Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Leotard of Feeling

I am currently faced with the challenge (note the shade of positivity) of further rewrites on my novel, and questions of tone and character in the opening chapters. How my protagonist is written in these chapters will determine how the overall piece builds and develops, and will hopefully give the story greater unity, resonance and interest.

Reading back through these chapters, I tried placing myself in the position of the unsympathetic reader, stuck with nothing but my MS to read on a stuffy bus trip to Birmingham. The problem became apparent: the character lacks the instantaneous pull required from the off. That sounds rude, but I promise it was accidental. Honest. Anyway. It dawned on me that the approach I was taking was too obtuse, to roundabout.

The novel begins with bad news. I have written the character so she is put into a state of emotional statis, i.e. locked emotionally, and this is where the problem begins. It is not basic human nature to ‘unrespond’ to piece of terrible news. A reaction has to be centred around one core emotion, whether it is denial, rage, or hysterical shrieking in a closet. Since my character refuses to emote, she has become drained of interest, or sympathy.

This is where I feel I need to get down and grapple with the vipers. I am so afraid of coming up against cliché, I will lead my characters into cul-de-sacs (or culs-de-sac) of unrealistic action. In attempting to give my character an uncoventional response to ordinary horrors, she has become distant, unreachable. The problem is one of simple human empathy. I have to wear the leotard of feeling.

I have to remember that the novel itself, and how it develops, has been designed cliché-free, so stepping into a few cowpats of cliché in the beginning to create a more believeable protagonist is a risk worth taking. The plan is to trim some of the endless comment on her inaction, and to focus more on the wracked emotional state of the poor bleeder, while retaining her penchant for pointless analysis or inquiry, which provides a blob of mirth.

This has been a challenge for me, as I am used to treating characters as props, or marionettes, to be manipulated or tugged. I am not used to treating them as actual live beings.

OK. That’s all. Dismissed.


  1. Is it ready for fellow students to read?

  2. Oh, cock no. I've just started. I was up late last night with Vic Chesntutt and a pot of tea and hammered out 500 words. It's a start.

  3. Ambivalence abounds...a parody in apathy, maybe? Could create tension, make the reader hate her because she doesn't react per the norm...I know people like that - can be one of them actually. Just because it isn't 'normal' doesn't make it 'unrealistic.' Although, I do fancy seeing you in the leotard.

  4. Well first, I want to say that a leotard suits you... you have the legs to carry off that look.

    I think your answer is in WHY she is refusing to react--how did she GET locked. I don't know whether you want to have her thinking about those things or not (or noticing contrasts to some 'last time', or whether there is some physical EVIDENCE of a past emoting that turned out badly,(or foreshadowing--some recurring something that makes the reader curious and will later be related to the reason?) but I think it can be done, even at the beginning.

  5. Crikey. That's not ME modelling the leotard. I've never eaten that many steroids.

    Instead of having the character refusing to react, she's reacting all over the place. Oh, the reactions are incredible, you should see them. Thank you for the tips, and you too Johnsie.

  6. See, this is what I hate about the current nature of publishing. The emphasis on "What will sell" or even worse "What will a publisher/agent like?"

    Yes, you voiced it as "Placing myself in the position of the unsympathetic reader" - but let's be real, you only fear such a reader because Agents and publishers are now spreading that crap to justify their behaviour.

    What happened to "Write from the heart, write what made you want to write"?

    Only re-write if it isn't working for you, isn't doing that you wanted - and fuck the unsympathetic reader!

    P.S. I have no novels published yet - so best to probably ignore my advice if you want to get an agent/publisher! :)