Friday, February 17, 2012

Likeability and the Downton Daughters

Okay Downton Abbey fans, which daughter are you? Or, writers, which Grantham daughter are you most likely to build a narrative upon?

Sure, we all wish to have a little "icily beautiful" Mary running through our veins--the quintessential eldest child: giving off a cocky self-assurance -- but, what a price to pay with all of that moral turbulence and disappointment festering beneath the surface.

And, wouldn't we all love to be Lady Sybil, the young upstart who marches to her own beat with courage and tenacity? Ah--the blessings for the family baby. So much easier to sneak about when one's parents are utterly burned out with exhaustion.

But, alas, there is a bit of Edith in all of us, is there not? The passed-over middle child. The wallflower. The simpering, late bloomer.

If you have not yet seen this Downton Abbey likeability scale, get in step posthaste! It changes from week to week, though many characters seem to retain their degree of likeability across the board.

Likeability is one of those Achilles heels for yours truly. I tend to hear the voices of characters who tug on my heart strings. Like the unfortunate Edith, my narrators are often the unattractive underdog. They're my shadow figures, I suppose. Characters with cautionary tales and circumstances. They are quiet and fly-on-the-wallish rather than dynamic and vivacious.

These final drafts of my novels, if I had to isolate one big change, it was to turn my Ediths into Marys and Sybils. The process was a bit like being sober at a cocktail party full of drunks. Audacity and outrageousness are not second nature to my writing sensibilities, but, as witnessed by the Downton Abbey character scale, nobody wants to spend time with a sad sac. A breathtakingly gorgeous drama queen, yes. A Violet-type Dowager, absolutely! And look at the popularity of Anna the housemaid! The willful-yet-virtuous head maid has all but stolen the main storyline.

I won't say that I've completely succeeded in creating the ultimate likeable, memorable character, but I've learned how to push my Edith out into the crowd, force her to peel a canape off a tray without soiling her gown, and even capture the eye of leading man or two.

So, Dear Readers, where are you in the Grantham-Crawley character sphere? And writers, any of you willing to share your own trials, tribulations and character travails in pursuit of fiction worthy of dinner at the Grantham table?


  1. Great post! I think I'm a mix of Sybil and Edith, if I'm being perfectly honest. And you are so right about our characters. We need them to be active and engaged, but sometimes it is truly hard not to write the introvert. Maybe that's because we writers often tend to be introverts.

  2. Well said, Cynthia, and so true!

  3. I'm Edith and Sybil. I'm the middle child, but I'm also the one who married outside the assumed circle. (I hope that makes sense.) Then I moved far away.

    At this point, I have to accept the fact that my best writing is essay and humor so my characters are versions of me and my family.

  4. the one character i struggle with the most doesn't even have a starring role. she's the subtext...the mom. in the first draft i killed her, but then i thought that was too easy and she was too two-dimensional. now she's alive but not by much. i knew i had to give her depth...she couldn't just be this person that caused such deep flaws in my primary characters. i have to show how she also gave them the tools to survive. it's hard. showing how you love and hate the same person so much, at the same time.

    writing's hard.

  5. Lisa, I can see that hybrid in you even though I've not yet met you face-to-face (though I hope that changes...are you a for sure with AWP?)

    And amyg, I WILL be meeting you in Chicago and can't wait to hear more about this mother character whose influences strike at the heart of your protagonist. Yes, writing is hard. Why the fuck are we not selling donuts?

  6. I don't know that I can answer this question honestly --- I want to be ALL of them! But I will say I arrived home to find the DVDs of Seasons I and II in my mail. I can't wait to watch them all over again. Maybe this time I'll understand what Ms. Padmore (?) is saying in the first few episodes?? ;-)


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