Monday, May 21, 2007

Active/Passive

So I've been revising my novel manuscript for the past couple of weeks, and I'm struck, as always, by how interesting revising can be. I never used to revise my fiction very much, which is probably why it wasn't all that good, but one thing that the dissertation process taught me was that first drafts are never finished drafts. Revision works.

Anyway one of the comments that my SignifOth gave me when he read the MS was that the main character seemed too passive. I agree; a lot of things happen to her, and she thinks about them and reacts. SO found that this made it harder to relate to/sympathize with her. I can definitely see that. And I didn't want her to be passive; it just sort of happened. So that's one thing that I've been trying to fix in my revisions.

Passivity, shyness, submissiveness--these are things I've tried to overcome throughout my life; they're things a lot of people (maybe more women than men, but I won't get into that) struggle against. And what's interesting is that the changes I've made to the way that my protagonist behaves could actually be a sort of instruction manual on how to be less passive. I've added a few incidents to the story which give her the chance to be more assertive, but the systemic changes that I've made are all actually pretty minor. Mostly, they're a matter of just deleting certain verbs. Here are some of the things that my character is not doing anymore (or not doing as much):

1) shrugging, sighing
2) smiling
3) thinking/considering/pondering after someone else says something
4) agreeing with things she doesn't really think
5) pausing, hesitating, looking away, looking down
6) noticing the strength/power/whathaveyou of other people
7) not asking questions about interesting things that other people say

Once I noticed how pervasive these actions (or non-actions, in the case of #7) were throughout the MS, it really seemed that I'd been consciously constructing her as passive, even submissive. Which I wasn't. But what's particularly interesting, to me, is how just removing most of the instances of points 1-6 (and adding some follow-up dialogue to get rid of 7) totally changes her character.

Hm.

ETA: Another one: looking at people "gratefully." Yuck!

2 comments:

Hilaire said...

*What* a great post (say I, a person with a streak of shyness and passivity). I love hearing about how different her character is now. It makes it feel possible to change a real life. (Mine's quite changed, by virture of teaching, but still...changing the remaining vestiges...).

jb said...

I hear you. Inspired by my character's transformation, I'm considering no longer shrugging, smiling, or thinking. Or at least trying not to look down and/or away.

Seriously, my real problem is laughing. During my interviews I started noticing that I was constantly doing this sort of sympathetic chuckle; it's clearly a nervous thing. Ech. That one seriously has to stop, like, now.