I’ve taken a step back from my book recently and realised I need to change my heroine, particularly in the opening. It’s hard.
I originally conceived of her as a slightly innocent character, very sweet-natured, but somewhat downtrodden and lacking in confidence – both in her professional and her personal life. When the story opens, she’s just been semi-stood up by someone, and she’s also been at her job for four years and worrying that she’ll never be promoted. Worrying is also a key trait of hers; but she’s also very determined, and as the story goes on becomes more feisty … I didn’t really give her much of a back story, except that she is a middle child, with a very successful (and opinionated) older sister, and a younger brother who’s also successful in his own field, and nice but slightly distant parents. She was also teased at school for being too tall, and hated school generally.
I didn’t want to do anything more elaborate/dramatic than that, partly because I do feel (maybe unfairly) that there are already an awful lot of romance/chick lit heroines with enormous drama/trauma in their past, like an alcoholic parent or a major bereavement or they’ve killed someone in a car crash. Obviously this can be very powerful, but … this character’s about 26 and I feel that lots of lucky people her age haven’t that dramatic a back story. And this story isn’t meant to be about facing demons in her past; it’s meant to be about overcoming challenges in the here and now. Though I suppose those are always going to be affected by one’s past. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a middle ground between ‘middle child’ and ‘killed her alcoholic mother in a car crash’ (though boy, I’d like to read about that character).
Anyway, I’ll have to do something, because it’s not working. Instead of being innocent and slightly put-upon, I’m finding her childish and self-pitying. And I’m finding it hard to make her sufficiently downtrodden without giving her an evil boss, and I feel the evil boss has been done. I also had a scene with her and a far more confident and slightly bossy friend, to throw her into contrast, but now I think it’s probably not a great introduction to show her secretly resenting her friend.
Argh. If I could manage to step back from it, that would help, but unfortunately that’s really hard at the moment. Posts like this help, however.
The issue of characters’ ‘pasts’ is interesting. I was just thinking I might watch a bit of the West Wing. If you take a character like Donna, we know very little about her past – other than that she’s from Minnesota (I think?) and broke up with a boyfriend just as she left college, and decided on a total change of career as a result. I suppose that is quite a lot of info. A TV drama I guess is different, because obviously it takes place in the here and now, there’s no internal dialogue, and you have, um, actors. Ah, if only we could have actors in books.
I do know who would play my heroine in the hypothetical film of the hypothetical book: Romola Garai (as shown below in, I think, Glorious ’37). And my hypothetical /fantasy leading man is Marc Blucas. And in a strange and spooky cosmic coincidence, they appear together in the film of one of my favourite books: I Capture the Castle. I’m hoping this is a good omen.