Monday, February 11, 2013


A few days ago I stopped by my local bank to make a modest deposit. I love my bank because all the tellers know everyone by first name, and everyone is friendly. 

I completed the transaction and was chatting with the young teller about something mundane, until he slid my deposit slip a cross the counter and I picked it up. I'm pretty sure I guffawed, or perhaps I simply turned pale and my eyes went huge. Either way, he knew something was up.

I snatched up the deposit slip, smiled, and thanked him. His hand shot forward and he said, "Let me see."

I backed up a short distance and clutched the small slip more firmly. "No," I wailed. "I want to keep it. Just for a souvenir."

Of course, I handed him the slip after teasing him a few more seconds. I can't recall the exact amount that was printed on the slip, but it began with a five and was at least 9 digits long. 

I realize the bank would have caught the mistake, but I would have never left the building without clarifying things. I'm too honest for that. In fact, I'm almost always totally honest. Well, there was that one time I stole the bottle of fingernail polish when I was eleven. But I never opened it, and I returned it to the store the following day. And then there was the time I swallowed my gum in crafts class rather than admit I was chewing the offending substance in a class that forbid it.

However, I'm struggling with honesty in my current WIP. Perhaps that's why I'm so hung up with it and can't get the crazy thing finished. 

In my current WIP, the parents of a twelve-year-old girl are horrid people. I don't mean they cheat on their taxes, shoplift, or even kick dogs, although the dad is the type that would kick a dog if he allowed one on his property. 

Nope. They're much worse. The mother has a quick temper and a propensity for cutting. She used her knife-wielding talent on her daughter many times over the years, and did an awesome job on own husband's face. Since the book is a middle grade novel, I avoid the actual cutting and most of the other details, but there's no doubt she's a bad apple. The dad's a much nicer guy, but by the end of the book everyone will know that he isn't quite the upstanding citizen his daughter believes him to be.

The problem is, the parents' behavior is so rotten that I'm having trouble portraying them honestly. I simply don't want them to be that evil, even though they truly are. But don't I owe it to my readers to make them as real as possible? I'm not having any difficulties revealing the lovely natures of the other characters, even though some of them are flawed. 

So do I tone down the villains for the sake of my own comfort, and rob my characters of their full personalities? Or do I take the risk and make them as real as I can make them, and worry that I'll never find a publisher interested? 

I'd love to know your thoughts.

Happy Reading!

Cordelia Dinsmore


Anonymous said...

I don't think there's anything wrong portraying unpleasant people,you just have to give a reason for their behaviour. If you just pile on nastiness in a vacuum they become either unbelievable or joke characters like HP's aunt and uncle.
Give them a bit of background. If the mother cuts people up explain what makes her like that. There's always a reason behind ugly behaviour, unless we're talking about the spawn of Satan.

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Jane. I agree with your comments completely. The mother definitely has her reasons for her ugliness, and although the dad doesn't so much, he believes he does. They're a rather complicated family. I just want to make sure they are real and still believable.

Rita Monette, Writer said...

Cordelia, I have a similar problem with my main character in my middle grade WIP. The kid has so many problems since the murder of his father...I want him to have a sense of humor, and don't want the book to be so dark, middle graders won't like it. But I'm having a hard time with it. I thought about bringing in a dog, but I don't want him to kick it. lol

Sharon Ledwith said...

Honestly you gals are so upbeat! Cordelia - do a little digging - check out true crime books to get an idea of what makes a horrible character, well horrible. With my next novel, I have a couple of absolutely cruel and mean characters, but I add a little humor to lighten the mood and tone. Don't forget to be yourself, that's the brand your selling! Cheers!

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Well, I think these two are pretty much despicable, but I'm just wondering if that's okay in serious MG. I know it works for cartoonish characters, but that's different. Maybe it does depend on the genre, so I guess I'll have to wait and see if it works once it's completed - if that time ever gets here.

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