I realized tonight what my narrator was missing. She was always conflicted, always in trouble, I was just never sure her problem was enough of a thing I could describe to you if you asked me. But then it hit me how to make it tangible, somehow, even through all the vagueness that exists from being in your twenties, in the beginning of a life and not sure how to spend it. The concrete problem is that Jillian once had a very real life-dream, and then over the years she stopped dreaming. Even if she doesn’t quite realize it now (which she’ll have to, because she’s in a novel), her very real problem is that she is now in a big way giving up on her life-dream.
The appearance of the opposite of the dream, the “life” part, makes her realize the gravity of what she is giving up on. It propels her to look into the mystery that so obsessed her ten years ago. From that comes a reawakening of all the old issues that accompanied her first escape. This time, however, she is set on carrying it though.
From over the past hour, I’ve recognized a more true form and spirit to my novel than I’ve seen yet. Maybe it’s me that’s changed, or maybe my narrator rolled over while I let her lie dormant and did some work for once. With a loose paint stroke, she set an idea in my mind that has since led me on a roll toward reformulating my own life-dream that has as a large part of it writing this novel.
(image from waldenpondstatereservation.wordpress.com)
Jillian is sort of rude. At one point she raises her middle finger at a passing motorist. She doesn’t like that her boyfriend holds on to parts of her body in public. Is Jillian unlikable, or is Jillian all the nagging things you hate about yourself?
I read that protagonists don’t have to be likable, they just have to be polarizing. If people hate the person they’re reading about, they won’t stop reading. They feel passion in this enmity; they are in love with the act of hating.
But I’m in love with Jillian – I’m in love with all my main characters – so I want you to be too. Is that greedy? Do I need to just let Jillian loose on the world?
I tried to make Jillian more likable when it was brought to my attention she wasn’t (as of her introduction in Chapter One, at least). Here are some ways I changed that first chapter around to make Jillian a bit more readable:
-She is now a bad driver
-She now only pretends to like Scotch
-She now puts up with a lot of shit
-Her neighbours now like her
-She now became friends with her plane partner
-She now says thank you
-She now loves her boyfriend (secretly)
I would suggest doing things like this to your own narrator, if only to make them more personable. An unlikeable protagonist must still be personable in order to be hated. If a protagonist is closed off, where’s the story? I don’t want to read the point of view of a flat character with only one personality trait. I want to read a character that has so many faults, some of which I think are cute, some of which I recoil from (because they’re also mine).
Maybe the more faulted I make Jillian the more likable she becomes. And open. She has to be open. After all, she allegedly wrote this book.