1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Getting hung up on what you think are reader expectations

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Oct 11, 2016.

    I'm doing what I hope is the final structural edit for my WIP, and you'd think that by now I'd know my characters and what they'd do in any situation.

    But as I tart up the first fourth of the story, I'm running up hard against what I feel are reader expectations.

    First Expectation: Give us a main character who has flaws, but make sure those flaws are excusable or spectacular, nothing in between. If you want your character to be likeable, don't show him committing ordinary sins of shortsightedness and egotism. Don't make us think that sometimes he can be a pain to have around, especially if you want your heroine to see anything in him.

    Second Expectation: In your romance novel, yes, we understand that there is a time Before the couple get together and confess their love. But we really want to think they've both been in love with one another all along, though it was a secret even from themselves. If the strong, silent, brooding hunk is being a jerk to the FMC, don't tell us what he's really thinking. Let us believe that he's acting that way because he doesn't yet know his own heart. Whatever you do, don't show us the stage where he likes her well enough but it genuinely would make no difference if she walked out of his life forever. You do that, we might think this love wasn't Inevitable. And we romance readers demand that love be Inevitable.

    I could give examples, but you get my drift. Now you can start telling me I'm wrong. At least, I hope you'll tell me I'm wrong.
     
  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't really comment on the second one, since I have no knowledge of the Romance genre. I don't know if certain standards are meant to be upheld in order to call it "Romance" or not. Personally, that expectation seems ridiculous, but that's from a general/literary fiction perspective that doesn't have genre "restrictions" on it. A fellow Romance writer would be ideal here.

    However, the first expectation seems really faulty to me as well. I'd hope readers aren't that unforgiving. If a reader doesn't have the patience to let a character develop naturally over the course of the story, work through flaws, get knocked down a few times, have to--y'know--grow as a person, then I'd question how that reader finds anything to read. Sure, there are bound to be wish-fulfillment stories filled with Mary Sues out there, but I somehow doubt that's what most people are expecting from a professional novel.

    Just my pennies.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    One thing that continues to surprise me, over and over again, in many different discussions on many different topics, is just how incredibly bad some of the common vernacular we use in the writing world is in regards to describing certain concepts. (show & tell... I could shoot whoever came up with those two red herrings)

    I agree completely with @xanadu as regards Issue #1 (like Xanadu I cannot speak to Issue #2 for lack of exposure to the genre). Flaws. Why do we use that word? It's so restricting in the way it makes us think of things that would fall into this idea category. Opportunities for growth I think is much better. Yes, not quite so simple to write as flaw, but I think it's more encompassing. When I think about two of my MC's, I don't think about the flaws they need to overcome; I think about the things they need to learn.
     
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  4. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Do you think these are reader expectations or Publisher expectations.

    Readers are a complex group. You'll never please them all.

    Publishers are a simple group. They would be very easy to please if you're willing to compromise. On what, depends on the publisher. This is the problem you're having. It looks like you are preparing to compromise on a lot of what inspired your writing in the first place. At this stage your only obligation is to the story. Do the characters work within the story? Yes? Awesome. Keep going.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Perhaps both questions relate specifically to Romance as a genre? I guess maybe I could see how in a Romance novel there could be a certain expectation of how the reader will engage the character, knowing that a buy-in to the romance part is a necessary part of the equation....?
     
  6. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    Now I don't generally read the modern genre "Romance," but I like a little (or frankly even a lot) of romance in whatever genres or stories I read.

    That said, two of my all time favourite romances are Jane Austen works: Northanger Abbey and (of course) Pride & Prejudice.

    In NA, the narration/narrator literally says the only reason the love interest ultimately ended up with the heroine is because she was a simpleton with a good heart who quite openly admired & adored him. Basically it wasn't "inevitable" and in a lot of ways sprung from pure vanity. And the two are quite frankly my absolute favourite romance of all times. There is no competition for me.

    P&P, while Darcy may have been shown to start fancying Lizzy nearly from the get-go, Lizzy actively hated him for one third of the story or more. And to be frank, hatred or strong dislike in romance is fodder for readers. Almost all antagonism eventually gets read as sexual tension, regardless of author's intent or the spelt-out characters' motivations or actual feelings at the time. A visit to any fandom will show that the enemy characters are the two most shipped by a landslide.

    And lastly, I also love the children's book Howl's Moving Castle and Howl & Sophie's romance in it, to this day. Howl is a total coward, commitment-phobe, and vain like nobody's business. And these vices were so wonderfully flaunted to the reader, there was a scene in the book where I was just as furious at him as Sophie in that I actively wanted to beat him with her cane or smother him with a pillow. And regardless of how angry I was with him in that moment, I still loved him and wanted nothing more to have the two characters ultimately get together.

