Cut the Drama!

Katy Lee here, reflecting on my two week car ride with two preteen girls in the backseat. (And one little brother to instigate) Perhaps some of you can relate with all the drama I witnessed with no hope for an escape. I’ve heard parents say it is normal for cute, compliant children to morph into something that needs an exorcism, but I always thought it wouldn’t happen to me. Ha-Ha, the laughs on me, I guess. My standard line shouted over my shoulder the whole trip was, “Cut the drama!”

 

Whining, bawling, and caterwauling, oh my! And let’s not forget their talented eye roll.  Such skill to be proud of, for sure. I’m told this is normal and should pass in about twenty years. Ugh!

But in the meantime, it is all fodder for the writer in me. I am observing and documenting each snit and pule, each “end-of-the-world” lamentation to use in my writing. (In my defense I’ve warned them that is where they will end up.) And by the end of week one, I had a whole story idea plotted where things don’t go well for them.

But my question to you is this: Do you mind drama queens as main characters in your stories?

I’ve read my fair share of books where the heroines were the whiniest and most spoiled of brats, and I hated them…and not the good kind of hate where you love to hate the characters, but the kind of hate that turns you off from ever picking up a book by that writer again.

But then I’ve read stories where the annoying character redeems themselves through believable endearing acts or their behavior is explained as the story unfolds, and the reader can become sympathetic to their plight instead. It’s a fine line a writer must draw out carefully…and my daughters could definitely learn from. Just saying.

The Unlocked Secret: If a glimmer of hope for redemption is alluded to early enough in the story, I think the reader probably won’t drop the book. They will probably read on to see how their heart can be turned around in favor of the character. Most readers want to like the main characters, but as with my daughters, there’s only so much drama a person can take before they drop the book-or crank up the volume-to cut the drama out completely. Thank God I see that glimmer of hope in my girls. I guess I’ll keep them and see how it all turns out.

Question: So, do you mind drama queens as your main characters? Do you enjoy writing them? What are your tips for endearing an unlikable character to your readers?

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8 thoughts on “Cut the Drama!”

  1. Great topic, Katy. I always said that God knew what he was doing when he gave me boys. My tolerance for whiny girls is zero on a good day. If boys get on your nerves you can say, “Sit over there where I can’t reach you,” and they skulk off somewhere to brood. If you said the same thing to a girl, hysteria would likely follow and they would accuse us of abuse, all while screeching at an ear-piercing octave suited for wolves and eye-rolling that could make you think their heads are going to spin. You mentioned exorcism?

    Writing YA is particularly difficult in this respect as real teen girls have a whininess factor built in. I want my character to seem real, so I can’t leave out that trait entirely or the character won’t ring true. I often have to go back during edits and add teen girl behaviors in or the character seems to old for her age. it’s tricky finding a balance.

    In WANING MOON, the story starts with Lily having a melt down. In her case, I think it’s warranted since she has just killed a man, which goes against her nature as a healer, setting up the internal conflict of the story. If I had not had her react so emotionally, I don’t think the reader would get the impact of the event on her. She gets a little snappy, too during this first scene, which I worried would make her seem unlikable. But I wanted to show that she was a feisty teenager who wasn’t above acting like one. Hopefully, I did a good enough job showing her redeeming qualities that will make the reader want to get to know her better. She clearly cares about her family, takes her responsibilities seriously, and is willing to sacrifice her black and white principles to do what needs to be done to protect her family and community.

    According to Michael Hague, Story Structure guru, to make a character sympathetic, you can make her identifiable, put her in danger, give her some special ability, or make her likable/funny. I think there were a few more tools, but those are what I remember off the top of my head. As far as your girls go, there is always the mother’s curse. “I hope you have children that behave just the way you do.”

    1. Can’t wait for Waning Moon!!! Sounds like you put a lot of thought into Lily’s character development. And I am sure you walked that careful balance line perfectly. :) I’m excited!

      And I’m going to put that mother’s curse in my back pocket.

  2. I raised 5 girls and thankfully only one went through the drama-queen phase. I thought that phase would never end. I can’t imagine giving a main character that characteristic. It would take considerable skill to make that character endurable to the reader. I don’t think I have the fortitude to endure that phase again, even if it’s only in a novel.
    My sympathy is with you as you endure the drama-queen phase with 2 daughters.

  3. Great question! As a parent, I can recall a particular day when I bit my lip to keep from saying, “Six more years. Six more years, and you’re off to college. I can’t wait to see how that works for you!” I don’t like reading about YA drama queens, but I wonder whether the YA audience is more tolerant or feels like the drama is justifiable?

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have to think that even teen girls recognize drama in other teen girls, and don’t like it when the tables are turned. They see it easily in others, but not in themselves, especially if they feel justified in their actions. So they probably don’t want to read too much of it either when it comes to books.

  4. Hmm, I can tell you that on my recent road trip, my son spent most of the car time sleeping in the back seat, except for the times he was raiding the snack bag or listening to music on his phone. I was one of 4 girls, and I don’t remember a lot of drama amongst us, but my mother might remember it all very differently! Actually, the drama queen aspect is the reason I never connected with Bella in the Twilight books. I think drama queens make better supporting characters, villains, or antagonists than main characters.

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