Blog 5: Shallow and petty…

are adjectives I never wanted ascribed to the main character in my novel, yet there I was with the aforementioned editor who attributed these words to my heroine, Nora Donovan.  Those words smarted, yet they profoundly resonated. One’s heroine is the focal character in the story, and her job is to drive the entire narrative.  So, if an editor, a woman who works in the romance business, tells me my main character is unlikable, well then, I am in deep trouble with my writing… or so I thought.  What I learned is that I have a lot to learn, but I instinctively know more than I think I do.

After I pressed my editor as to why she didn’t like Nora, she enlightened me by explaining that in my opening scene, my heroine is trashing another character that the reader has not yet met.  Nora seems to focus on trivial aspects of this woman’s life and appearance. Since Nora never fully explains to the reader why she is taking cheap shots at her nemesis, Blythe, and because we have not been shown why Blythe is indeed this horrible woman,  in my editor’s mind, there seems to be no basis for Nora’s feelings other than she is shallow and petty.

When I thought about her critique, I was initially confused.  Her critique didn’t seem fair.  Won’t I show Blythe later, and then the reader will understand Nora’s feelings?  In Chick Lit, aren’t heroines allowed to be snarky and sarcastic? Don’t women feel jealousy and envy toward other women who always seem to have everything or toward women who always seem to one-up them?  When I asked these questions, she said that in romance, one’s heroine must be likable immediately, or the reader won’t buy-in.  She gave me suggestions on how I should rearrange my scenes to achieve this, and I took all she said under advisement, but I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around those adjectives.

I let her comments ruminate for a while, and I didn’t go near my novel. The thought of trying to rearrange and rework everything seemed daunting, and I really liked Nora the way I had created her. I didn’t know what to do with her now that she was dubbed petty and shallow.  I wondered if I should ditch her all together.  Clearly, we weren’t too good for each other.

I decided to talk about this critique with those with whom I had allowed to read my novel, and they all vehemently disagreed with the editor’s assessment.  They loved Nora’s voice.  They thought she was hysterical.  So, I was really flummoxed, to say the least.  What to do?  What to do?  Like Pooh, I wanted to stick my head in the honey pot. Instead, I told myself I had to forge ahead.  This was the first negative remark I had heard, and it had come from an authority figure, so it had weight and merit.  Although it was hard to hear, it was constructive criticism.  This was no time to be petty and shallow.

Being a pantser, I decided I needed to be a plotter, so I took out the book I mentioned in a previous blog about writing a book in 30 days.  I figured this was a good way to go back and rework my story.  I also read another book on how to write a romance novel.  I used the tips in the books and started reworking my scenes, but I felt like I was taking my round story and trying to fit it into a square story peg where it didn’t belong.  This is about the time I was asking for those signs as to whether or not I should be writing this novel at all since it just wasn’t working. I bet you can guess what happened. Yup, another sign, and this one all but kicked me in the, uh, head.

I remembered I had been given a gift certificate for Barnes and Noble from one of my beloved students.  I decided to go online and use it to find yet another book on writing. Sure enough, when I searched, books on writing, one of the first ones that came up was Cathy Yardley’s book, Will Write for Shoes How to Write a Chick Lit Novel.  I ordered it on the spot,and read it voraciously.  It’s so conversational in style, thus, it was a joy to read! Best of all, the tips she gives are so easy and pragmatic that after reading it, I realized that my book is not a romance in the traditional sense; therefore, it doesn’t have to fit into the tight parameters that dictate that particular genre.  Chick Lit, while relatively new, is its own evolving genre, and all of the reasons I loved initially writing my novel make me know that it’s Chick Lit!

After my initial euphoria, I felt like an idiot.  With all the books I’ve bought in the past 10 years, how could this one have escaped my attention? This book was published in 2006–I started writing my novel in 2007 without every knowing what Chick Lit was.   It was clear; without even knowing it, I had been crafting a Chick Lit novel from the very start, and  I needed to continue writing it.  So, while I will still take into consideration the notes the editor gave to me, I’m just going to enjoy the process of writing the damn thing for now.  I’ll worry about unattractive adjectives about my work when I revise and edit it!

Maybe it’s wrong for me to admit that so much of me is so much a part of Nora, but I think when a writer creates a character, it is based on everything that person is and knows. This is why I think I know why Nora is, perhaps, petty and shallow.  It’s because many of the things that I have her do in the novel are the same actions or reactions I’ve displayed in real life.  Have there been occasions when I have gossiped about and judged others to make myself feel better? Yes.  Do I let stupid, nonsensical things annoy me on a daily basis? Yes.  At times, instead of genuinely celebrating another’s achievement, am I silently reassuring my fragile ego that I am accomplished, too? Yes.  Am I fully comfortable in my own skin, or do I often need validation that I am as worthy and good enough as the attractive, thin woman who just walked in the room? Yes.  Do I make mistakes all the time, and try to find a lesson in each one.  Yes.  And, it got me to thinking.

Doesn’t neurosis make us all human?  Don’t we all have aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to show to anyone, not even ourselves? And doesn’t all of this make for great fiction?!  Obviously, because along came Chic LIt.  Just like it’s awfully dangerous to take ourselves too seriously, I don’t want to take my Chick Lit heroine’s flaws too seriously either.  If Nora seems to be petty and shallow in the beginning of the story, it’s for sure that throughout the novel, I will have her work to overcome this. Thus, I’ll be evolving, too, through her journey and evolution.   Nora is different from me, too.  She’s funnier, more courageous, prettier, more generous and thoughtful than I am.  Life imitates art, and art imitates life.  Chick Lit allows the heroine to fail miserably at being perfect. This is what makes it so relatable, so real, so funny, and probably, so Nora!

So, I guess the only thing I know for sure is that before that editor uttered those two dreadful words, Nora and I enjoyed hanging out with each other. It’s time we return to each other unashamed and unfettered.   It’s been way too long, and I miss her.  As her creator, she is the way I can come to understand this world and my truth about it. We need each other.   And there’s nothing shallow or petty in admitting that!

 

 

 

Author: jaynemagdalentraver

I have been writing all my life in one form or another. I have been an English teacher for the past 22 years, and writing, whether it be teaching literary analysis, argumentation or creative elements, has always been a main focus in my classroom. I have come to realize that teaching literature and writing have prepared me to write my own novel, but like most endeavors, it's been easier said than done. Here, in this blog space, I hope to gain insight into my own strengths and weaknesses in writing to finally become the writer I am destined to be.

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