The deed is done.
I’ve revised Libby. I’ve resubmitted the novel for publication. I’ve asked Amazon to notify people who have already downloaded the book, so they have the opportunity to switch to the revised edition if they’d like.
I’ll let you know how it goes . . .
In the meantime, here’s the preface I wrote for this edition.
What a Character
When I write, I don’t exactly “create” characters. But I don’t not create them, either.
Instead, there’s a kind of meeting point where my characters and I collaborate. I begin with vague, shadowy ideas of what they’re like, and as I work they gradually take on lives of their own. They make decisions and do things that I haven’t consciously chosen. They stay within the confines of my original vague ideas, but within those confines they have a great deal of autonomy.
So it shouldn’t surprise me when readers of this book’s first edition saw, in my protagonist Libby Samson, a character I didn’t know I’d created.
But that’s exactly what happened. Many readers saw a woman who was a “pushover.”
Worse yet, many readers disliked her—strongly—for being a pushover.
Libby struck a nerve.
On the one hand, any time readers react passionately to my stories, it’s a thrill.
On the other hand, I want that reaction to be part of the plan. I want cheers for my heroines, jeers for my villains. To have so many readers dislike Libby—that was a different matter altogether.
So I pulled the book offline and gave my heroine a long, hard look.
And guess what—I still don’t think Libby is a pushover. I see a woman who is “nice.” She’s polite. She cares about others’ feelings and well-being.
And she finds herself caught up by a cascade of events where more and more people start making demands on her.
The experience is overwhelming, even befuddling, and at times Libby’s response is evasive. But in the end, she stands up for herself in a big way. I won’t give away the plot here, but suffice to say she fundamentally re-orders the relationships in her life—particularly the one that is most toxic.
This is a key pivot point in the plot.
So why would readers see a pushover?
In studying the novel—and with the help of a generous critique by writer Julie Harris—I think I’ve figured out the answer:
Speech patterns. Libby didn’t speak assertively enough. I believe in real life, her choice of words wouldn’t have come across as weak (so much depends on delivery and tone of voice), but as written narrative I can see that people would “hear” some of her speech as too obsequious.
Some unnecessary backstory about Libby’s failed marriage. Writers always know more history about their characters than they include in their stories. In this case, the history I know about Libby included information about how much she ignored problems in her marriage. It left the impression that she is weaker than I know her to be.
Unnecessary backstory that emphasized how “nice” Libby is. In my opinion, being polite and sensitive are positive traits—assuming they are accompanied by strong boundaries. But much of the book’s plot revolves around boundaries (literally!) Including too much information about how “nice” Libby tipped the balance in readers’ minds. It suggested that she’s more accommodating than she actually is.
So in this edition, I’ve changed those aspects of the story. I’ve depicted Libby’s speech patterns as more assertive. I got rid of backstory that wasn’t necessary to advance the plot, and that risked giving the wrong impression about Libby’s character.
Hopefully the result will be a novel that more faithfully portrays the character that I know Libby to be: a woman who is beset by a chain of events that are immensely distressing—although also comical—but who ultimately finds a way to overcome the challenges they present.
Thank you for reading.