No, this topic doesn’t refer to whether or not I’m crying about my revisions. (For the record, I’m not. I’m having so much fun.) One of Sarah’s suggestions was “no tears.” As I have been reading other middle grade and YA novels for my job as a school librarian, to my surprise I realized that when the author turns on the tear faucet, I want to stop reading. I’m a wimp. I feel sad when characters suffer. Yet, a character crying doesn’t make the character more empathetic. In fact, the reverse happens, at least for me. In the meantime, check your own reaction to tears on the page.
My daily jaunt to the public library today included checking out Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I recommend this book (so does Sarah!) that looks at how creativity enhances life. I chose the audio version narrated by the author. It feels as though Elizabeth Gilbert sits near me as I drive, and she whispers words of encouragement.
I have discovered the “inner life” matters so much more than I ever realized while constructing a well-rounded character. My main character Tori wants so much. She desires friends she can count on, good homes for the animals within her family’s shelter, and the opportunity for herself and others to have their voices heard and matter.
I like how Sarah notes that the main character must be interesting above everything else. Before revising, I would have said my main character was likable. As I revised, she sometimes reacted in ways that didn’t show her likable side. The more I revised, the less perfect Tori became. I hope that when that occurred, I exposed Tori’s flaws. For my characters to be likable, they also needed to be at times fierce, angry, and perhaps more interesting than “likable.”
Here is the online definition of “likable.”
(especially of a person) pleasant, friendly, and easy to like.
Sarah included this information for me to ponder about characters:
“Adam Sexton says, ‘It is the protagonist, or main character, who sets a novel in motion.”
Robert Olen Butler says, “In fact, one way to understand plot is that it represents the dynamics of desire.” (I LOVE that.)
Janet Burroway says, “Human character is in the foreground of all fiction.” And “Your fiction can only be as successful as the characters who move it and move within it. Whether they are drawn from life or are pure fantasy, we must find them interesting, we must find them believable, and we must care about what happens to them.”
The main character can be likeable…or not. She can be rational…or not. Reliable…or not. What she MUST be is INTERESTING. WHAT SHE MUST HAVE IS AN INNER LIFE. Life goals. Flaws. Wounds. Remember: interesting characters are characters who want something that means something to US. They DRIVE the story. They face obstacles. They change.”
Sarah notes: “Without a great central character–a character with flaws–you have no story. You will probably find that you have a lot of emotional ties to this character. You probably identify with him/her on some level.
For me–and a lot of writers I know, it is CHARACTER that comes first, in particular, your main character, your POV character. Fiction is, for many writers and readers, a character-driven art. Plot is a character-driven phenomena. We get excited because a character wants something. They face obstacles. They overcome obstacles. Sometimes, they even get what they want.”
My experience: As I revise according to Sarah’s suggestions, my character develops a stronger arc. Tori, my main character, comes alive to me, and she even takes over the story, taking it to unexpected places. Tori surprises me. While she develops as a person, her newfound strengths impact me as a writer.
When reviewing a manuscript, Sarah applies this hierarchy, with the first one being the most important to the story:
- The main character
- Plot: The things that happen in the story
- Secondary characters (and subplot)
- Props and details
My experience: To get to know my main character, I’ve been using Lisa Cron’s approach of the origin story. I now know what happened to my main character before the story began, and I understand how her misbelief governed her life approach.
Inspiration can dribble into our writing from surprising places. In today’s Chicago Tribune, reporter K.C. Johnson writes about Chicago Bulls star and U.S. Olympic contender Jimmy Butler.
“Man, whoever I play for is going to get my best effort every single night,” Butler said. “That’s what got me coming at everybody. I’m not the most talented guy. I just play hard, man.”
Johnson notes that Butler added an extra hour to his already grueling two-hour basketball practice.
For writers, too, that level of determination and effort matters. So…back to work.
Sarah sent me a thirteen-page revision letter with valuable insights and suggestions. She noted: “I’m going to ask you to stretch, and then write with INTENTION, to get you thinking about the next revision. Here is a quoteI find very helpful:
“Life is when things happen one after another. Structure is when things happen because of the other”–Lew Hunter.
“I think if we sit back and analyze our work like directors…with an intention in mind…we can re-imagine the plot in the best ways.”
My experience: Using Sarah’s letter and the beginning chapters of Wired for Story, I’m reviewing my beginning. I’m asking myself if the structure of the start of my story lends itself well enough to my story plan? I started by tossing the first sentence. A half-hour later, I deleted the first three pages. As my revision begins, I have a new starting point.
Yesterday was a reading day. As I thought about my story, I read:
Save me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan I read in one sitting. I finished the book while in the parking lot of my public library as I waited for my daughter. The authors brought me into the fifth grade classroom of Albert Einstein Elementary. Ravi Suryanarayanan has just arrived to Hamilton, New Jersey from Bangalore, India. In his country of origin, Ravi ranked top of his class in academics and excelled as a cricket player. Now, no one understands him when he speaks, and he’s mortified to be assigned to a resource teacher. Joe, the other character’s perspective included, tries to sneak by the class bully and rise above the belief that everyone thinks he is stupid.
Both authors present well-crafted characters that made me laugh so hard that my two dogs came and checked on me. In contrast, a few scenes made me wipe away the tears. I read this book in one sitting and will purchase copies of this book for my middle school where I work as the librarian.