I just figured out…

I just figured out another thing that's wrong with the first third (quarter?) of my YA book. I take an intelligent, quirky, interesting protagonist -- and then I put her in a situation where she's forced to be really passive. And we get to watch her being passive for a long while, before she gets to do anything interesting again. No wonder the book got bogged down -- it's tedious, is what it is. But I don't know what to do about it either -- it's essential to the plot. She really has to be passive for a while. And while I can cut away more to her friend, who's being far more active, I'm not sure that really solves the problem -- just distracts the reader from it a bit. I don't want them to be irritated and resentful every time we come back to Swati; I want them to be engaged. But I don't know how to keep them engaged with her when she's in this situation, since she's demonstrating none of the traits that make her engaging. Argh!!!

In other bad news, I essentially haven't lost any weight in three weeks. Haven't gained any either. But since this lack of weight loss correlates exactly to the the amount of time I've spent not calorie-counting, it's pretty clear what I need to start doing again. So as of today, I'm counting calories again -- and I'm already up to 960 for the day, which is not good, given that I'm only allowed to go up to 1300 total and it's 4 o'clock and I'm *hungry*!

11 thoughts on “I just figured out…”

  1. How much of her thought processes is the reader privy to? Maybe sharing some of her frustration/ internal sarcastic reactions to her forced passivity will make those sections more interesting. At least it might make the reader empathize with her a bit.

  2. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize she’s being passive. Ugh — this is giving away plot, but I don’t think I can talk about this properly otherwise — essentially, she’s under a spell, entranced, seduced, for the first quarter of the book (after the first chapter or so). She gets to be plenty active later, when she’s breaking out of it and afterwards. But the first section is hard to avoid.

    Think of it as sort of like Thomas the Rhymer — he’s been captured by the Queen of the Fairies and seduced. Hmm…actually, thinking of it that way helps a little. Thomas is bedazzled by the faerie court; maybe if I make clearer her experience of being bedazzled and seduced, it will at least entertain the reader, and distract from the passivity of her role?

  3. I really hate reading passive protagonists in situations where you’re wishing they’d do something. But there are different ways of doing something. She can hold off on, you know, sword-swinging types of action, and still be doing things: exploring her environment, questing for information, noticing things, learning things, having small intense interactions with other characters, doing physical activities that at least put her in motion. Even if she’s bedazzled, she’s still herself, so her active mind will keep her moving even while she’s going nowhere yet.

  4. Not sure if you have read it, but The Stone and The Flute (one of my favorite books of any genre, has an entire middle section where for much of it the main character is not just “passive”, he is literally a statue.

    Might be useful to read to see how the author pulls it off.

    Is it possible for her to observe herself not being herself?

    Are there anything else she can focus on where she can show her normal traits, but also show something slightly off

    (not sure if this is what you are going for, but for example – if she were intellectual and very focused on the world outside of the home, perhaps while under the spell she suddenly applies that intelligence inwardly and towards home based items? Not this specifically, but could she transfer her interests to something that is also in keeping with the spell’s effects?

    Just random thoughts…


  5. I agree wholeheartedly with Karen’s comments. If the protag isn’t trying to do *something* — even just formulating a plan, or winning a game of chess, or forging valuable friendships, I’d most likely stop reading out of frustration. I cannot abide passive protags for long periods of time.

  6. Yes, it’s a bit of a pickle. But I think I can work it by having her be active about all the wrong things — she’s being blinded to certain things and coerced in various directions, but she isn’t being forced to be actually passive. That would be an interesting challenge in its own way, but thankfully, it isn’t mine.

    Pamela Dean does this sort of thing really beautifully in the last section of her astronomy novel (forgetting the title, something with herbs). I had no idea what was happening; I was just caught up in story and fell into the same trap as the protagonist. It’d be great to be able to pull that off here, but I’m not sure I can. Still, I have a clearer idea of which way to try…

  7. I was going to mention Pamela Dean’s Jupiter, Gentian, and Rosemary, too, for a nice example of a sense of activity that turns out to be misdirected and, ultimately, fruitless. It’s a dangerous trick to pull, though. A weak justification for the misdirection can end up feeling like deus ex machina, not to mention making the reader wonder why they bothered reading the last 50 pages–traps that Dean didn’t quite manage to avoid with this reader.

  8. I was frustrated when I first read it for those reasons, but it grew on me, just because it’s such a perfect example of what it would actually like to be ensorcelled — something I’ve never really seen before. Though if I remember right, Ellen Kushner’s _Thomas the Rhymer_ might have some of that flavor too.

    Hmm…maybe it’ll work as long as the misdirected things she does are actually helpful to her later on. Maybe not all of them — that’d be too convenient. But some of it. I think I have an easier time in some ways, since my enchantment happens at the beginning of the book and not the end.

  9. I haven’t read the Dean, but I would think in some ways having the ensorcelment happen toward the end would make it easier to hold the reader’s attention, just ’cause they’ve got more invested in the character and in reading the book by that point. They’re less likely to give up 3/4 of the way through—and the author’s had more of a chance to acquire author points, to give the reader reason to trust them.

    I would also think that keeping it relatively short would help—Dan, would you have been less bothered by 30 pages than by 50?

  10. Oh, it was definitely easy to fall into her trap — the problem wasn’t in reading the section; the problem was afterwards, when you realized what had happened, and there was only a few pages left to recover from it.

  11. Jed, to answer your question, “what Mary Anne said.”

    The ensorcelment is a terrific section of the book, vivid and suspensful–until it’s over. Except for muttering “deus ex machina” and “red herring” under my breath, I can’t explain why I didn’t go for it without giving away the ending. I know a lot of people liked it, some for the very reasons that I didn’t, so chalk it up to a matter of taste.

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