In Defense of Character Building (Or, “I Meant to Do That!”)

I received a review on Amazon this week that made me finally want to speak up and attempt to explain a lil somethin-somethin’. This review was good–4 out of 5 stars, certainly nothing to cry over (so I’m not). But they made a good point that’s come up in another review, too. They both mentioned my protagonist, Lucy, has a problem with FEELING. That she doesn’t show emotion nearly as much as someone in her situation would in the real world.

Quick catch up: Lucy is a Firestarter, a being who can create and control fire. In the Gifted world, a person’s gifts are completely emotion-based (all of ’em, including the happy ones). When Lucy is ripped from her circus childhood, she enters into the human world. You can imagine that a Firestarter in the human world is a dangerous notion and Lucy’s father teaches her how very, very important it is for a Firestarter to keep a firm handle on their emotions. She’s never allowed to simply “get mad” or “be joyful” because it could set her effing neighborhood on fire. Therefore, most Gifted are extremely careful with how they react to situations and people, because otherwise it might end up a blazing inferno (or a swimming pool or whatever that particular Gift is attributed to).

Here’s a bit of the review that hit home for me:

“…the only thing that bothered me was the sensation that I kept waiting for the main character to FEEL about something. We go into the story with her mom being dead only two weeks, and it’s like it never bothers her. Same sort of this with some of the other very traumatic events that happen in the book. I understand that part of her story is the need for the main character to keep her emotions under control, but it definitely made her feel less real to me.”

I knew going into the story that Lucy’s downfall would be her lack of emotions. In all honesty, I kinda MEANT for it to be that way. I want her to be real and it’s okay if readers get frustrated with her–she SHOULD have flaws, habits that might drive readers crazy but they keep reading to see if she ever evolves. After years of hiding her true self, of swallowing every emotion and bottling it up, it’s not easy to simply change within a few weeks. And Lucy’s answer to dealing with emotions is to simply not. She denies until she’s blue in the face. She thinks if she denies and pretends it didn’t happen, she won’t have to deal. If she throws herself into work and concentrates on her new life there, she doesn’t have to deal with missing her mother, with being scared to be alone. But we all have to deal with our demons eventually. We must all progress.

That’s the ticket, right there. Every character must evolve in someway (even if it’s technically DEvolving). I had hoped that by the end of my first book, Lucy would have progressed in her emotions. And she tried, she really did (I’d list examples, but I don’t want to include spoilers). But after 10+ years of being told to keep her shit under wraps, it’s not a light switch she can flip on and off. So even at the end, after all was said and done, Lucy still whispered, “I’m not ready to face the feelings yet.” She refused to just change overnight and I can respect that. A sudden change in character isn’t believable; it’s an author wrapping loose ends up neatly for the reader. (*cough twilight 3rd book cough*)

Several people have said Lucy should’ve shown more emotion after a particularly traumatic near-sexual assault. I absolutely agree–to an extent. Lucy’s so used to hiding everything from everyone, it’s in her nature to hide it away, to tuck away the fear and memories so deep down that she can pretend it never happened. It’s her coping mechanism thanks to years of high school bullies and hiding her secrets. I often used to think that if something like that were to happen to me, as much as I’d like to say I’d run to the police, I might be so upset I run and hide in my house for weeks, too ashamed or horrified to explain what happened. I don’t think I could ever tell my mother; I couldn’t bear to put my pain on her shoulders. Many victims DON’T go to the police, instead choosing to continue on as it never happened. From what I know, however, it always catches up with you at some point later in life. So Lucy’s definitely got an outrageous amount of emotions when it comes to this incident, emotions she refuses to acknowledge because she fears it will mean she is weak. She would never admit to anyone she’s weak. So instead, she chooses to pretend it never happened. This WILL, as it always does, come back to bite her in the ass. I simply ran out of pages, instead opting to include it in Book 2.

I decided to address more of the aftereffects of her shock and discoveries in Book 2, sort of as a new beginning in Lucy’s journey back into her Gifted world. It’s there she’ll begin to face her emotions head on to try and have more control over her Gift. She can’t control and be the best at her gift if she doesn’t face her emotions, a small fact that Sheffield will constantly remind her of. It’s going to be extremely unpleasant for Lucy to finally have to acknowledge what’s happened to her in the last month. She’s going to learn that accepting her feelings does not, nor will it ever, make her weak. In fact, it might even make her that much stronger.

