Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In Defense of the Romantically Clueless MC

Come back tomorrow afternoon for an INTERACTIVE interview with Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management. She'll be taking questions from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST!

One of the most consistent pieces of feedback I've gotten on Bonnie is that Karina's totally clueless when it comes to Matthew. It's obvious to readers that he's interested in her, but Karina doesn't pick up on any of his cues. It isn't until her friend finally comes out and says it that Karina realizes Matthew has a thing for her, and according to my critique partners, she should figure this out sooner. Since they did.

But novels, even realistic ones, aren't necessarily realistic. We carefully construct our stories for maximum impact, then sprinkle in a lot of clues and clever foreshadowing. We want our stories to make sense, so we press them into tidy molds and tie up our loose ends.

But real life is rarely so neat.

In high school, I had a friend named Ian. He asked me to Homecoming our junior year (though I ended up going with Honey Bear, but that's another blog post), and we ate lunch together every day our senior year. After we graduated, he asked me out a few times, including once right around Christmas. We were home from school--he was up at Utah State while I was down at BYU--and one afternoon, he called and asked if I wanted to check out this comedy troupe. I said, "Sounds fun! Who else will be there?" and he said, "Me," and I said, "Oh." After one of those long, awkward pauses, I rushed to assure him that I'd love to go, that it would be great to see him, that I was looking forward to it. And I was. The show was funny, and it was nice to catch up afterward. (Even though it was December, we chatted over Frosties for several hours in his car.)

I think that night was the first time it occurred to me that Ian could possibly like me. It was also the last time we ever talked. Honey Bear came home from his mission six months later, and we discovered we still liked each other. Then Ian left on his mission a few months after that, and we didn't keep in touch.

I'm still not sure why I didn't pick up on Ian's cues* sooner. He asked me out multiple times--in fact, he's the only boy other than Honey Bear who asked me out even once, which should have tipped me off--and he went out of his way to show up wherever I happened to be. In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but I didn't see it for the longest time.

So the next time you're tempted to smack a romantically clueless MC, give him or her a break. This whole love thing is tougher than it looks.

*Ian, if you ever stumble across this post, I do apologize for my inanity. And if I completely misrepresented your point-of-view, feel free to set the record straight:)


Alexa D. said...

OMG, yes! This! I had to restructure my romantic progression a bit because I got similar comments, but ultimately I made my MC clueless about the affections of the male MC, because I was totally that girl. I think especially when you are a girl who is super comfy with guys and frequently friends with them... you just don't pick up on cues, especially when you *are* friends with them. Personally, my default approach to any person, male or female, is friendship. I don't consider romance first with a guy. I have totally been in this situation and it is so awkward! I'm pretty sure there are guys in my past that think I blew them off, but I honestly had no clue at the time.

So, yes, this post :)

JeffO said...

Poor Ian.

I actually received a similar bit of criticism on one of my pieces--"How can they not know they like each other? It's obvious!" But in the case of my MC it was part confidence ("No way she would like me like that") and denial, since staying 'just friends' was safer. There are a lot of things that can keep people from seeing what seems obvious to everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Tis true. In real life we can be totally clueless of a friend's romantic interest.

Ann Noser said...

I'm not sure what world people live in where they always know when someone is interested in them. Maybe I surrounded myself with romantically challenged people back in high school and college, but it seemed like nobody had a clue. Except those who dated 50 million people. In fact, I had a roommate once in college who had a list of guys she had kissed that was 50+ long. When she asked me to write a list, I laughed and said "one". You could've knocked her over with a feather duster. She thought I was crazy. I thought the same about her. Such completely different points of view.

Karen lee Hallam said...

Totally happens--all the time. I've been clueless about boys on many an occasion. I've even written something similar in an MS of mine where the MC is clueless about a boy--she even thinks he likes her best friend instead. And it's the best friend who clues the mc in about his feelings she's "avoiding".

I'm revising that ms right now. Thanks for the post about this!

Myrna Foster said...

I was that girl, too. Guys had to spell it out for me in high school and college because I was used to being the tomboy.

Karina has a lot on her mind. Her romantic progression worked for me.

Erin B. said...

Hahaha. Poor Ian. I've had experiences like that as well.

Ben Spendlove said...

An excellent defense, and I completely agree. The moral of the story (for me) is don't automatically do whatever your betas want. When critiquing, I'm looking for potential problems, knowing I have a chance to mold a work-in-progress almost as I would my own work. Sometimes I'll notice and point out things that wouldn't bother me at all in a novel that's already published and set in stone. (Also, I'm usually trying to justify my role. Imagine sending back a critique with no comments! :)

This is particularly applicable to what I'm doing this morning.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

Alexa, that's why I wish it was our cultural norm to just tell people how we feel. Writers should be especially good at this, since we've all had to get over our fear of rejection:)

Great point, JeffO. It's very easy to see the truth for what it is in other people's lives than it is in our own.

Anon, it sounds like you have stories to tell;)

Ann, my mother-in-law (whose name also happens to be Ann) was one of those people who dated gobs of boys. I don't think she kissed many of them, but she set a goal when she was a girl to date a hundred men before she married one, and she came awfully close.

Good luck with your revisions, Karen! As you can tell, I like that plot point:)

Myrna, you were one of the few readers who didn't comment on it;)

I know, Erin! I feel so bad for Ian. Hopefully, he realized it wasn't him--it was totally me.

I always appreciate your thoughts, Ben. You've been one of my go-to readers for a reason:) But you definitely have to weigh feedback and decide what fits your story (because no one knows the story better than its author).