Book Done Yet?: Button, Button . . .

So about Button . . .

I really had her in there to begin with as a foil*/ficelle** for Nita, but then she shot that demon, and I thought, “Huh. Button has layers, and one of them is homicidal.”

So I went back and rewrote that scene in Nita’s house from Button’s PoV. SO much more interesting, especially since it’s a first look inside Button’s semi-deranged little brain. Which actually does make her the perfect foil for Nita, the calm, rational, control freak. And it also means I can do a Macbeth/Lady Macbeth cross-character arc*** between the two of them in their growing-to-be-real-partners subplot. And that gives me another layer to Nita’s arcing out of isolation. At the beginning of the story, Nita’s close to one person, her twin brother, and it’s pretty clear that if they hadn’t been twins, she wouldn’t let him get close, either. But as Mort says in a later scene, “Those nine months of playing Scrabble in the womb together–that creates a bond.” And now there’s Button, who’s going to become something Nita’s never had: a best friend.

So basically, I just love Button and I really love Button’s PoV. Ficelle, foil, minion, subplot protagonist, balance (I was getting a little worried about the predominance of demons in my cast), and if I decide to go with the demon lover I’m toying with for her, I can even get a foil romance subplot . . .

This is the part where I realize I’m being a wonk, put in asterisks, and go back to explain things.

*A foil is a character who shows off another character by reflection and contrast, the way diamonds are displayed on foil to reflect their sparkliness or on black velvet to intensify their light. My favorite foil example is Macbeth and Banquo in Macbeth: at the beginning of the play, they’re the same character, brave and noble warriors. Then they meet the witches and Macbeth accepts the prophecy while Banquo doesn’t trust them. Macbeth continues to fall, horrible, while Banquo remains good and true, which is why Macbeth has him killed halfway through the story: He can’t stand to see Banquo because he sees what he once was. Banquo is the bright foil that shows how dark he’s become. So Nita is dark to Button’s blonde, scary-looking to Button’s cuteness, controlled to Button’s impulsiveness, thirty-something to Button’s twenty-something, tall to Button’s short, etc. And because they’re standing next to each other, Nita looks taller and Button shorter . . .

Nita-Button Foils

But I think you can do that with plots, too. If Nita and Nick are people who are trying to build a relationship as their understandings of who they are change radically around them, Button and Max already know who they are. If Nita and Nick at the end are pretty much the same kind of people, Button and Max will always be opposites. And if Nita and Nick are committed at the end of the story, I don’t think Button and Max can be; the most they can get, I think, is a negotiated cease-fire (not a metaphor in Button’s case). I’m still not sure about the Max thing because for some reason I’m pairing the spares like crazy in this meditative discovery draft stage and I think that’s a bad idea. But Max and Button are so wrong for each other that it’s really tempting, so I’m thinking, yes, a romantic subplot as a foil here would be good.

**A ficelle is a character who exists to ask questions. I’m against ficelle-only characters because I think characters should have personalities and goals of their own, not just hang around the plot making convenient inquiries. But Button was already a foil and a relationship subplot with Nita, so making her new on the island so she can ask, “WTF?” when something happens is a no-brainer. A ficelle helps eliminate as-you-know dialogue (“As you know, Mort, our mother is nuts” as opposed to “Yes, that’s my mother, yes, she’s insane, yes, that’s a problem but we’ve learned to deal with it”).

Oh, and ***the character arc cross: I freaking love this character move, another one I stole from Macbeth. (Jenny’s Favorite Shakespeare play for 20, Alex?) A critic I once read and whose name I have now forgotten (I googled and got nothing) wrote that Macbeth’s tragedy is that he loses his moral imagination, and Lady Macbeth’s tragedy is that she gains hers. As a writer, that took my breath away in its brilliance. (As a critic, I think that’s too simplistic–I think Lady Macbeth always has a moral imagination and her great tragedy is that she uses the moral judgment of her women’s world to wreck the moral balance of Macbeth’s male world and then watches the recoil destroy everything she believes in–but it’s still a fantastic insight into the plot construction of this story.) So Macbeth moves from morally outraged at the thought of killing Duncan to accepting murder as a course of action outside the battlefield, and Lady Macbeth moves from not understanding that what she wants is a moral outrage to complete comprehension of the outrage she’s unleashed upon the world. Or if you want that simpler: Macbeth moves from understanding what’s moral to not caring until the end, and Lady Macbeth moves from not caring to understanding, which ends her.

