Niceties

I read this post on Sound of Butterflies last week and umm-ed and ah-ed about submitting a comment, mainly because it would have started “In my novel…” and I really don’t want to be one of those people…

So is it better that I talk about it here?

I’m not sure that there is such thing as a truly “nice” character. There is always something a little sinister about a character that is only “nice” (watch a Tim Burton movie, or think about the Stepford Wives. Nice=creepy). I don’t trust people who are nice in novels/movies; there is some twist or something below the surface. Either there is something wrong with me, or perhaps it is because it is human to be flawed.

The strange thing is that I had been thinking about this issue myself. The stranger thing is that Rachael and I seem to think about the same things at the same time quite frequently. Very strange indeed.

Since I re-read my novel I’ve been thinking about cutting a couple of characters, A1 and A2 aka the Ana Twins. Why do I need to cut them? They are caricatures for one, but mainly because I wrote them in to feel better about Alice.

Alice popped into my head pretty much as she is now; a people pleaser, a cat person, obsessed with self -help, and overweight. In the novel I describe Alice in terms of food. The first image I had of Alice was of a disaster haircut:

It reminded January of vegemite and crackers…[she would press] them so hard that worms of buttery vegemite would ooze out of the cracker’s holes to be licked off with her small pink tongue.

Alice’s head looked like vegemite worms, yellow mixed with black and a few that were muddy brown, curls of butter turning greasy in the sun.

Someone had pressed her head too hard.

January is a bitch to Alice; and somewhere along the way I got scared. I got scared because no matter how much I deny it, people are going to assume that January is semi-autobiographical. She lives in the same city (laziness – I didn’t have to do any research), she is around the same age…

I got scared because I thought people would think that I thought the same way that January does. So I invented the Ana twins, because if January is mean to them too then it isn’t about the weight. It’s about the way women treat and judge each other. That is something that I’d like to explore: the roles that women are cast as “the doormat” and “the bitch”. But I think I can be a little more subtle in my approach.

It is not a case for making January “nicer” – it is true to her character to push Alice away. Alice is my only “nice” character and for most of the time she is treated badly. I think it might be time for a little steel behind her smile. I’d like her to stand up to January (how would January react to that!) and to be proud of who she is (which again would probably mystify poor old January who is so unsure of who she is that she has changed her identity).

What would happen if suddenly their roles in their relationship are reversed?  Would Alice, given the chance be a bitch to January? Is nice a defining characteristic, or a strategy of play?

What would make January a nice girl?

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2 Comments

Filed under The Graphologist's Apprentice

2 responses to “Niceties

  1. Ha ha gets you thinking doesn’t it? Because January just isn’t that nice, she gets to say really mean things about someone and in doing so gets to use really cool imagery to put someone down. I often think truly ‘nice’ protagonists are looked down upon, just a bit, by their narrators.

    I understand that you are worried that people will think January’s attitudes are your own – the whole thing that made me write that post was the conversation with my friend who suspected a novelist was sexist, weightist and homophobic becaseu so many of her chracters are. But I really think you don’t have to worry about what a couple of overly literal readers think. Just think of it as a caveat not to fall back on giving characters grouchy attitudes in order to make them more interesting. I think you think about the process enough not to do that.

  2. Oh – and I welcome comments that start “in my novel”. One of my reasons for starting that blog was to be able to discuss the writing process with other writers.

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