Monday, 28 December 2015

Dull Cinderella: the problems of a not-very-interesting protagonist

Ho on earth do you make Cinderella interesting?
Oh, Cinderella. How dull you are.

I mean it. Not in an unpleasant way, but as a statement of fact. You work your fingers to the bone in the house, cooking, washing, cleaning. If you have any time off — and let’s face it, you rarely do — you don’t go out and meet anyone interesting, or indulge in hobbies, or have an adventure. You sit by the fire, staring into its glowing heart, too tired even to put together a plan of escape. How did anyone ever write your story? Or more to the point, why did anyone ever want to read it?

These days we need interesting characters. We need action and excitement from the first page. We need a hook to get the reader in, because people keep telling us that the paying public these days has a short attention span and won’t waste time of a slow run-in. And where’s the hook in some plain child doing the dusting and then sitting down by the fire? 

I’m so familiar with Cinderella that I’d never really thought about this before. That was until I found myself writing a version on the theme for myself. It’s the third book in my Lake Garda series. Giorgia, my heroine, is not quite Cinderella in the sense that she’s a very wealthy young woman indeed, but she is tied into a life of drudgery, albeit one she thinks she’s chosen. Since she was old enough to wait at tables she’s worked in the family hotel which she will one day inherit.

Now, thanks to a combination of circumstances which developed earlier in the series, she finds herself, at the tender age of twenty-two, running the hotel almost single-handedly. Her brother is leaving. Her father is heading for a breakdown. There’s no-one else to help her. She has no life, no friends. When she has time off she’s too exhausted to do anything with it. Poor little rich girl. 

How very, very dull. How very unreadable. 

Reader, how on earth do I hook you into Giorgia’s story? 

These days I venture that we wouldn’t be telling fairy stories the way they’re traditionally told, from once upon a time to happily ever after. We’d be getting in right in at the action. Maybe we’d start Cinderella with the appearance of the Fairy Godmother, or perhaps even on the stroke of midnight as she tears herself away from the arms of the handsome prince. (Why is she doing that? What has she got to hide? Who is this mysterious girl whose name no-one knows and who has taken the ball by storm?)

I don’t know that I can take that approach with Giorgia, because the book is the third in a series and the previous two have begun at the beginning and ended at the end, without any complicated flashbacks or time-hopping. It remains a problem, on that I think will take me some time to solve. But I’m onto it, and at least it’ll give me something to occupy my thoughts over the festive season. Though any suggestions would be welcome. 

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