Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with Mrs Holder’s Legacy
I have a problem. …I’ve had to conclude that my main character has more than a touch of the Janes. Whilst several of my minor dramatis personae have introduced themselves with unexpected enthusiasm, telling me all sorts of unimagined things about themselves, Lucy – or maybe Chloe (this woman is such an enigma, I can’t even work out what her name is) – is keeping resolutely shtum.” The Jane Fairfax Dilemma
Revision Blues? I wish.
Killing my darling was only the beginning of the struggle.
Formerly a minor character, he somehow managed to cut out so much scene-time for himself that I was stunned to discover half way through the novel that two protagonists became three.
Now then. I must have a word with him, I decided. What we ended up having was a paragraph instead, and then some.
Me: Look, Bertie. I like you. You always bring something fresh to the table and I appreciate that. However… there are characters and then there are leads. You are not a lead so… Would you kindly explain on what account you take such liberties with my plot?
Gray: I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I’m the spice of your little suspense novel, aren’t I? Don’t take me wrong. I’m happy to help out, but know this: I’m not some stooge who’s going to pop in any time you need to make the other guy jealous. If that’s what you want then — be my guest — find someone else to do the legwork. I didn’t spend three years at RADA to get your leftovers.
Thus speaketh the great Thespian.
Wait a second. I created you! Aren’t you supposed to do what I tell you?
Not Bertie. A few chapters back, this no-strings-attached actor by day and round the clock womaniser, halted right in the middle of a rather steamy scene, turned around and point blank refused to follow the script. His conflicting desires, his backstory, the present ambiguity of the relationship between him and the other character… It was too much. He wanted some time to take stock of the situation. Going through with it didn’t feel right — apparently.
That’s all well and good, but how am I expected to work under these conditions? I tried to reason with him. I explained how important this scene was to the plot. It’s a turning point, I said. No. He would have none of it.
Gray: Find another way to turn it then. Don’t go objectifying me. Need conflict? Start a war. I’m done.
Ta-da. Off he went and the entire production skidded to a standstill. New scene up in flames.
Me: Alright. Alright! You don’t want to do it. I get that. But what does feel right to you? Tell me, what is it that you want? Let me get into your head!
Me: Pretty please?
When I came across Mrs Holder’s Legacy‘s piece earlier today I realised that we were dealing with the same problem. The Jane Fairfax problem. For those of you unfamiliar with Austen’s work, Jane Fairfax is a character in her novel Emma: “Jane is the niece of one of Emma’s neighbours and, despite … being intelligent, educated and otherwise the epitome of the suitable companion, Emma finds her – well, more than a bit annoying. The problem, we are told, is that she is too “reserved”. Emma can’t work out what she thinks about anything; she can’t confide in her; she can’t instruct her, or scold her, or laugh with her. In short, she can’t work out what makes her tick.” MHL
MHL’s Lucy and my Bertie are – in a nutshell – our Jane(s) Fairfax.
Just as MHL can’t work out what her Lucy thinks about, so am I denied access to Bertie’s inner life. That means that in any given situation I can’t tell how the character will react. Hence my aborted scene, and this latest impossible task of making Bertie do his job and move the plot forward.
If he’s not plotting with me then who is he plotting with? He’s up to something. I’m sure of it. I’d put a detective on his tail if I had the means to do it.
As MHL says: “I know Lucy’s a very private person and all, but surely she can tell me what she’s thinking? I created her after all! Doesn’t that entitle me to some kind of confidence? Doesn’t she have any sense of gratitude?!”
Hear that, Bertie? Gratitude. You may think yourself secure, but take care. I’ve killed my darlings before. I can do it again. So sayeth the desperate author, pulling at her hair.
That’s that. Have to find some way to bring him back to the fold… But how? There must be a way, something to tempt a character to confide. Could try getting him drunk, I suppose. He’s rather partial to whiskey. Might get messy though… Don’t want to put him out of action altogether. Have you ever encountered this problem?
How do you get into your characters’ heads, if they refuse to let you in voluntarily?
All suggestions welcome!
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