Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Life Happens

Following is an account of events that transpired subsequent to my blog post(s) on the subject of Fatal Flaw.  My posts appeared on November 6 and 20.  On the morning of November 21, I walked into my office, tea in hand, ready to work on my novel.  I turned on my monitor.  This is what I saw:

21 November 2013
Dear Author
We, the characters of your novel in progress, are concerned about your protagonist's fatal flaw.  As in he doesn't have one.  The guy is as pure as the driven snow.  If you want him to resonate with your imperfect readers you need to make him more real.  If you don't do this simple task the antagonist said he will walk off the page.  We're just saying...  Apprehensively, C
I was stunned beyond words.  But I went back and tweaked several critical scenes with my protagonist, thinking I'll handle the ripple effect of those changes in the second draft.  I gave him a fatal flaw (too trusting) and hoped it would do the trick.  Here's how they responded:

22 November 2013
You call that a fatal flaw?  Ha!  It's barely more than back hair--superficial and easily solved.  Now the antagonist thinks his nemesis is a push-over and not worthy of his evilness.  Meanwhile, we have a growing concern about the B story.  It's taking over.  You don't have a grip on who or what the A story is about.  We've taken the liberty of informing the protagonist that he will be killed mid-point Act 2 unless he does something bold to cement the A story.  He didn't take this news well.  We believe this is a necessary step to save your struggling manuscript.  Sincerely, C
As soon as I started typing I noticed a profound change in the protagonist.  He was despondent, lacked motivation, and even started swearing.  His voice no longer engaged me or the other characters.  I sprinkled his dialogue with adjectives, added some hope metaphors, and in desperation tossed in a bunch of exclamation marks.  Nothing worked.  I started to think killing him off wasn't such a bad idea. 

23 November 2013
We changed our minds.  Keep the protagonist, but make him older, say 40 instead of 22, and give him a limp.  And we think the 1st person present POV isn't working.  Your tenses are all over the map and the dialogue feels contrived.  Unfortunately that isn't your biggest problem.  The protagonist's love interest you finally got around to introducing in Chapter four, has revealed that she's sweet on a peripheral character in the B story named Orvis.  She wants you to change his name to Rockwell and make him the protagonist's side kick.  We believe this simple change will increase tension, leverage the fatal flaw and retool a thus-far anemic protagonist.  Make it happen by Chapter 6, or else...   Expectantly, C
I promoted the B story minor character formerly named Orvis to A story side-kick.  This put a spark of life in the protagonist, and the love interest was rewarded with some interesting dialogue.  I thought this just might work.  Wrong.

24 November 2013
Have you ever heard of subtext?  The love interest thinks not.  She wants her scenes with the protagonist to ooze subtext and she barely gets a dribble.  She's tired of stilted scenes with talking heads.  Give her some depth.  And speaking of depth, we think you are out of yours.  It's the turning point of Act 3, and we're starting to believe this novel is a ship without a captain.  Make something happen!  Apprehensively,  C
So I made something happen.

25 November 2013
You burned down the love interest's house?  We totally didn't see that coming.  The protagonist saved the love interest's cat and now she is conflicted about her affections.  The side kick is jealous and the antagonist sees opportunities galore.  All that is good.  Unfortunately we think it is too good.  We decided that the cat should run out of lives.  Additionally, the antagonist says his arc is too flat.  He wants to change, too.  He's thinking totally bad guy gets a conscience  turns reluctant hero seeks redemption through near-death archetype.  Emphasis on 'near-death'.  Good luck with that.   Expectantly, C
I killed the cat.  Actually when the fire is out they couldn't find the body (because I hid the cat in a tree).  Everybody wins.  Right?

26 November 2013
WTF?  You didn't kill the cat!  Your supposed act of mercy had dire repercussions.  Now the love interest is convinced she owns you and has taken over the story.  It's all  about her.  Fix it, or we will.  Be advised that because of you saving the cat we were forced to kill off the side kick and blame it on the protagonist.  You will thank us later.  Now that you're nearing the climax, we also took the liberty of doing a word-search.  Did you know that you used "like" passively 252 times, "thundered" 164 times, and (bizarrely) "syncopated" 18 times.  We attached a list of acceptable substitutes.  Cautiously optimistic,  C
I ignored their stupid list with the exception of syncopated which I delete without remorse.  I reanimated the side-kick through reverse-cryogenic technology and demoted him to a one scene wonder in the B story, second assistant to the sage.  Once that happened the love interest refocused her attention on the protagonist.  He lurched out of his funk just in time to complete his hero's journey.  But something happened to the antagonist.  He was MIA.  I had a creeping sensation that treachery was afoot...

27 November 2013
This is our last communication pending a publication deal.  We anticipate a satisfactory read, but it's not a manuscript that will sell more than 5000 units.  But all is not lost!  The antagonist says you could triple your advance by allowing him to survive book one (can you spell sequel?)  He says if you extend his contract he will come out of hiding.  And while you're at it, we strongly urge you change the title to something less cliché than "Life Happens".   And one small picky-doo, the love interest would like you to make the protagonist younger, say 28?  And lose the limp.  Triumphantly,  C     PS:  The capital of Spain is Madrid, not Barcelona.  Oops!


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Jordan Dane said...

Being you must be very scary.

Maureen McQuerry said...

This is hilarious and so true! My characters hijack my story all the time.

Jordan Dane said...

At least Stephen's bunch leave notes. He cracks me up.

Sechin Tower said...

This is so great! I laughed, but I also felt it-- I think if your characters make demands about how they are going to behave (whether you like it or not!) then you've really got something.

If they're strong enough to live outside your head, then you better listen to them. They obviously know what they need! :)

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Yes, I scare myself sometimes. But I think it's scary to be a writer in general. We spend a bunch of time thinking and talking about things that only exist in our heads.

Stephen Wallenfels said...

Here's a question: Are writers in charge of the characters, or are we more like a medium at a seance channeling the characters we think we're creating?

Sechin Tower said...

I'm sure every writer has a different relationship with their characters, but I think if you're doing it right the characters should be in charge. Otherwise, you're just shoving them through a plot like pasta through a press.

Robyn LaRue said...

Funny, true, and familiar. Awesome!

Ilsa said...

LOL! Here's what I want to know: how did my characters make it to your computer?

Stephen Wallenfels said...

There is a character union. They have meetings. This is just the beginning! s