02 June 2010

A novel centered on a mature, loving character? What??

Angela 1: Starting Over centers on an unusually mature (for her age), coherent, stable, and caring central character. To most readers, that just may be downright weird. I know, it’s just not the done thing if you want to be taken seriously. But I do want to be taken seriously and I did it anyway. You probably ask, Why?
Good question. There are many answers to it and one is that good writers can only write what we are given. Angela Fournier and Angela the book came to me all as a piece one day as I sat at lunch between the morning and afternoon sessions of a writing workshop. I sketched out the main characters, the locale, and a theme for a three-book series (Angela’s 10th, 11th, and 12th grades) and made a broad outline for each book. At that point I really had no choice but to write. I made a more detailed outline for the first book and the rest, as they say (so it must be true) is history.
Now, good characters are practically never at the center of interest in novels or plays. There is a lot of history behind that but, more practically, it’s hard to do. For instance, Charles Dickens. When you think of A Christmas Carol, who comes to mind first? Scrooge, of course. And in Oliver Twist? Fagin, Nancy, the Artful Doger, and all the other criminal element but not Oliver who, after being mildly interesting when he had to pick pockets, becomes superfluous to the rest of the story. And the Cratchitts? One doesn’t particularly care for them. In Les misérables Hugo makes Cosette more interesting than Dickens’ good characters, but she still is quite forgettable beside the tortured and immature Marius or his rancorous grandfather, or even Javert, the police inspector who persecutes Jean Valjean.
Tradition is all against good characters as well. In the ancient Greek plays, the main character is always brought down by his or her own character flaws. The same is true for Hamlet, two thousand years later, and still is now. Besides, when American movies and TV were under Hollywood’s self-imposed code, the scriptwriters fought back by making any good adult a hypocrite or laughably naive, and good children were those who conformed with their parents because they were scared or they were just snitches. All the characters you enjoy are anti-social.
So it was a big challenge to put a person like Angela, who is not traumatized, bitter, or self-seeking, but rather other-directed and well intended, at the middle of a series of three novels. What makes it work is that, without intending to, she sets in motion all kinds of trouble. She calls on the adult world to live by integrity, that is, to practice what they preach, and so of course they see her as a threat and try first to neutralize and then to harm her. Although she is developing good social skills, she refuses to allow peer pressure to make her do what she doesn’t want to or goes against her values. She infuriates the mean girls and the school bully because they can’t control her. And that means that the school principal has it in for her as well.
Angela is not entirely without precedent. Ivanhoe’s Rebecca is a wonderful person who gets only suffering as a reward. But I wrote Angela 1 before I ever read Ivanhoe. Well, I think you will find Angela different.
Please visit my site at http://www.strategicpublishinggroup.com/title/Angela1.html


  1. Your character sounds extremely interesting. I would beg to differ about Oliver, Jean Valjean, etc. I do identify with the good characters, at the same time loving to hate Javert. I understand Javert, even sympathize with him, but love to see him fail.

    (This comment was copied from a reader who posted it to a no longer active blog. David A. Bedford

  2. I think a lot of the time the problem with the main girl character is not a matter of being evil or dysfunctional, but being too weak and a pushover. Then there's the opposite that shows up where the main girl character is portrayed as "different" or "with spunk." This can become extremely irritating and I long for a character with some good common sense.

  3. Prof. Bedford! Greetings from one instructor's blog to another. :)

    I really think Angela is an interesting construction. To piggy back on starlight's comment, most "high school" novels tend to have a female protagonist who has low self-esteem, and seems to feel like the "ugly duckling" (This makes me also wonder if this is why writing a female high school student compared to a male high school student is more interesting.)

    But since Angela is confident, an honor roll student, mature, thinks for herself, and isn't easily swayed by others, is she capable of doing more than the average "ugly duckling" archetype when presented with a problem? I wonder because doesn't she actually *not* need to go through as much self growth as the "ugly duckling"? I assume "coming of age" would be one of your themes, but it sounds like Angela's nearly at the end of that "coming of age" stage.

    I suppose I'll have to read to find out myself! :) And btw, I couldn't help but think of the film "The Faculty" while reading the synopsis to your novel. Just the "everyone trying to control Angela" concept really brings up that movie for me!

  4. David, I claim the first comment. I wrote it.

  5. Amanda:

    Yes, you did. I wanted people who read this blog and not the other to read it, too. I just didn't know how to do it without it being posted as mine. Everyone please note! Amanda wrote that first comment. Amanda, thanks for commenting :)


    You are correct that Angela is ahead of the curve on maturation in many respects. What will make her have to learn and grow is finding out how much taking on entrenched interests and challenging them to be ethical will cost her and shake her. She's inexperienced. In the two sequels this will be more apparent. These books, though, are really a picture of some important issues that face the country shown through a straightforward, low key, unassuming and uncomplicated story. I wanted to do something really different from what's out there.