This is where I, the author, admit that some of Lucy’s flaws come from me. Not as a writer, but literally, me as a person. The Irish hide their emotions behind a wall of whiskey and denial, and Lucy and I definitely hold up that stereotype. I might be stubborn and quick-tempered, but I am, for the most part, an incredibly locked up person, feelings-wise. I don’t share a lot of lovey-dovey sentiment, I hide behind sarcasm and humor, and I laughed as awkwardly as Lucy does when boys admitted their feelings for me. And it’s not about “not liking Lucy, not liking Liz” either. It’s just that as the author, I know Lucy is, how she reacts, WHY she reacts, and what happens in the future. Readers of course don’t know any of this–they shouldn’t! They’ll learn it as they go along (hopefully). That’s why I’m not so much upset about reader reactions–you SHOULD be annoyed with Lucy! She’s a right pain in the ass sometimes and she definitely should show more emotion!

It’s what, I think, makes her and Gabriel’s relationship so interesting. Because of his gift, an Empath, he feels ALL THE EMOTIONS all day, everyday. From everyone except Lucy. It’s why he likes her so much; he doesn’t have to try quite so hard to keep his own mental walls up. He avoids emotion as much as she does, though for different reasons. I love their relationship because despite them both wanting to be different from each other, they’re scarily similar with their personalities and defense mechanisms.

I know how this post sounds, like a whiny baby all upset over a single point in a 4 star review. It makes me sound childish, but that’s not how I want it to come off. I don’t wanna be “that author” who defends every. single. thing. that’s criticized in reviews. They’re not mean reviews–they’re incredibly-appreciated, GREAT reviews that are invaluable to me as a writer. I hope I can take the major overall problems readers have and try to fix or address them in later books.

This is where it’s frustrating for a writer. We know everything about the story, including where it’s headed next (even if we don’t know exactly all the details). I don’t want to come off like an ass, either, so I’d never shove my “I meant do to that” down a reviewer’s throat. It means I’m going to have to sit and take it, know there’s nothing I can do because it’s an opinion (and it’s not wrong!). So I’ll hope that everyone likes it enough to read the 2nd one and hopefully it’s there they’ll have their questions or frustrations answered.

I’m hoping that despite my readers’ annoyance over Lucy’s flaws, they get that there’s a reason why. That they understand that Lucy is only beginning to come out of her shell and realize what she has to do in order to become who she wants to be. I expect many people will say similar things and I hope they come to this post (help point the way, friends?) and understand I did it on purpose (though now I realize I should’ve let her shell crack a little more in the first book). She isn’t a weak character and I suppose some of my own worries filtered through in thinking if she DID show more emotion, readers would think she was weak. See? Now you’re seeing MY flaws.

I guess the main point is: don’t worry, kids. Lucy might be completely emotionally constipated, but she’ll be (forced into) facing the problem head on in Book 2. And as all authors say…

I meant to do that.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Character Building (Or, “I Meant to Do That!”)

  1. writermirandastork says:

    I understand exactly where you are coming from with this post. It’s so difficult trying to give away enough information about the character, and yet hold enough back for the reader to want to delve further into that character. If it isn’t realistic for someone to hold back emotions, neither is it realistic for someone to completely blurt their heart and soul out on every page (*cough* every twilight book exisitng *cough*).

    I’m half-irish, so I know what you mean about the holding back emotions and covering it with humour (and the stubboness and temper lol!), I do that constantly. I think the fact that the reader is explained to about Lucy being someone who HAS to hold back her emotions, explains a lot. It should suggest that the reader perhaps has to read between the lines for her emotions rather than having them there on a plate.

    I know you’re not whining over the 4 star review, but the fact someone didn’t understand what you tried to put across in the book. Not everyone will get it I suppose, and others might really get it. At any rate, a 4 star review is nothing to be sniffed at lol, congrats! 😀

    I’m looking forward to reading it even more now, and I’ll be crying about how Lucy is emtionless…..err, *ahem* I mean giving it a glowing review! LOL, no I really think it will be good, can’t wait to find out more about her. 🙂

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