    So I don't actually see a problem with the sorts of flaws your characters may possess, or if the two aren't "secretly" in love the whole time. If the story is compelling, there will be readers. There isn't a single formula or strict outline every story--romance or otherwise--must adhere to to please the readers.

    Also, to @Wreybies, the concept of "character flaw" comes from the tradition of awkwardly translating & trying to apply Aristotle's concept of ἁμαρτία from his Poetics where he strictly speaking sets out to define compelling Tragedy in drama/theatre. Technically it just means "missing the mark" like in archery and is the same word in the Bible's New Testament translated "sin." It is an error, a failure to act within boundaries or the ethical limit of human existence that ought not be trespassed as ordained/apportioned by "order," understood itself as an ineffable portion (Μοῖραι). It is a mistake of the mind--an error of intelligence--, a religious defilement, and moral weakness (as understood by the Greeks). It falls without the boundaries and thus "misses the mark." It is different from ἄτη--a compulsory force to suspend ethical restraint or "madness"--and from ὕβρις--a conscious & unimpaired disregard for constraint or what is right.

    I do wholeheartedly agree though that we need some better terms instead of trying to force all writings to conform to classical Greek literary theories.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Romance is a huge and varied genre with a huge and varied market. I think there are definitely readers and publishers who are looking for a pretty narrow range of characterization. If you're trying to write a Harlequin category-romance, for example, you need to learnt their expectations and follow them.

    But there are certainly writers building careers for themselves who don't worry too much about either of the expectations you've come up with.

    It's kind of tricky for a beginning writer, because you really do need a pretty wide view of the industry before you even know all the options available to you and before you can really get a good perspective on what's in demand and what isn't. I've never been a member of RWA (mostly b/c they don't have a local chapter anywhere near me) but I think sharing industry knowledge really is one of their strengths.

    If you have a character and a story arc you're completely passionate about, I'd recommend writing it the way you want it and worrying about finding the market for it afterward. But if you're a bit more flexible about what/how you write, it might make sense to pick a specific publisher/market/segment and look at the specific expectations rather than trying to find general expectations for the entire enormous genre.
     
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  8. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I dug myself into this hole by coming up with a new wrinkle in the course of my edits, and it may be a good idea I need to work through and run with, or it may be a darling I need to slay.

    It's always been in the plot that, after the events of my latest Workshop entry, my MMC turns down the rich and powerful would-be client. Whereupon the mask comes off said would-be client, who starts a rumor campaign to ruin my MMC personally and professionally. In my rewrite I've made my MMC more proactive at trying to fight this, but to no avail. And I came up with this line: "He was left to weather the storm alone."

    This is his own idea about himself, and it suits him. I can see him fancying himself as rather an heroic figure, faithfully serving the goddess Architectura in the face of hardship and calumny. After all, to serve her is what he lives for. This does not make him a terrible egomaniac (as I've written him); rather, it makes him put the needs of his clients first, even when it causes him financial harm.

    But it also raises the big, hairy question: "Hey, buddy, what about the FMC, your sole employee? Isn't she going through all this with you? Isn't she suffering the effects of this rumor campaign, too?" If someone pointed that out to him, he might say, "Gosh, yeah, it must be affecting her, too. Sorry." He also might say, "On the other hand, it isn't her dream or her firm that's in jeopardy. She can quit anytime she wants. I'm grateful that she hasn't, but she doesn't have the same stake in this that I do." He has no idea she's in love with him and has more at stake than he imagines. He doesn't know she's concealing from him the attacks being made on her personally, to save him the pressure. So (if I go forward with this revised idea) he thinks he's out there all alone and is kind of proud of himself for it. His character arc is all about how his single-minded pursuit of the Good that is his profession threatens to send him down the slope to evil and destruction. And this is a good way (I'm thinking), to show just how single-minded (and blind) he is.

    But will he come off as too inconsiderate of the FMC, who later will become his love interest? He is very decent to her. He likes her as a person, they have a lot in common as friends, and when money is tight he makes sure she gets paid before he pays himself. Nevertheless, am I skating too close to the edge of jerkdom to have him not realize (at this point) how they're going through this crisis together?
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're fine. If you're afraid that this is too big a flaw, then I think that the possibility of him being too perfect is a bigger worry than the possibility of him being too flawed.