So in Tell Me Lies, Maddie will never leave her small home town, while C.L. couldn’t wait to get out, but by the end, Maddie’s independent of the town and C.L. is ready to stay and put down roots. (They compromise, as I remember, on a place outside of town.) And Button will move from acting on instinct to a more controlled existence while Nita will move from controlling absolutely everything in her path including her own anger to kicking down the door to Hell and laying waste to everything in her path in her rage. Or if you want that simpler: Nita will move from controlling Button’s impulses to accepting Button as an establisher of boundaries once she cuts loose. And Button will move from acting on impulse to understanding and implementing the need for control as Nita goes nuts.

But mostly, I just love Button. She’s a little whacked, but so is everybody in this story, so go, Button, that’s what I say.


47 thoughts on “Book Done Yet?: Button, Button . . .

  1. Her name is Button, of course she’s homicidal. I like her.

    I think something people overlook in Macbeth is the dynamic of the pissed off wife whose husband will just not move his ass and do what he promised. It goes like this:

    Macbeth: Writes “I’m gonna kill the king! We’ll rule together baby, how does that sound? ” Comes home, sits back, drinks beer, watches medieval NASCAR.

    Lady Macbeth: So, we gonna kill the king or what? You promised.

    Macbeth: Nah, I changed my mind. Things are going good. It’s probably not the right time for regicide.

    Lady Macbeth: You know what this sounds like? This sounds like every other thing you promised me since we got married. Just words. No actions. If I made promises the way you make promises, the damn king would be dead already.

    Or, as Bill said it:


    We will proceed no further in this business:
    He hath honour’d me of late; and I have bought
    Golden opinions from all sorts of people,
    Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,
    Not cast aside so soon.


    Was the hope drunk
    Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since?
    And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
    At what it did so freely? From this time
    Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
    To be the same in thine own act and valour
    As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
    Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
    And live a coward in thine own esteem,
    Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
    Like the poor cat i’ the adage?


    Prithee, peace:
    I dare do all that may become a man;
    Who dares do more is none.


    What beast was’t, then,
    That made you break this enterprise to me?
    When you durst do it, then you were a man;
    And, to be more than what you were, you would
    Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
    Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
    They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
    Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
    How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
    I would, while it was smiling in my face,
    Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
    And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
    Have done to this.


    If we should fail?


    We fail!
    But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
    And we’ll not fail.

    I was sitting in the expensive cheap seats at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC watching Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston say those words (we totally should have sprung for the expensive expensive seats) and it just hit me how completely and totally sick of his shit she is. She doesn’t really care about killing the king she just wants him to damn well keep a promise, if he’d said they were going to sell everything and move to Italy she would have been just as mad when he decided he couldn’t live without the Scottish winters.

    Every literary criticism I had read of the play was written by a man and they vilify her when really she’s just so mad she can’t see straight and it takes her terrible places.

    I’ve never killed a king but I did get so mad I started ripping up carpet because I was sick to death of it and my husband had promised me 5-6 times we could fix the flooring in the house because it was horrible and then changed his mind. I had the carpet out of both spare rooms and the hallway and to the dump before he came home from work a few days later but nobody writes plays about carpet. Every time he came home from work I had some new demolition done. I pushed us past the point of no return because I was mad.

    And two months later we had new flooring and six months or so after that, we had a new kitchen.

    1. I think, too, that she doesn’t understand the difference between killing his king and killing his enemies. She’s been watching him come home covered in blood and glory forever, and she’s just found out that he is being cheated out of a promotion that’s rightfully he is (the king is an idiot to make his teenage son king after him), and she can’t understand why he’s just rolling over. He’s killed hundreds, what’s one more, especially one who’s betrayed him and country.

      What she doesn’t understand is that pushing him to kill his king is pushing him past a moral boundary that will change him irrevocably. When he wipes out Macduff’s family down to the babies, she understands what he’s become and that she’s responsible, that she’s lost the noble man she loved (the only happy marriage in all of Shakespeare) and created a monster. (“The Thane of Fife, he has a wife, where is she now?”) I don’t think she’s crazy when she kills herself, I think she has nothing left to live for and everything to escape from, even if she is going to hell.

      Oh, and I agree: male critics do not get Lady Macbeth. A lot of them don’t get the Wife of Bath, either. And yet, two men wrote those marvelous female characters. So #notallmen.

