Friday, November 18, 2011

Whip Those Wimps Into Shape

I’m about to wrap up my latest novel. I was feeling quite pleased about it until I read a chapter about creating potent and memorable characters in the book Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us by Jessica Page Morrell . I had to step back for a moment and analyze what I had already written (yeah, I know, I should finish the book first) to see if I committed some of the deal breakers she mentions in the chapter. What I discovered is I’m a wimp at heart, and I allowed the cowardice in me seep into some of my scenes.

I realized my main character battled in the war of nerves and emoted like those annoying people who can’t hold their emotions in at the office (hmm…sounds familiar). Ugh! My heroine was anything but courageous, and I had to do something about it before I allowed a discerning editor toss my manuscript into the slush.

Here are some of the comparisons Morrell makes between figurehead characters and wimps: 

  • Wimps worry, fret, and are indecisive/ heroes tuck a decision under an arm and charge the line
  • Wimps moan and tuck tail while blaming their trials on others/heroes swallow mistakes and challenges; they face the consequences, embracing whatever perils life throws at them
  • Wimps run from relationships, principals and beliefs/heroes leap into love, cling to conviction, and know who they are and where they want to end up 
  • Wimps can’t handle the heat and give up/heroes walk into the inferno, despite the odds of survival

Are you getting the point? By the end of the story, we forget wimps; they fade from our pages like disappearing ink. But heroes levitate like embossed lettering; they make us salivate for more, make us race to the end of the book to discover their fate. Scarlett O’hara, Indiana Jones, and Jack Ryan trigger our emotions. We hate them, flee from danger with them, cry for them because they refuse to swagger to vulnerability. Their reactions are the stuff that makes us sigh relief when they triumph at the end.

Of course, they can show faults or momentary weakness, but by the end of the story your characters better learn how to stand up to mayhem or they’ll lose their lives in the pages of forgettable literature that gathers dust on the discount tables at bookstores.

Whip those wimps into shape, I tell you. That’s what I did with mine.