Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Some people are very good at writing believable characters, while others are better at plotting. And even when a person can create good characters, sometimes he has an easier time creating characters of one sex than the other. I know some people who do great female characters and have a bit of a challenge with male characters. I'm just the opposite. For some reason, my male characters are fine, while the females often need quite a bit of revision. It isn't really the secondary female characters, either--it's usually the main characters I have trouble conveying properly. I may know what makes them tick, but somehow I don't always get into their heads enough in the right places to show the reader what the MC is thinking or feeling. Recently a wonderful lady pointed out to me that this generally tends to happen when my female protagonist is in a scene with another character. If she's alone, we're in her head and know what's going on, but when someone else enters the scene, we sometimes lose the internal dialog that would give us the clue as to what she's actually feeling. I'm so glad she pointed this out to me; I wasn't aware that this is what was happening. Now that I know what to watch for, I can fix it.

I was trying to figure out why I have this difficulty, and I think I may have an answer. I think that I've read so much about the concept of "Mary Sues" that I hold back a little when writing a female main character. A "Mary Sue" is thought to be wish fulfillment on the author's part--when the author creates a character who is in essence the author herself, only prettier, smarter, more confident...too darn close to perfect. Subconsciously, I think I worry that if I put too much of me into my character or put myself too far into her shoes, then she could end up being a Mary Sue. So when it comes down to the writing of that character, what happens is the exact opposite: I don't give the character enough of my strengths, don't go far enough into her head, etc. In essence, she becomes an anti-Mary Sue. Then there's the other half of the problem: the concern about "telling" vs. "showing". I've always tried to show by the character's body posture, physical reactions, etc. what she's feeling or going through. Apparently, in my quest to show, not tell, I've still not shown enough--or maybe just a tiny bit of telling is actually warranted. So the combination of these things that I hold back on is enough to cause a disconnect between some of my readers and my main character. I know that a writer can't please everyone all of the time, and different readers will form completely different ideas about the same piece of writing, but since I've identified that these things can be a problem for my MC, I need to watch out for them.

I went back into some stuff I'd already written and played with one of my MC's a bit to see what I could do if I made some changes along the lines I mentioned above. Where before I have to admit I was a little frustrated and in fact felt a slight disconnect from my own character at times, after I made the changes I found myself thinking, "You go, girl!", wanting to cheer my MC on and feeling proud of her when she showed backbone in the right places and for the right reasons. Girl power, not Mary Sue power. That's what we need.


Adrian Swift said...

I can relate to this in part, and would be very interested in reading an excerpt if you'd care to share one, to offer feedback on the issues you raised in your posting, whether as a reader I can grasp clearly, infer adequately, or feel there is not enough information to work with.

If you would like to share an excerpt (in strict confidence) for feedback, you can email me at:

americanauthor //at//
[dot] com

Best wishes for your continued progress,


KHurley said...

Adrian, thanks for the kind offer! I think I'm okay for the moment. I might take you up on it in the future, though.

You mentioned that you can relate to the problem at least a little...has this come up much in your writing? If so, what ways did you find to get around it?

Adrian Swift said...

Kathy, I'll reflect some more on this so I can figure how best to respond and be brief about it. The words tend to flow a little too easily sometimes, and it takes effort for me to be concise. I may blog about the topic, since it's a fascinating one in its own right, and one I haven't blogged about before. I'll try to do that soon, maybe Friday or Saturday.

I think you're on the right track.