Who is this character?

Who is this character?

“I’m still struggling with Evelyn,” I told Dear Him a few weeks ago on one of our long walks.

“Say some more about that,” he replied.

So I talked about the lose-lose I was trying to orchestrate with this novel, about the way the story keeps twisting as I try to determine what’s really at stake for the protagonist, how it expanded from a novella of 24,000 words to a full-blown novel. He reminded me that Evie had come across as a very specific character in the previous two Promise House books — sassy and energetic, a take-no-prisoners ballbuster — and that perhaps she was sounding now a little too thoughtful. I reminded him that the Evie I was writing now also needed a character arc of her own, and in my mind, character arcs do require some level of introspection in order for her to grow.

Then he asked the question I didn’t realize I’d been dreading:

“Do you know who she is?”

The question irritated me because it touched a secret fear I’d had — that I’d written 80,000 words about a character I knew only vaguely. It’s true that Evie is both part of me (all protagonists reflect some aspect of their authors) and alien to me in some ways (I’ve never had her confidence and success with men).

In March I called off all writing on Evelyn for a number of reasons: burnout on writing to our WoC goals; burnout on forcing the story forward when something was definitely not right; burnout on having too much to do in my life generally as my day job changed. The creative well had run bone dry.

So I started working with The Artist’s Way in an attempt to fill the well again. I’m working the course with a friend who is also looking to fill her creative well in an entirely different area, and we’re currently on Week 2: Recovering a Sense of Identity.

And it’s here that I feel like a breakthrough on Evelyn is finally on its way. The Artist’s Way’s morning pages burped up an observation for me: The heroine-oriented stories that resonate with me most are those where she comes to realize — and honor — what she truly needs and wants despite what society is telling her she ought to need and want (see: Pat Simms from Home Fires, trapped in a loveless marriage to an abuser but now seeing hope in a greater sense of self-worth; Sister Bernadette from Call the Midwife: Season 2, who discovers that her love for a good man is equal to her love for her calling to the religious life; Glencora Palliser of Anthony Trollope’s The Palliser Novels, who is forced to give up the man she girlishly loves for one who is more suitable in every way, and whose worth and value she can see with her head though perhaps not her heart).

When we as authors do our pre-writing for a character as a method of discovery, we dutifully ask questions about her past, her desires, her fears, her assumptions, her needs, and so forth. And most of the time, that information informs the character arc as well as her motivation. It’s a useful exercise.

But I see now that I also have to go back to the question of what do I want — not as a writer but as a woman. What do I want and fear? What do I need to sustain me emotionally and spiritually? Because these are the questions that resonate deeply in me and can be used to inform my writing of and empathy for the protagonist.

Caroline and Ruth were easy heroines to write because they are very much me at different times of my life: Ruth was me at 22, painfully unaware of all she didn’t know, and Caroline was me at the point where I threw over a religious way of thinking in order to embrace the love of a man my faith disapproved.

So now I’m looking at the character of Evie and asking a different set of questions: What part of you is me? What are you here to teach me? Show me who you are.

And to honor her — and me — as an author I get to say to her, “It’ll be okay. I’ll take care of you. It will all turn out as it should, in the end.”

It’s a promise I look forward to keeping.

Sandra K. Moore

Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.

5 thoughts on “Who is this character?

  1. You’re right. Heroines can be so easy to write and so hard. My ideal female lead has character traits that I personally lack. Leadership, backbone, the power of conviction, fearlessness, and physical strength, to name a few. The problem with this is that the old tried and true write what you know doesn’t apply here, so I struggle with what actions they will take, what their arc will be, and what in their backstory motivates them. Don’t you just gotta wonder sometime why we got into this racket?

    Good luck with Evie. Can’t wait to see how it will all turn out for her.

  2. I do wonder that sometimes. I shake my head and think, “Why all this work and frustration?”

    Then I look at the turn of phrase or a solid scene or the end of a character journey — and that’s why. 🙂

    I love your heroines! They might not mirror you superficially (physical strength), but I do think they mirror you in other ways, perhaps in ways you don’t recognize: leadership and the power of conviction, for example. Those traits are part of you and demonstrated in myriad ways, both in the writing and in your real life.

    Just because you don’t seem them in yourself doesn’t mean they aren’t there… Or that we can’t see them.

  3. This piece of ourselves thing means it’s extra difficult to swallow criticisms about our characters. It hits so very close to home.

    The upside is we know pieces of them so well that the emotions should just sing.

    Downfall: our characters run the risk of become flat caricatures of each other.

    I think Evelyn, as she appeared as a secondary characters, was the full-loving, ballbuster type, but as she moved into lead heroine role, she’s become the embodiment of what you hope you would have been in the same restrictive time. The reality of the late ’50’s is that most attractive white girls of the time were fairly unaware of/insulated from the societal changes on the horizon. As more modern women — some more modern than others — we’re incensed by the life women like Evie were expected to live.

    Makes me think you’re biggest struggle with Evie is trying to make her someone not only like you, but also someone you’d like, while staying true to the world you’re writing in.

    Embrace that Evie can only buck the system to a certain degree, because has to stay in the 1950’s, and celebrate the fact that you’re a member of this generation and not that one!

    1. Okay okay okay. Let’s start with the funny:

      “you’re biggest struggle with Evie is trying to make her someone not only like you, but also someone you’d like”

      which I’m not taking personally, I promise! ROFLMAO

      I actually think my problem with Evie isn’t that she’s too modern, but that I tend to write introspective characters, and Evie doesn’t come off as introspective in her cameos in the first two stories. I have to figure out how to keep her true to my original vision of her while simultaneously create that arc.

      We’ll see how it turns out!

  4. I like Evie – just the way she is! Struggling with conforming when she knows conforming is wrong! Wanting to do the ‘right thing’ yet prevented by the rules of society and feeling guilty when she ‘benefits’ (gets the promotion) because society is wrong. I also wonder if the problem you are having with Evie is that you are trying to ‘force’ her into a relationship – she just may be a single woman who is happy being on her own – and while Roger offers material things she could appreciate – she also KNOWS she will become ‘HIS’ – and for a woman of her strength and personality – in the 1950s – staying single by choice is a really difficult thing to justify! Girls were taught from birth that their destiny was to get married and have babies!

    I have every confidence that you will keep your promise to Evie and she will live happily ever after … and I’m looking forward to seeing exactly how that happens!

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