Monday, December 10, 2007

Calibrating the Rude-O-Meter

I've gotten used to people thinking I'm weird. Characters talk in my head, I find bizarre and otherwise useless facts interesting (and wonder how they could work into a story), and so forth.

But I had no idea I was abnormal in other ways. I continue to discover just how many areas this covers when my critique group calls me on stuff my characters do or think.

Things that apparently are NOT normal.

The biggest eye-opener was with the first book I brought to the group. Everyone kept saying how completely unlikeable the heroine was. She was rude and snotty and all kinds of things.

I was horrified as they pointed to bits of dialogue to prove their point—parts that I never in a million years intended to be rude or snotty. Parts I never realized could be interpreted that way.

Apparently my rude and snotty meters needed adjusting. I know I'm not the most socially-talented person on the planet, but I suddenly realized that yikes—I had probably said lots of things in the past that had been interpreted as rude, because Brooke had to talk like me on some level, since I created her.

Learning to tweak and change how Brooke talked and behaved was a major social education for me. It was a challenge to reflect how I saw her and make readers like her.

Continuing to create likeable characters has been an on-going process for me, one that I never expected to be so hard. I also never expected the lessons to reach into my daily life. But they have. It's not uncommon for me to pause and think through something before I say it and try to run it through the rude-o-meter. (The fact that I often misread the meter is another issue.)

I've had other moments along the same lines that aren't so dramatic and life-changing, such as a critique meeting in Provo a couple of years ago. I was told in so uncertain terms by at least two group members that something my heroine did was juvenile and completely unrealistic—that any woman who would do such a thing was immature and childish. "I would hope she would have grown up since high school," was one comment.*

Oh. I guess I'm completely immature and childish, because that detail was based on me.

(I didn't tell them that, though . . . because really, people, I'm not THAT socially backward.)

*This was for a contemporary book I have shelved in favor of my historical work. (In case you were wondering which heroine in my temple books ever went to high school.)


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Wow, eye opening indeed. I've had a small taste of that in the writing of my first book, as the main character is me, pure and simple.

Disturbing yet lovely all in one moment.

Luisa Perkins said...

Fascinating; I find you the soul of gentility!

Rebecca Talley said...

Very eye-opening indeed. I need to think more about that as I write my stories.

Tamra Norton said...

Oy--I tend to have so much ME in my characters. That's why I've never been successful writing a boy as the main character (I write 1st person POV).

Anonymous said...

cool, this was very interesting to read this observation.


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