      1. Gonna disagree on Lady MacBeth. I saw a woman whose children most probably died. Now she’s focussed on giving the man she adores everything. Her ambition isn’t for herself. Think of her as a woman in the throes of the change – blindly, crazily focused. Until suddenly she isn’t. Till she realizes the one little thing – Kill the king who she never liked anyway, becomes a bloodbath.

        1. I agree that she’s focused on him, not herself. She loves him, she wants him to have what he deserves, she’s merged her life into his. She’s a political wife who’s madly in love with her husband. I always saw her as somebody really unconcerned about children. That line about dashing the babe’s brains out, even though it’s an extreme example, is not something a woman who was child-centered would use. And when she’s devastated by the Macduff murders, she doesn’t cry out for the slaughtered babies, it’s Lady Macduff’s death she’s fixated on. She made a monster of the man she adored.

    2. I’d write a play about carpet, but I think it would have to be Italian and an Opera to convey the passion needed to pull it off.

      I’m glad you managed to get everything done eventually.

    3. After watching Alex Kingston play River Song, I can see her as Lady Macbeth, taking no more shit from Macbeth.

  2. What with Aubrey Plaza there with her smirk, I can’t help but think of April and Leslie’s cynical-brunette/peppy-blonde dynamic. Of course, Parks and Rec and Legally Blonde are both from the blonde’s POV.

    1. I have yet to watch Parks and Rec, but I’ve heard it’s wonderful. It’s on my to-watch list.

      1. Season one was slow, but season two got really nice and warm and fuzzy. I haven’t had time to watch the rest, but it’s definitely on my to-do list. (Parks and Rec)

  3. Ficelle. I was trying to remember this term just the other day. Thanks!

    BTW–this is fascinating. Hamlet’s always been my favorite, and then Lear, but now I’m thinking I need to pay more attention to Macbeth. Love Cherry Office Wench’s explanation of Lady M.

    (And wouldn’t that be a great second year course at McDaniel–using Shakespeare to enrich romance plots?)

    1. I’ve always thought the Shakespeare Retold version of Taming of the Shrew was the perfect update, as is it’s version of Much Ado. That would be something to look at: how they rewrote the toxic anti-feminist elements of those two comedies and made them twenty-first century stories without sacrificing the absurdity and comedy.

      1. So I googled Shakespeare Retold, which said it was a BBC effort, so I searched for that on Amazon and the DVDs were $139, BUT they have it at my library for free because libraries are magical like that.

        Also, Anne Tyler did a take on Taming of the Shrew called Vinegar Girl and Jeannette Winterson did one on A Winter’s Tale called The Gap of Time.

        Many things to explore!

        1. There are four episodes. Oddly enough, I’ve never watched the Macbeth one and I’m a big McAvoy fan. But The Taming of the Shrew is outrageously good, and Much Ado About Nothing is very good (Damien Lewis is always good). The fourth one, I’ve never been able to get through. I don’t even remember which one it is; one of the comedies, As You Like It, maybe?

          1. Not my favorite version of Macbeth. The witch/garbage men were a nice twist.

            I love that version of Taming of the Shrew.

          2. The Macbeth is really really excellent, too. McAvoy is wonderful and Keely Hawes as Lady Macbeth… Truly outstanding.

            She’s also great as Desdemona in the BBC’s updated Othello (Not one of the Shakespeare Retold series but basically the same concept). I really thought Othello was an awful play until I saw that version (and I’d seen the RSC do it live! The actors playing Othello and Des clearly couldn’t stand each other, though, which… Didn’t really help).

        2. The Shakespeare Retold Macbeth, at least, is available in full on YouTube–not sure about the other episodes, but I use Macbeth with my students. 🙂

          1. I once saw Avery Brooks & Andre Braugher do Othello at the Shakespeare Theater in DC and that was magical. Avery Brooks was Othello, Andre Braugher was Iago & a tall blonde woman -easily as tall as Brooks -was Desdemona (maybe Jordan Baker). I have seen a lot of Shakespeare there and that performance still gives me chills.

            (On the other hand, Harry Hamlin as Henry V was so gadawful we almost left).

      2. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is also a pretty great modern adaptation that well-interrogates the slut-shaming plot. Amy Acker delivering the “If I Were a Man” speech, whew!

        1. The ReTold version does a nice, pointed update on the slut shaming, too. I have the Whedon in DVD, I’ve just never watched it. Must get to that.

          It’s still pretty wonderful when Beatrice says, “Kill Claudio!” though.

