I’m finally feeling happy with my heroine, Rose, which is a huge relief. She’s the most important person in my book (it’s her story) and she’s been trouble right from the start. In the early days it was my fault – I wrapped her up in cotton wool when I should have put her through hell – but even when I’d fixed that she still wasn’t quite right. Now, thanks to Michaeline and Kay, she’s getting close to where I want her to be.
Rose hasn’t changed much since I first imagined her. She’s small, about five feet tall, 25 years old, with pale skin, cropped, spiky, white-blonde hair and gray eyes, and she lives in jeans, t-shirts and Dr Marten boots. If it moves she’ll paint it, draw it, or embroider it, and she’s been that way since she was a child. She takes after her father and doesn’t gel with her mother and stepfather – they love her but want her to grow up and conform. The story starts at a time of major change for Rose and is essentially about her search for a place to belong.
In my first draft she sailed through the story. She faced some challenges and the occasional setback, made a few changes and cried a little here and there, but her life got progressively better. She found her place in the world, but she wasn’t transformed. When I submitted my synopsis as part of the McD program, my feedback from Jenny Crusie included the phrase ‘everybody loves Rose, and Rose loves everybody.’ Jenny was right. I was protecting my heroine and it was b-o-r-i-n-g.
When I sat down to re-write, I gave Rose a stronger, clearer goal. She’s still the same person, but what she was chasing before was too nebulous. I spent months head-desking about it before I figured out a specific place for Rose to go, with a time-lock and a set of entry requirements that she needs to fulfil in order to achieve her dream. So now she has a lot to do and the reader has something to engage with.
Conflict was also a big problem in my first draft. There wasn’t much, because Rose and Ian were too well-matched. I’m much happier with the new version. Ian’s goal hasn’t changed – it’s all about protecting his family Foundation – but now he sees Rose as the potential solution to his problems. Add in the growing chemistry between them, and he’s not at all happy at the prospect of her disappearing off into the sunset in pursuit of some arty idyll. I also gave a much more prominent role to super-bitch Sasha, who takes no prisoners, has plans of her own for Ian, and has no intention of letting Rose get in the way.
So Rose now has a strong goal and she’s actively blocked from achieving that goal in an escalating sequence of events, which means the improved story is good to go, right? Not so much. I knew there was still something wrong with Rose, but I didn’t know what it was until I asked the other Ladies to beta read the opening scenes I submitted to the Fool For Love contest. Michaeline and Kay kindly volunteered, and gently pointed out that Rose is totally reactive. When Ian or Sasha pokes her with a sharp stick (which is often) she responds strongly and does fun and interesting things, but she doesn’t make them happen for herself, which means that instead of owning the story she’s overshadowed by two colorful characters actively pursuing strong goals.
Kay and Michaeline only read the first 35 pages of my story, but the issue they identified is a recurring problem throughout the whole draft. I have no idea why Rose is so passive – it’s not as though that’s my nature – but now that my fantastic beta readers have identified the problem I’m going to do something about it, starting with the rest of my re-write and then going back to fix the earlier scenes.
I’m going to remind myself that the word protagonist derives from the Greek protos (first in importance) and agonistes (actor). My protagonist, Rose, has to own this story, and that means she has to stop waiting for things to happen and make some waves. I’ve already had a few good ideas that will make the rest of the story much more interesting for all concerned, and that makes me excited about writing it. Thank you SO much, Kay and Michaeline 🙂
Do you have a favorite heroine (or hero)? Does she (or he) make things happen and drive the story?