I got to be the guest of honor at another Senior Book Club yesterday, out in Stratford, CT. I love these groups. The insight, the wisdom, the open and genuine comments, questions, and understandings. They make me know I did a good job writing people their age in The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses). I get them! And they get me.
One thing that has cropped up time and again is a certain character’s uncanny cleverness, her ability to think and act quickly, her calculation. It doesn’t seem believable, or even feasible that a woman of her age and experience could come up with the plans she does, in the time she does it in.
I find this infinitely interesting, and slightly disheartening.
When I create a character or situation–unless it’s fantasy–I make sure there’s at least one instance I know of to give credence to a character trait, or a circumstance. There’s an adage that goes something like, “No matter what you can think up, there’s been weirder/sadder/horrific…er.” In the case of this character, I’ve known young women as clever, as calculated, and as quick as my character. They exist, most certainly, and outside of literature and movies.
We have no issue believing in Hermione Granger’s brillaince, but she’s from a fantasy world. Lisbeth Salander (Dragon Tattoo), but she’s a psycho. How about Young Sherlock Holmes? Hmmm…why is it so hard to believe? Is it because she’s female? Beautiful? Young? Too otherwise ordinary? All of the above?
I painted my character (Tressa) as a sheltered southern belle who looked and acted–outwardly–as one would expect. But I showed her doing things outside of that facade. In her background, she went to college when women of her place in society typically did so only as a “husband major.” She not only got accepted into college, but into a major largely reserved for men. She went out in search of her brother the moment she came into her inheritance at twenty-one, against her family’s wishes–something she’d been planning and working towards since she was little more than a child. Before she ever stepped foot on the page, she manipulated her circumstances, and the people she was supposedly obedient to, without anyone being the wiser. By these things alone, her cleverness should have been evident. When she does all she does in the body of the book, it comes off–to some–as unbelievable that a young woman her age could not only think it all up, but pull it off.
There are other questions that always come up–What actually happened to Enzo? is a big one. The question of my clever, cunning Tressa is one, I suppose, that strikes me as a surprising thing to question at all.
It makes me wonder how many others thought the same thing, and why. To be clear, I never have an issue with any nits or picks a reader has–all opinions are valid, whether or not I agree. It’s their take on things, from their perspectives. When I get a question, or read a review that gives me better understanding into minds that don’t think the way mine does, I’m truly grateful. It’s all fodder folks! All fodder.