    Edited to add: However, it would IMO be best for it to be clear that the "left to face...alone" is HIS thought, rather than the narrator's statement. What's forgivable in a character may annoy too much if it comes from a narrator. The reader is OK with distrusting the character's judgement; distrusting the narrator's judgement is distrusting the whole book.

    It may already be perfectly clear; I just wanted to mention it.
     
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  10. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK! In other words, if someone's going through a crisis, it's entirely normal for them to be self-centered?

    As for the idea that he's facing the battle alone, does it make a difference that I'm writing in Close Third (largely thanks to you!) and all the narration is supposed to be the POV character's thoughts and opinions?
     
  11. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    Romance as a genre is my happy place, where I have lived for many years. I once told my wonderful man that I didn't fall in love with him because he was perfect, but because of his imperfections, in other words his quirks and eccentricities.
    If everybody was perfect then we would love everybody equally without exception... Communist sounding isn't it?
    Addressing this from a personal point-of-view here.
    A perfect looking man may be an easy way to build up, but I would rather take my man who has gone through hell and back and still stands tall in character. For me the sexiest part of him is his brain (no I am not a zombie! Lol). I will admit though, he is a handsome man, but I wouldn't love him they way I do if that was all there was to it.
    Even if you do not want to take it from that extreme, you want your character to have substance, and substance is gained from experiences, otherwise you have a hallow shell and what good heroine can fall in love with just a shell (this is different from the phrase "a shell of a man.")
     
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  12. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Slightly off-topic but ...
    This is a very good statement, and a reflection on values. I can only speak for myself here (and I know that not everyone is of the same opinion), but only things which are won the hard way are won in truth. If there is no challenge, how can the price be of value? The bigger the challenge, the more learned, the bigger the reward.
    With regard to males (I am female): If someone hasn't been tested by storms, how could I judge that he'd stand tight by me in one? I'd thrice rather take the scarred, than a handsome baby-face.
     
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  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, that should be fine. To both questions.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know. Obviously I'd need to read the story, but I'm thinking that a guy who is not any more appreciative of his female main character/subordinate colleague than he would be of any good employee—all of whom are ultimately replaceable—is unconvincing as a love interest. Love is a strong, emotional state. Sound as if he appreciates her work, but doesn't really love her. And if he decides later on that he does love her BECAUSE she does such good work and has become an indispensable employee and dotes on him—I'm afraid that's still not really love.

    The opposite (or the killer) of love isn't hate. It's indifference. His attitude seems like emotional indifference to me, from what you've told us. Is there some way where you could work in some real attraction? He may have many reasons for not wanting to get 'involved' with an employee, but down underneath I think he really does need to fancy her, to find her special, if this story is going to float as a romance.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the sort of thing I was afraid of in my initial post, that a Typical Reader (are you a Typical Reader?) will expect him to behave in a romantic fashion towards her at this point in the story, even though he is not yet in love with her, nor does he (for now) have any thought of being in love with her. Now he likes her only as a friend; in fact, at this stage he has a girlfriend he's been seeing off and on for two or three years.

    The real attraction will begin to work its way in about a week later in story time. Part of his romantic crisis will be realizing how blind he has been. So that's provided for.

    I think one part of the solution is for me to show him understanding rather quickly that they really are going through the rumor ordeal together. Otherwise, I fear not so much for his heart, but for his brains.
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @Catrin Lewis - As long as there is some kind of spark between your two main characters, this will work.

    He may well not recognise it as 'love,' but she's got to be somewhere on his radar, in a personal sense. Starting as friends is great, but friends are more than just employee/employer. Friends are a personal relationship. Friends are special to one another. A friend looks after the other. Friends are aware of each other, even when others are in the room. A friend is upset when the other is under threat. Friends matter to each other.

    A romantic relationship can certainly develop from a strong friendship, and a degree of blindness to what the 'friendship' actually is works well in stories—especially when one of the two people is already in a relationship with somebody else—but that will involve mutual concern that goes beyond just doing a job as employee/employer.

    It's not so much whether I'm a typical reader or not. It's whether you can make this business arrangement turned love story believable. At the moment, it feels a bit flat. However, I've not read the story so I won't know.
     
  17. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You make me feel so powerful...

    I've sent you a list of my expectations in a PM, 1000 in total. Do not fail to deliver. :)
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't do "instalove" and probably never will. There's plenty of it out there and definitely a market for it, but I see it just as often on list of 'romance readers' pet peeves'. I don't believe in love at first sight and so couldn't write it convincingly even if I wanted to.

