On April 16, 2015, this came into the website from Yulia in the old blogspot days:
My main character is VERY moody. She is rather oversensitive and gets easily upset. I reread my manuscript and she’s crying in every other scene. I don’t want a main character who’s making mountains out of, well, let’s say, gnome’s hills, but that’s her character.
I tried making her more unemotional, but then she seems bland. I want her to be passionate and vibrant like she is, but what kind of reader wants to sit through a crybaby heroine?
I suspect that Yulia has finished this story and written a dozen more by now. Here are my thoughts anyway:
I had the same problem in one of my Disney Fairies books. Gwendolyn, one of my few human characters, was forever weeping and my editor was, too–in exasperation.
This was years ago, so I don’t remember what I did, but I remember her frustration whenever one of my characters threatens to become lachrymose. Here are some possibilities that don’t create blandness:
∙ Our MC can sometimes express her sadness physically in ways that don’t involve actual weeping. She can swallow back the tears, blink them away, cram her fists into her eyes. She can be cried out or be too exhausted to cry.
∙ She can recite a few words that she’s memorized to help her through hard times. If we introduce the words as her tear stoppers, the reader will know she’s sad whenever she invokes them.
∙ Likewise, she can visualize something that comforts her: a beloved face, her pet frog, a flower.
∙ She can have developed a defense against crying. Habitually, she converts her tears to laughter or to a joke. In this case, the reader may come to wish she could experience the relief of tears, so that when she finally does weep, the reader is actually happy.
∙ We can change her character in this regard. She can be someone who almost never cries. Maybe she converts her sadness to action, say, to good works that make her feel better.
∙ Or she may deflect sadness by becoming angry, which can be her most serious flaw, or which may give her the energy to keep going in the face of tragedy.
∙ She can encounter so much misery that she becomes hardened and stops weeping. Going back to the physical, she can develop other symptoms instead, sleeplessness, for example.
∙ By nature she may not cry much. A certain kind of trigger may be needed. I’m that way. I hardly ever cry, although I can feel very sad without tears. About a year or so ago, though, I had a health scare (I’m fine), and it seemed like the doctor had turned on a spigot. I wept non-stop from his office to the emergency room.
Taking another tack, we may want to look at our plot and see if we’ve created tragedy overload. Our problem may be a sad sack story rather than a crybaby heroine.
We need bad things to happen to keep our story moving. As you all probably know, I advocate making our characters suffer. But suffering can take many forms and call forth many responses.
In a chapter in Ella Enchanted, for example, Ella has to try to kiss a parrot, who keeps flying away from her. It’s absurd, not weep-worthy, though she is suffering, and the reader sees the crazy lengths she has to go to to satisfy her curse. I hope the reader suffers with her–and laughs, too.
In The Two Princesses of Bamarre prequel I’m working on, I drop my MC, Peregrine, as a very young child into an environment where she has to earn every shred of affection that comes her way–love seems to be entirely conditional. She works harder than a child should have to and suffers without understanding. Tears bring her only disapproval, so she learns not to cry.
In Anne of Green Gables, Anne breaks a slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head. She’s furious and stays furious and has to endure her own anger, another form of suffering.
We can disappoint our MC or frustrate her. We can give her the hiccups at absolutely the wrong moment, which can be funny or serious, because she can be on a first date or performing brain surgery.
Let’s say our MC’s friends turn on her. She can: cry; desperately try to win them back; over-explain herself; beg; look for other friends, and the pickings can be slim; be unhappily alone. The point is that in most situations there are lots of options. Even the death of a loved one can evoke a response other than weeping.
It’s also possible to write a weepy but likeable heroine. In my Disney Fairies books, Rani is a water-talent fairy. She’s forever weeping, because her nature is largely water. No one holds that against her. Our MC can be known for her waterworks. Her father says the family should buy stock in Kleenex. She’s weeping but she carries on. The crying doesn’t stop the action. She does what needs to be done with streaming eyes and a red nose. The people who love her, love her anyway. If they don’t mind her crying and they’re likable, too, the reader will probably go along, too. There are opportunities for humor as well. She can weep before dessert at every meal, because it’s her favorite part, and she won’t have it to look forward to once she eats it. The reader doesn’t need have to be told every time. He’ll understand and imagine a downpour. Then, if we like, when something really sad happens she can be dry-eyed, which will have an impact.
Here are four prompts:
∙ Create a hiccup crisis. Invent a situation and a character, and make him suffer. Write the scene.
∙ Create a hiccup crisis in your WIP. Make the consequences serious.
∙ In a test of her strength of will, your MC is injected with a serum designed to make her weepy. She’s taken to a laboratory. Tragic images are projected on the walls; sounds of misery blast from speakers. If she gives way and weeps, something dreadful will happen, whatever suits the needs of your story. Write the scene. If you like, keep going and write the story.
∙ Write a scene in “Snow White” that includes the eighth dwarf, Weepy.
Have fun, and save what you write!