck a note of familiarity. Ah hah! I exclaimed at last, and went looking for this essay.
It’s an essay by Marie Brennan on the trouble the author, as an introvert, can have in getting across a character’s reactions to the readers. And of course, you won’t succeed with all readers, so there’s no sense worrying about it.
I’m not trying to imply that all authors are introverts, btw. Just that this paticular issue might be something that applies to authors who are.
Brennen says: “Some readers love my characters for their believability or depth, while others dismiss them as lifeless cardboard. . . . as I am a fairly reserved person, my characters’ idea of demonstrative floods of emotion may not look like much to the extroverts out there.”
And there you go. Doesn’t that make so much sense? Especially when you add to it the obvious truth that the author knows what is in her characters’ heads whether they wear their hearts on their sleeves or not?
Brennen adds: “So I, not really being the sort to wave flags when I’m excited or angry or whatever, don’t tend to wave them for my characters, either. Or rather, I do — by my standards of measurement. And maybe if you’re a similar sort of person, then the things I intend to be flags register as such, and voila, you see depth of emotion. But people who are more used to wearing their hearts on their sleeves will only see a faint tick on the psychological seismograph, and think the character is made out of wood.”
I could hardly put it better. And yes, Brennen adds that this isn’t going to be the full explanation for how differently various readers perceive characterization in any particular book. Of course that’s true. But the idea really resonates with me.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I still haven’t gotten to her book, MIDNIGHT NEVER COME, which is down on my TBR shelves and has been for literally years. I swear I will get to it this year. Probably. For me, stand-alones filter toward the top of the pile and series fall toward the bottom, especially if the last book of the series isn’t out yet. I just don’t always have TIME to read a whole trilogy, if I’m supposed to be working on a project of my own. Even though I read fast.
Anybody read Brennen’s series? (Probably everybody but me, right?) What did you think of it? Her Swan Tower essays are good enough that I’m pretty confident I’ll really enjoy her books.
Posted in: The Craft of Writing by Rachel on February 10th, 2013