The lady doth protest too much.

3 May

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Today I’m going to share a short epiphany of sorts. I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to realize it; I supposed it’s possible that it’s the sort of thing you learn by doing.

I’m in the midst of revising and I figured something out the other day. One of my main characters has a personality that isn’t exactly reader friendly. Being that this is a book I’m trying to write, that’s not the best quality a character could possess. And I finally understand what it is about her that needs to be tweaked.

You know those people that are adversative for no reason? That, usually just for kicks, say no to everything you ask of them? Yeah, she’s kind of one of them. At the beginning, when I wasn’t sure how my story would go, this was okay because it provided a great amount of comic relief and it was fun to write. But now that I’m trying to tighten everything up, all it does is gets annoying.

When you have, for example, an opening scene with said character, establishing that they’re contrary is great, but when their contrariness slows down the action, it becomes a problem. For example, I had a scene where a boy was trying to get her, Ingrid, to follow him somewhere and she just sat there and spewed stupid witticisms that made him look dumb. And the whole time I wanted to scream at her to shut the hell up and get on with it. So, in some spur-of-the-moment viciousness, I took that whole chunk and cut it out.

Suddenly, the scene got much, much better, and the discovery that I could keep cutting out the annoying bits whenever I wanted to re-inspired me more than anything else recently.

But why did it take me so long to figure this out? Surely I always knew that, it being my work, I could cut whatever I wanted, right?

Well…not quite. I had to learn a few things first.

Like I said, Ingrid isn’t exactly a people pleaser. She’s extremely stubborn and there are times where even I want to punch her in the face. It’s not that she isn’t likeable, just that sometimes it’s easier to not have to deal with her—especially when she’s in one of her moods. When I first thought about cutting out the parts where she amps up her annoying traits, I was afraid that it would change her actual personality.

You see, my fear was that if she started giving in easily, she wouldn’t be as strong.

But a strong character is strong not only because they’re confident and aware of themselves, but because they choose to do the things they do. If someone tells Ingrid to do something, she doesn’t do it because she’s been told; she does it because she wants to or because she accepts that she needs to. And when something really exciting is happening, chances are she wants to find out what’s going on more than she wants to stand in one place just because she knows it’ll annoy whoever she’s with. So why would she say no to following the mysterious boy with answers? Yes, it makes sense in the shallows of her personality; she’s adversative. But deeper than that, she’s adventure-seeking and suffering from cabin fever. She would actually very readily follow. She’s interested. She’s hooked. She’s passionate as much as she’s contrary, and when the passion wins over, all she wants to do is find out more.

So really, cutting out those tedious scenes of “No, because I feel like being obnoxious,” and replacing them with scenes of “Yes, but only because I want to,” has made more sense than anything else I’ve done so far. The only thing it’s done to her personality is it has made her look less like a 3-year-old constantly asking why and more like a sixteen-year-old headstrong young woman who knows that she can back out at any moment she wants. She has that power.

I think that’s far more interesting than funny, insulting one-liners based in the first-impression insecurities of the characters around her.

So pretty much, what I’ve learned and am trying to share here, is that strength of character isn’t denial. It isn’t spunky for the sake of spunky, or bitchy for the sake of bitchy. It’s a deeper, more personal trait that isn’t always shown through dialogue, but can always be spotted through the subtleties of actions. These actions, no matter how brief, have the power to add up to a fully-formed character with countless dimensions that will take root in the reader’s mind. You will no longer be saying “Hey look! Look how strong they are!” You’ll be saying that yes, they’re strong, and yes, they know it, and because they’re secure in that knowledge, they don’t feel the need to constantly validate themselves by putting down others.

This, I believe, is applicable to more than just Ingrid.

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

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14 Responses to “The lady doth protest too much.”

  1. Kat Zhang May 3, 2011 at 2:37 AM #

    Fantastic post! Can’t WAIT to see your revisions for TIME IS A FUNNY THING 😀

    • Biljana May 3, 2011 at 1:55 PM #

      :D:D I’m excited to finish them!!!

  2. Susan May 3, 2011 at 4:15 AM #

    Wow. Um. Awesome post. I kinda just discovered this SAME thing, but you’ve explained it much more eloquently… I was supposed to cut 5K from SS&D. “Eleanor is too think-y,” my editor said. “We need to pick up the pacing.”

    I was SO resistant to this because I thought I’d be removing all of Eleanor’s voice and personality. I was like, “Think-y? No! She’s just got clever thoughts in reaction to her surroundings. Those need to be there!”

    Then I read the novel for the first time in 2 months, and… Holy crap. Eleanor IS thinky, and it slows down the action SO much. Like you, removing all those witty asides doesn’t remove Eleanor’s character–it just shows she’s more focused on the things at hand as she should be!

    So yeah, I wound up cutting 7k, and the book is so much tighter now! Lesson learned.

    • Biljana May 3, 2011 at 2:06 PM #

      Yes! That’s awesome. And yeah think-y-ness is my other vice haha. Hopefully I’ll be able to cut out as much as you. That’s quite a feat :).

  3. Alli May 3, 2011 at 4:36 AM #

    This is one of the most enlightning and inspirational posts I’ve ever read. Impressive. Lots to think about and process, but I’ll be bookmarking this and coming back to it every time one of my characters starts taking over. Fabulous! Thank you!

    • Biljana May 3, 2011 at 2:07 PM #

      I’m glad it was helpful :).

  4. Victoria Dixon May 3, 2011 at 8:43 AM #

    Yeah, I’ve done a lot of this for my mc and wouldn’t be surprised if an agent/editor asks for more. Jie is thinky/feely all the time. LOL I’m just too “blind” to it to reliably cut right now. You did a great job explaining this.

    • Biljana May 3, 2011 at 2:07 PM #

      Mhm I definitely had to step away from my MS for a bit of time in order to really see just how much I was doing it. Good luck :).

  5. Ella May 3, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

    Really good point!

    ‘Sides. If I want to hear my characters ramble, they’re not going anywhere. We can sit down and have a private conversation /outside/ of revisions. ;3

    • Biljana May 3, 2011 at 2:08 PM #

      Yeahhhhhh :D. And you’ll always have the good old times in your memories ;).

  6. Emery May 3, 2011 at 4:35 PM #

    To agree with all the other comments: I’ve definitely come across that before, but I never was able to put into words before. Thanks for the post! Your time put into understanding the problem and solution is helping others! 🙂

    • Biljana May 8, 2011 at 5:53 PM #

      That’s my goal! 😀 Glad it worked!

  7. Savannah J. Foley May 4, 2011 at 2:49 PM #

    SO PROUD of you for doing all that hard editing! And you’re so right; you’re not going to lose Ingrid’s voice by taking away her contrariness. I can’t imagine her NOT being contrary, it’s definitely a part of her personality, but cutting a lot of it will only make her stronger as a character. Well done, can’t wait to read the rewrite!

    • Biljana May 8, 2011 at 5:53 PM #

      It’ll still be some time, I think :P.

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