An Interesting Observation

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.


Filed under The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers, Writing is Life

6 responses to “An Interesting Observation

  1. Helen

    Hi Terri-Lynne,
    I teach Tai Chi at local senior centers and local retirement homes and believe me when I tell you the average senior over the age of 85 in my classes are very sharp, clever and could come up with many interesting schemes. The people you are meeting must in a rut and should go out and play.
    I have students 98 -56 the average age over 80. I love these vivacious people who inspire me every day of my life. They make me laugh and cry. They create a desire in me and my younger students to want to live a long happy life. They play, they laugh and they all have stories to tell that would make you say OMG! It’s too bad I’ve never kept track of some of these tales. One student was a childrens book illustrator until she was 99, published, another a physican till she was 72. Some still ski, golf, hike , travel the world take college courses, one at 77 still works full time as a bookkeeper, because she loves it, some are learning new languages. Then there is the woman who came strolling in to learn Tai Chi, so chipper and vibrant looking all of 65 , first time ever I asked her age, 89! So you keep it up I love your characters and beleive every one of them could be real.
    Rev Helen

    Liked by 1 person

    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      The women in the senior groups have been extremely vivacious, brilliant, and insightful. Not a stick in the mud among them! And they’ve been very vocal about how I portray people there are still being interested (and not at all bothered by!) the notion of older people and sex. I’m not say all my reviewers of a certain age haven’t been tweaked, but the ladies I’ve met love it! It just strikes me as…sort of timely, I suppose, that some have a hard time believing a young woman could be that clever. It’s one of the things that generation truly had to contend with in a large-scale way.

      I’m so glad you love my characters! Thanks so much for reading! XX


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Back atcha, lady!


  2. Jennifer Goddard

    I never questioned why or how Tressa would be so clever … perhaps I identified with her personally (LOL). But I wonder if some of the comments you’re getting are tinges of regret? As in, “I wish I had been so bold or clever when I was that age … but women just weren’t allowed back then.”

    I wonder this because it’s natural to think everyone is like us. If we were cautious, we tend to think everyone was cautious at that age. If we were bold, we just assume that everyone has a bold streak in them somewhere. While women definitely were groomed at that time to be seen and not heard (like children), no doubt there were plenty of bold, clever women who blazed the trails the rest of us so thankfully enjoy today!


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Well, you’re one of those clever young women I know personally, so…yeah. ❤
      I think you're very right–we see through our own eyes, think through our own experiences. There are lots of clever girls out there, and thank goodness for that!


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