Monday, June 4, 2012

Grit, Wit, It

It just so happened that before the June Crusade began, I had been re-re-reading (get that?) James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing. It's a fabulous book, and one that I think every aspiring author (and even old-hands) ought to poke their noses into now and then. One point that I am always struck by is his section on what he terms "Grit, Wit, and It" Witness his introduction to this section:
"What is it that makes these characters unforgettable? In analyzing hundreds of memorable characters, I believe three factors prevail above all. I call them grit, wit, and it."
Obviously the first one leads perfectly into one of Mr. Bell's pet-peeves. NO WIMPS! Your protagonist should never be a wimp. Maybe he starts off weak in strength, but there is a way to write weakness that is as strong as strength. You have to put fight into your characters. Never let yourself write a wimp. You'll never get over it.

Point Two: Wit. This is something that I see precious little of in books, but when I do see it I cheer. There is nothing like a bit of wit thrown in unexpectedly. By wit, I mean something unexpected, clever, and throw-away. Something even so obscure that you don't even notice it's there the first time. Here, Mr. Bell talks about "wit":
"Wit is something that everyone warms to when it's natural, not forced. An easy way to do this is by making the wit self-deprecating. If the character as the ability to laugh at himself, wit will come naturally, as when Rhett Butler chides Scarlett O'Hara, 'Why don't you say I'm a damned rascal and no gentleman?'
Wit can also make light of an overly sentimental situation..."
In another spot Mr. Bell talks about a line of biting wit being "the perfect counterpoint to what could have become maudlin self-pity." I will admit, I'm not one who can write heavy drama. I just don't do it well. I've never liked melodramatic stories and I can't write it myself. Even in Fly Away Home when Callie is fleeing in tears from a humiliating moment when she loses it in front of America's most famous journalist, she can't help but find a tiny bit of humor:

"I continued my flight, weaving through the late lunch-crowd of my fellow journalists, hoping no one saw the tracks of tears in the powder on my face. I wiped my cheek with Annamaria’s napkin that I had somehow forgotten to let go of, and considered my options. I could leave the country. No—that wasn’t exactly doable. I had no money—besides. Mr. Barnett had already kindly pointed out that I was ignorant in all forms of second-langauges. And I didn’t suppose there was a secret island of Roman swine that would be willing to have me write articles in Pig-Latin for them. Nah—I didn’t recall reading anything of that sort in my high-school geography book."

Wit is definitely something that can add spice to a situation that might otherwise be run-of-the-mill.
The third and last component in creating unforgettable characters is "It". This is something that can be classified (in my mind) as charm. That thing in a person that causes people to flock toward them like bees to honey. As J.M. Barrie said: "It's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have."
The characters with personal magnetism are the best. The ones that linger in your mind because even you can't help but be attracted toward them. Give your characters personality. Let them sparkle and snazz and do things you have no idea how you thought up. Let them be themselves and give them hearty helpings of Grit, Wit, and It with every meal. You'll never forget it. ;)


Miss Dashwood said...

A secret island of Roman swine? Rachel, you're BRILLIANT. Love it!

Morgan said...

So true. Great post Rachel!!