TERRY ANN MARSH
FINDING THE FLAWS
I realized, after a discussion with a potential editor, that I had shied away from giving my protagonist her fair share of ‘flaws.’ Sydney, the main character in my book, A Song for Sydney, comes off as a little too good to be true. I needed to go through the manuscript again and examine her from a more objective point of view.
The critique was that she did not show enough growth.
She is a well-behaved 12-year-old girl with a strong moral compass. In the midst of the problems and conflicts she finds herself in, she is, for the most part, the voice of reason. And I was very resistant to changing that.
In order to fix this, I not only had to examine my manuscript, but I had to examine myself as well. In many ways, Sydney was an extension of me. I wouldn’t label this book as autobiographical, but Sydney and I do share a lot of the same characteristics. Since this was my first attempt at a novel, I stuck to characters and settings that I would be familiar with. Sydney’s a singer -- I’m a singer. Her dad is military -- my husband spent 32 years in Air Force Reserves. Sydney goes to a small Christian school -- my kids went to a small Christian school.
But what about the character traits and flaws, or lack thereof?
Well … I’m even tempered. So is Sydney. Neither Sydney -- or I -- are prone to temper tantrums. Sydney has a couple of meltdowns, but they do not shake, or really change, her world. She comes to intelligent, reasonable conclusions without too much trouble. Her tools are her faith in God, a loving, involved family, and her own thoughtful, reasonable personality. Now, while this may make for a great kid to have in your home, I can see, finally, that it does not necessarily make for the most interesting of characters.
As I dove a bit deeper into my character study, I realized I wanted Sydney to be seen the same way I wanted others to see me. Dependable, reasonable, kind, helpful, a trooper … these are the kind of labels someone might stick on me. Perhaps not the most exciting, but they are good labels and I’ve earned them. My path has not been easy (is anyone’s?). There have been plenty of hurdles, and lonely, rocky places, and my behavior has not always been reasonable, kind and helpful. But I’ve reached the big 6-0, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way about what is, and what is not, important.
But Sydney … is 12. Her hurdles are just beginning. She may not have the emotional maturity to handle her best friend dumping her for a seemingly stupid reason. And wouldn’t it be more realistic to think that when her dad is transferred from Texas to Maryland, that her reaction might be more than a crying jag for one chapter? Might she run away? Would she – God forbid – be mean to the people she loves?
The questions get harder.
Can I let my protagonist get dirty? She is the me I wish I had been. Cute, talented, from a loving home, and secure enough in her faith to stand alone if necessary. Could I let her be seen in a bad light?
I will have to go back in time and walk around in the recesses of my mind and try to remember the complicated and deep emotions of a preteen (we didn’t have tweens back then!). Truth be told, seventh grade girls can be some of the meanest, most complicated people on earth.
I have to let Sydney walk down her own rocky path to maturity, even if she looks bad while doing it. I can’t just beam her there; she needs the growing process like any other 12-year-old girl. And hopefully, once day the book will be published, and a young girl will see a bit of herself in the story and do a little growing alongside a character that she loves.
“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”
Patricia Fuller (fantasy-author, editing, writing)