    I think once the characters are in love then yes, to be satisfying to romance genre readers it should be the kind of love where they HAVE to be together and life won't be the same if they're torn apart. It isn't satisfying to read a romance where they're all, "Meh, this guy/woman will do until someone better comes along." But before that? In all of my books, there's a good chunk at the beginning where the two could part, never to meet again, and they might be a little sad and regretful but it isn't going to affect their lives in any major way. There's then a turning point where they are In Love and need to be together. For me, that beginning part is a must-have because I want my books to be realistic.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    There is apt to be a special connection from the very start, though. Or at least from the start of when they get to know each other, start speaking to each other, or working together, or what have you. Not a romantic one—in fact it can be more irritation than 'attraction' at the outset. Or it can be simply liking the person right away, or taking a dislike that's out of proportion to what they've done to deserve it, or relying on the person more than you would normally do. Or looking to help that person in particular, or looking out for their wellbeing. Or wanting to boot them up the backside because they are so ....fill in the blank. But something sets this person apart in the other person's mind.

    I think it's the concept of 'noticing.' The one person notices the other, in more than just a superficial way. They are interested in each other. They stick in each other's minds even after they've moved away from each other. Even if they are grumping and growling over the connection, they do make an impact on each other. And when they come together again, there is a definite reaction. It's not a neutral thing, deep down, whether or not it is acknowledged on the surface.

    If you can think of any Romance novel, past or present, that does not contain this element, I'd be very surprised.

    That is not unrealistic, by the way. It's very realistic and it does happen to many people. (I just spent a very lovely weekend with an old friend and his new wife, and they both said this happened to them when they first got together ...and it was totally unexpected. They were not looking for a relationship at all. But there it was.) It's not so much love at first sight, but it's definitely awareness at first sight. You may meet a lot of people during your day, but you won't forget this one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Oh yes, there is a connection from the beginning. But certainly not a "I'd die without you" melodrama. :D

    Maybe I wasn't clear - I'm referring to Catrin's wondering whether readers expect the couple to be unable to live without each other from the start, which I don't think IS expected in the genre as a whole. Even if there is a connection, on Day 1 (and maybe week 1 and month 1) if one person walked out of the other's life, it wouldn't have a devastating impact. IMO that's fine in romance.
     
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  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's definitely a friends-to-lovers subcategory of romance.

    I'm not sure there's much interest in acquaintances-to-lovers, though, which I think is what @jannert is getting at. Becoming best friends with someone but not becoming romantically involved for x,y,z reasons, then becoming romantically involved? Romantic. Knowing someone, seeing them every day at work, and not really taking much interest in them one way or another for quite a while? That'd be a harder sell, I think. But maybe...?

    My line about romance is that you have to create really, really compelling reasons why the couple should be together and balance them with really, really compelling reasons why they can't be together. That's where the tension comes from. If they couple have known each other casually for a long time, I think it would be harder for the reader to believe there are really, really compelling reasons for them to be together.

    (Exceptions for this certainly exist - the standard best-friend's-younger-sister trope, where the heroine was too immature to catch the hero's eye until she grew up; a princess-and-the-commoner approach where the heroine's flaw was that she was too stuck up and didn't realize the quality of the hero until something changed (Princess Bride vibe, even though she wasn't a real princess at the start of the story), and probably more. But in a contemporary romance with adults who've worked together for a while? I'd expect there to be an initial attraction they've been working to ignore, or else a prejudice on one or both of their parts that kept them from going further.
     
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  22. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wait for it with bated breath. Or is that "baited"? Here, fishie, fishie . . .
     
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  23. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, yeah, I'm right there with you on this. They hit it off personally and intellectually right away, etc., etc., that I won't get into, since that's not what this thread is about.

    (Or is it that I didn't get the light off until 3:00 AM--- again--- and at 8:30 AM I haven't the brains to sustain a coherent thought?)
     
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  24. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    What about the small things though with big impact. The action itself does not have to be huge to major impact. For example, a young child holding her sister's hand. This is an everyday occurrence, but this action has such a impact on us when see things like this, or a mom/father holding his/her young child. Everyday moments can become power punches to the gut if the character is in the right place mentally.
    As far as standing by you, the best way to find out is look at their actions as they speak louder than words on any day of the week.
     
  25. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    As to the character development quandary that moved me to write the initial post, on further thought I realize my hero could maintain his "I'm going it alone" attitude only until he got into the office the next day. And even without seeing his good friend/employee there, he couldn't keep it up. Not in his personality.

    Which means getting back to work on the rewriting.
     

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