I love revision work. Last Monday I began revision work on Perceval’s Secret, going through the editor’s comments on the manuscript, the editor’s notes, and my notes. This revision is about more, more, more: punching up the suspense, punching up the music, punching up character.
While it was reassuring to hear that I had a solid foundation for each of the characters I’d created, several need more work. What I do depends on what the character needs. For example, one needs more fleshing out but in brush strokes, not a whole canvas. Another needs clarification and to be more likeable. I want to talk about that latter character here.
This character is among the major ensemble of characters that drive the plot. I see him as the “villain.” He is a complex character with psychological issues as well as great ambition. Right now, the editor noted that he was too “self-absorbed” and “not very likeable.” I wanted him to be self-absorbed because that is consistent with his psychological issues. Likeable?
Why are people likeable? Well, a person could have a warm, friendly demeanor and personality, open and accessible. She could also be kind, compassionate, interested in the world and other people. She may be generous in spirit, heart, and with her time, as well as her money to help friends and those in need. Some might find a devout person likeable, but I’ve never found someone who’s openly religious necessarily likeable. I’ve been personally wary of such people. A likeable person is “fun” to be around, a happy person perhaps, someone with energy and drive, someone who cares. Rather than describing a character with all these words, I need to show the character’s likeability through his actions and the way people respond to him.
As I was talking about this with the editor, a scene came into my head, an existing scene, and one that I could use to show the character’s likeability. In this scene, he’s returning to his apartment and he spots his landlady working in her garden in the backyard. As the scene stands now, he does stop and chat with her for a moment, then he goes on to his apartment. How can I change this scene to show his likeability?
The scene will begin as it already does with the character returning home. He spots his landlady working in her garden and goes over to her. During their conversation he reveals his own gardening experience and asks if he could help her with her gardening, kneeling down next to her. She’ll be surprised, but pleased, and gives him a bit of weeding to do. I’m not sure yet how I’ll move him from that position to his apartment yet, but it will come.
Showing his caring about something his landlady cares about is one way to make this character likeable. He steps outside of himself for a few minutes. How I balance this likeability with his self-absorption will be a challenge. On the other hand, I just had a thought: he would want approval and seek approval. Not quite pathologically, but it will be important to him. People seek approval in a variety of ways, so I’ll have options for this. He may be seeking approval with his generosity — he wants people to like him. This fits with his psychological issues.
I finished chapters 1 through 6 this week, and I’ve already begun the work of gradually showing the character as likeable in his behavior and his actions. I can’t wait for Monday and more revision work….