Sunday, April 26, 2009

Character Flaws

I finished marking up the entire first draft of the book this week. I’m not certain what my next step will be, so I’ve been thinking about the book a lot. This completely counts as writing, by the way, even though there’s no typing going on. I’m writing in my head, I swear.

I am clear on a few things in this book. What’s the main conflict? Sadie wants to get the big job. What’s the obstacle? The new boss promotes Sadie’s co-worker instead.

I also wanted to create a young, contemporary woman who was kind of the anti-Bridget Jones. Don’t get me wrong, I love that book, I just can’t help it. But it’s been done and sequeled and imitated. I wanted to create a character who wasn’t falling into goofball situations at work, who didn’t have credit card debt, who wasn’t obsessed with her weight struggles, wasn’t unable to maintain a normal relationship. So what if my character was smart, successful, ambitious and driven? You know, like most of the women I know in my life and who I can actually relate to.

So I made Sadie strong (but also sassy). I put her through the rigmarole at work, gave her lots of roadblocks, and never made things easy. After re-reading the first draft, I see I need a lot more of this, but the building blocks are there.

And lately, with all this thinking that’s been going on, I discovered a problem I had with the main character in my first book has potential to pop up in this book as well. Like Rebecca, Sadie is a little too good at everything. She’s sometimes too smart, too quick on her feet, too confident around guys, too unflappable.

I’ve realized that she needs a lot more flaws. One of the hardest to receive, yet really important to hear, pieces of feedback about my first book was that it was a little too after-school special. The story was perhaps too pleasant, too uplifting, too optimistic.

I can see the possibility of that happening in this novel. But now that I know this, I can work to avoid it. This is what writing the second novel will teach you. Can you imagine the stuff I’ll learn when I’m writing my seventh unpublished book? I’ll be like an unpublished book writing pro. Now that’s something to aim for.

But seriously, it’s interesting to see how much you can learn by just plugging away and practicing. It’s just like playing the scales on the piano or doing twenty math problems every night in seventh grade algebra. Eventually, things come easier, and you get a little stronger.

So in this situation, to get stronger as a writer, I have to make my characters a little weaker.

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