My post is late this week because I was doing two things yesterday:
1) sitting in my friend's house in Oklahoma City finishing a line edit;
2) driving like a bat out of Hades back to our home town (9 hours from OK City) to make it home in time for the first day of school today.
Driving like a bat is all relative--my husband is a very fast-driving bat, while my bat-hood consists more of tiny red eyes and a singed feeling. As I was the only bat driving yesterday (he had to return by plane to make a business meeting) I was bleary and relying on sonar.
But as I drove back, I thought about some great feedback I received during my editing process.
Kate Winter, the heroine of Sweeter than Birdsong, has pronounced social anxiety disorder. I created this characteristic based on the historical record about this real life woman who was brilliant, beautiful, and very shy.
Kate's social anxiety grows most extreme when she has to speak or perform in public. Naturally, this situation occurs more than once in the novel. :-)
In one onstage scene, I had written her thoughts to reflect social anxiety disorder, which is often prompted by a deep fear of negative judgment from others. So as she took the stage, she was looking around at the audience and experiencing self-critical thoughts, assuming all those watching her might be thinking the same things.
Thank goodness for two of my beta readers, who told me I had it wrong. Both these readers have experienced anxiety attacks, and they told me that in this situation, Kate would not be thinking such things at all. Instead, she would be having a full-fledged, clinical panic attack, with all the attendant symptoms. Panic attacks are illogical--they do not allow for the reasoning-based fear about judgment and criticism that ordinary social phobia causes.
I rewrote the scene, and it's so much better for their advice.
Developing realistic characters is not just about giving them the right thoughts--it's about giving them the right thoughts at the right time.
We're also more likely to create truthful characters if we have a variety of beta readers who can respond to a character based on their diverse life experiences. The light of truth may be clearer when filtered through several lenses!
Question for you:
Does anything make you unusually nervous? Public speaking? Planes? (that's mine) Spiders?