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I have been working on my revised manuscript off and on… okay, mostly off… for a few months now. And a strange thing is happening with my protagonist.
She has changed.
I don’t mean that after implementing the post-rejection suggestions she’s different. If I did, that would be silly and indicative of a bigger issue.
Namely that I’ve lost my mind.
No, I mean when I sit down to let her in, her voice is different. Her mood and perspective are different. It’s as if she's a different person altogether.
I’ll give you an example.
In the original version of this story, she pines after her ex-boyfriend for months, emotionally forsaking all others until she can get him back. A choice I understood and respected.
In the new version, the story begins with them in love and going strong after two years together. No break-ups, no drama, no problem.
I would expect, then, for her to be ecstatic about this plot shift, that she would be giddy with glee to be with him from Word One.
But she isn’t.
In fact, she’s so withdrawn and reserved I wonder what’s wrong with her.
This is not an emotional choice I considered for this character. I mean, yes, she has reasons to be cautious in the midst of their bliss, reasons I’ve yet to reveal thus far in the manuscript. But beyond that, I have streamlined her back-story, deleted most of her bad choices, and given her far less to worry about. You’d think she’d be smiling right now.
But she isn’t. And if I were honest, I’d admit her differences are deeper than her feelings toward her beau. They are profound and almost scary when I realize their root.
The rejection changed her.
Point of fact, the editor gave no indication the story’s issues were about the characters ("or the writing," the blogger mentions as a humble aside). For that reason alone, I figured the damage to my leading lady’s psyche would be minimal at best.
But as we familiarize ourselves again, I notice a hitch in her walk, telling pauses in her speech. I note her suspicion of everything, how closely to her chest she holds her cards.
She is different, undoubtedly so, and there is little I can do about it.
In “Dear Rejected Manuscript,” I asked my novel to be patient with me, mentioning that nothing matters above preserving its brilliance and authenticity. But I was wrong. As a story is only as healthy as its protagonist, I must take care of her first. Her wholeness must be my priority.
Now, I could place her under quarantine and wait out these changes, praying they pass before my self-imposed first draft deadline of July 1st. I could coax her back to normal with visits and well-wishes from remaining characters awaiting her return to learn their fate. I could even force her cooperation by demanding she return to my story at once, writing her as I see fit with no regard for her preferences or personality.
But the right choice, my only choice, is to let her be. To write her as she is and not as I wish she would be. Because all my drive and creativity cannot change one simple fact:
She is, therefore I write.
And if she refuses to talk, then I have nothing to say.
So with my heart open and my hand extended, I shall dispense with the pressure of expectations and enjoy our new acquaintance, trusting her to lead me into her version of the truth.
“Hello, Leading Lady. It’s nice to meet you... again.”