The night I finished up my second draft of Bitter Cold and sent it off to Echelon Press as part of the Once Upon a Clockwork Tale project, I watched the season finale of Once Upon a Time. It was a big night for fairy tales in the Grey Cottage.
I was sure it would need further editing, but I felt like I told the story I meant to tell. There’s an underlying theme about the disillusionment that comes from growing up in a fallen world which is an important element of the original fairy tale, The Snow Queen. It didn’t make it into the original draft. I was able to cut a lot of fat in my second draft, and work it in.
I could have taken the story to an even darker place. I had time to do a pretty extensive rewrite if I’d wanted. But I realized that there was another agenda at play in that desire, and it didn’t serve this particular story very well. Writing fiction is therapeutic, but if you try to make it actual therapy, you end up writing stuff that only makes sense to you. That was another important lesson learned in all this.
More important than the thematic stuff, however, was the additional character development I worked in for my main character’s best friend/love interest.
Basic Character Development, or Why Disney Princes Suck
The fat-cutting gave me room to work in more character development for Kit, the male main character who’s based on Kai from the original story, Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen.
One of the biggest challenges with this novella was making Kit a compelling character. If you’re at all familiar with The Snow Queen, you can guess why. Kai spends most of the story in a cold, unfeeling trance. Right before that, he acts cruelly toward his best friend, Gerda. It’s difficult to sell the reader on investing in a character who is essentially unconscious for more than 2/3 of the story, and kind of a jerk just prior to that.
Also, in my version, Kit is basically the straight man and voice of reason. Compared to Greta, his personality is much more subdued. All my beta readers of the first draft said Greta jumped off the page, but it was hard to connect with Kit. It would’ve been easy to let him become a featureless, unmemorable “Disney prince” whose only importance is as a plot device and love interest for the quirky, heroic female main character.
But that wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. While the obvious conflict in the story is about the Snow Queen and her dastardly plans, there’s a deeper relational conflict that was just as important, at least to me.
Kit and Greta both start the story believing that one of them is deeply flawed and a burden to the other. An important part of their journey is discovering the truth: that they’re both flawed, and they’re both strong. To get by in life, they’ll need to rescue each other as the need arises. Making Kit more than the role-reversal “damsel-in-distress” required making him as well-developed a character as Greta, with his own flaws, problems and motivations. In my first draft, those are harder to see.
I’m really glad I had time in the second draft to give Kit a bit more depth. I hope the end result is a story where nobody is a cardboard cutout.
If You Simply Can’t Wait
If you’d like to see what the Disney Princes would have been like if they’d been more than plot devices, you might check out The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. It’s a middle grades book, so don’t go in expecting anything resembling maturity, but I’ve heard it’s hilarious. Got any other good examples of well-drawn “love interest” characters? Be a dear and drop them in the comments.