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This week’s questions:
One of your guest posts was on the danger of quirky characters. One of the major characters in the mouse mystery I'm writing is very quirky, and I wanted to know if this makes him too hard to identify with. The snippet below is a bit of dialogue from the scene where my narrator (a mouse) meets my quirky character (also a mouse) whose name is Donovan. I'd like to know if Donovan comes across as likable, or if he's just confusing and irritating.
On to the diagnosis…
"Have you ever directed a play before?" I asked.
"How about a skit at summer camp or something?" Please, please, please let him have some kind of experience.
"I've read all Shakespeare's plays," Donovan offered. "I sometimes mix up the plot of Cymbeline with A Winter's Tale and I always confuse Timon of Athens with Titus Andronicus but that's because they're both about Romans and start with T. I mean Romans and Greeks, or Athens would be in Rome, which is crazy. So is Coriolanus. Since we're doing Macbeth it won't matter."
Did this Donovan always talk in a breathless jumble, and did he always wave his paws and whip his tail around when he spoke? If his arms were tied to his sides by his tail, would he still be able to talk?
Wait- what had he just said about Macbeth?
"You mean A Midsummer Night's Dream," I corrected.
"No I don't."
"We always perform A Midsummer Night's Dream at the festival."
"Macbeth's the one with the three witches, right?" Donovan asked. "You know: `When shall we three meet again? In thunder lightening or in rain? When the hurly-burly's done, when the battle's lost and won' -like Louis Carrol. Hurly-burly, Jabberwocky. You think they'd have been friends?"
"The hurly-burly and the Jabberwocky?" A hurly-burly wasn't even a creature, it was just a clamorous confusion… kind of like the mouse talking to me right now.
"Carrol and Shakespeare. Because they both made up words."
"They didn't even live in the same time period."
"Yeah, but if they did."
My Thoughts in Purple:
Okies, this is a first. You’ll notice I have no thoughts in purple, because I saw nothing in the text to tweak. I liked it, it was strong, and I don’t have any suggestions to improve on a textual level. So I’ll just jump right to the questions.
Is Donovan too hard to identify with?
It’s hard to tell from just this sample since it’s mostly dialog, but I tend to babble myself (especially when I get excited), so I can relate there. Going forward, what he wants, how he thinks, how he deals with things is what will make a reader click with him or not. If I understand why he’s like this and why he’s so jazzed about Shakespeare, I’ll likely get him. If he just babbles all the time and there’s nothing more to it than that, I might not be able to identify with him.
What age group this is targeted at will also determine how relatable he is. With mice characters, this feels like it's aimed at younger readers, and if so, they might not get the references (I'm not up on when Shakespeare is taught anymore). If they don't understand what Donovan is talking about, it might make it tough for them to get what's going on.
My question for you, is do you need readers to identify with him? He’s not the POV character, and that’s who they really need to connect with. It’s okay if he’s a quirky character that makes readers laugh or shake their heads or whatever you want him to inspire. You don’t have to worry as much about quirky characters if they aren’t the POV. You have a built in filter for them between the POV and the reader.
Is Donovan likable, or if he's just confusing and irritating?
In this sample I don’t find him irritating at all, but if he was a major character and there were pages and pages of this I might. He is a bit exhausting to read, but I sense that’s the point, and it’s done well if it is. The confusion also fits the scene because that’s what he’s doing – confusing the narrator.
Donovan strikes me as a great example of the strong spice analogy. He’s funny, distinctive, memorable, but probably works best in small doses. Too much and he might overpower the rest of the story and wear the reader out. But since he’s not the narrator, you have distance from him so you can control how he’s used. I think it’s all going to depend on what you do with him and how he fits into the story. But so far, I’d say you’re good.
Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they – and others – find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) so feel free to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.