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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Your Main Character is Sooooo Neurotic!!

“Wow, your main character is SO neurotic!!”

So that’s what the agent who was critiquing an excerpt from a book of mine said to me, with a grimace on her face.  An actual grimace.  I kid you not!  The expression on her face was that of a person who’s just stepped in something particularly nasty, or the look of a Prius owner as they ‘put put’ along while I roar by in my big, gas-hogging, planet destroying non-hybrid SUV.  That kind of expression.

I wasn’t angry.  I was hurt. 

Why, you might ask?  After all, she was a well-respected agent giving good, and I might add, paid-for advice to a wannabe writer who needs lots of help.  Here’s the deal.  She was talking about a character named Rosemary, and I realized that in a way, Rosemary is me.

No, I didn’t go to France as a teen, pretending to be someone I’m not and scheming for a way to convince my host family to keep me forever.  I don’t have a severe communication disorder that prevents me from talking clearly, like Rosemary does.  But as a teen, I did have a lot of the same hang-ups that Rosemary had.  I was shy.  Painfully so.  So shy, in fact, that life was torture for years.  If you’ve never been that shy, you probably won’t understand where I’m coming from.  Let me just say that jumping “head first into a swimming pool full of double-edged razor blades,” to quote Weird Al, was always preferable to walking into a room full of strangers, better than being called on in class,  and I prayed for illness or calamity to befall me if I ever had to give a speech.  It wasn’t simply a problem with public speaking, either.  I could hardly look other kids in the eye as I walked down the hall, and sometime didn’t respond when spoken to.  That went on for many, many years.  Neurotic?  Oh, yes. 

The excerpt this agent critiqued for me included scenes that demonstrated just how socially awkward Rosemary was.  She was alone with a boy for the first time EVER, attracted to him and desperately wanting to flirt, but fully aware of the fact that as soon as she opened her mouth, her words could very well come out wrong.   Also, keep in mind that Rosemary was fleeing a situation that I would describe at the very least as emotionally abusive.  She’d truly never been left alone before, even for a moment.  What would YOU do in such a situation?  You’d likely develop a few hang-ups and be, shall we say, a little NEUROTIC, wouldn’t you???

I guess I was hurt because I know what it’s like to be the freak.  I know what it’s like to hear other kids whisper while casting glances and smirks in your direction.  I know what it’s like when you so badly want to say something witty and clever and funny, but all you can manage is a vague smile while you turn away, mentally kicking yourself for not talking to the cute guy, the great girl that you wish would be your friend, or the awesome teacher who’s trying to reach out to you. 

So, back to Rosemary.  Agents have expressed interest, but not enough to represent me.  At least, not yet.  But I’m still trying.  And, I’m trying hard not to take things personally, to think that I’m the one being rejected on a personal level when it’s my writing, my characters, or maybe just the fact that agents don’t think there’s a market out there right now for what I’ve written.

And, I will continue to create characters who are neurotic.  That’s what I am, and it’s what I do.  J

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