The first major new and unhistorical characters the readers meet are Marcus Parent and his girlfriend Celine Tremblay.
When my writing group first looked over these characters they found Celine, in particular, not believable. I think they had their problems with Marcus too.
The gist of the problem seemed to be that I had portrayed a relationship between the two of them——Marcus, 23, Celine 17——that seemed too innocent in their eyes. That the two of them weren’t having a serious sexual relationship seemed really unlikely to them. Moreover, I had portrayed a Celine who, rather than being interested in contemporary music, was much fonder of Broadway Musicals and classic films like Gone with the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
They didn’t buy that either.
I have a very strong vision of the Celine character. She seems very real to me. At the moment, it seems impossible to think of writing her out of the novel.
So my job, I guess, is to find a way to make her and Marcus more believable. So I rewrote some early paragraphs to read:
Now, in the dark of May’s last evening, in one of Toronto’s nondescript but pleasant suburbs, Marcus, born-again Catholic——if there could be such a thing——sat on the seat of a playground swing. Beside him was Celine, his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, not yet old enough to be “born again.” She sat in the swing beside him busily scuffing her shoes in the sand.
Celine was thinking of Judy Garland. She was thinking of the Wizard of Oz, and the scene with the witch’s shoes sticking out from under the house.
Her friends thought she was crazy. What is it with Celine and Broadway musicals? She went so far as admitting the Beatles were okay and yes, she did know they had broken up. And she sort of liked Abba but, honestly, what did people see the Rolling Stones?
Apparently the re-write seemed to help. The relationship between Celine and Marcus was starting to become a little more plausible. I guess no final decision can be made till readers encounter these characters again in later chapters.
For me the lesson here is that even though a character can seem very vivid and real to me, it won’t necessarily be that way to my reader unless I provide sufficient context.
I did grow up as a young ‘born-again’ Catholic in 1974 so Marcus’s situation seems perfectly understandable to me and so obvious that it doesn’t need stating. In this case, however, it does seem to need stating.
As a writer of fiction I am ever-ready for the criticism that I’ve written too much, that I need to cut this and that and make the whole thing tighter, so the rare admonition to write “more” comes as a shock. Sometimes, however, for the sake of clarity, even believability, “less is not more.”