          1. I watched the Whedon version. It was the only version of Much Ado that I’ve ever experienced. I was surprised that I not only finished watching it but went on to watch it a second time in full but listening to Josh explain as it went, the director commentary extra. It was fascinating.

        2. I loved it, but I thought she was a hair fast in her delivery.

          “Kill Claudio” is one of my favourite lines in all of Shakespeare.

      3. So happy to hear that you’re a fan of the Shakespeare Retold version of Taming of the Shrew. One of the many times I’ve watched it, I reread the play simultaneously. It almost matches Bill the Bard’s sentiments line by line.

      4. Much Ado is my all-time favourite Shakespearean play. That scene between Beatrice and Benedick when she asks him to kill Claudio is one of the most brilliant romantic moments in English literature . The more I study it, the more I’m convinced that Claudio and Hero are, deliberately or unconsciously, the cardboard foil to the romance between Beatrice and Benedick. Sure, they end up together (it’s comedy) but I think it’s pretty plain that their marriage is going to be threadbare, while Benedick and Beatrice have a true, passionate meeting of the minds. Everything, from the rhythm of the language, to who says what to whom and when, sets up the two couples as a blueprint of what is (B&B) and is not (C&H) a true marriage. For all Claudio marries Hero in the end despite slandering her, abandoning her, and even (so he thinks) causing her death (and let’s not go into the jealous pouty rages), Much Ado is not advocating them as a romantic example. Benedick and Beatrice are the ones who get it right, and they’re the ones the play revolves around, and the marriage to cheer for.

          1. Oh, I do. I have a massive crush on Damien Lewis, so watching him as Benedick always makes everything right with the world. I’ve rewatched Much Ado Retold, and the Joss Whedon version, and the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version, so often that I’ve practically worn out the dvds. I also wish I’d seen David Tennant and Catherine Tate in the stage roles. I also love the Retold version of Midsummer Night’s Dream – “Say those three things that all women want to hear: ‘I love you’, ‘I’m sorry’, and ‘You were right’.”

  4. When I was ten or eleven my mother took me to a movie adaptation of Macbeth and it put me off Shakespear for the longest time. I still have the images of what Macbeth was seeing after his head was hoisted onto a pole in my head. It still gives me the willies to think he was conscious during that.

    I know, I know, but it’s stuck in my head. No amount of reason will shake it.

    However, I love what this discussion is doing for me. A whole new world of writing has just opened to me. I’m an educated woman, why have I never thought of foils and ficelles and character arc crosses in my own work?

    I’d better live a great deal longer if I’m going to ever get it right. (my own version of right, you understand. Which would mean that my work would get richer and more interesting to read.)

  5. I’m going to see the opera Macbeth at the LAOpera in September, with Placido Domingo as Macbeth! Can’t you just see it?

  6. Office Wench Cherry, I love you. For All the Reasons. Just saying.

    And I can’t wait to read this book, Jenny.

    I saw the opera version of MacBeth last summer (Verdi, I think) at the Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown (Eric Owens played MacBeth, for any opera buffs out there).

    But my favorite Shakespeare has always been Taming of the Shrew (although I confess, the Moonlighting version was my favorite favorite). What is this Shakespeare Retold of which you speak?

    1. Deborah, I like to believe my adoration for you is obvious in previous reply posts to you but in case it isn’t, I think you are grand. Moonlighting? My goodness, right hand to goddess, I just watched their version last week! Specifically put the dvd in for that ep. 30 years later and it just does not get old.

  7. Fabulous! I really like the idea of cross-arcing — one human’s poison is one human’s meat sort of thing.

  8. To my ear, “Ficelle” would make a lovely name for a female character.

    San Diego Old Globe is at this moment playing “MacBeth,” and now I will have to get the tickets. Seeing anything outdoors in the early summer evening with a background of zoo cries makes just about anything good. So once more into the breach, one more version of MacBeth a’coming up.

    1. To me a ficelle is a skinny baguette…which actually would make it a pretty great decriptive name for a character.

  9. I’d never heard of Ficelles before now–thank you!

    And I also love Button. Juxtaposition is one of my favorite things, and a tiny blonde with an itchy trigger finger sounds pretty excellent as a character.

  10. Hmmm. Guess I passed. Wonder what happened to yesterday’s reply.

    As you were.

    Muchos gracias.

    1. Nothing in the pending file.

      And I just looked in the spam file. You’re not there, either. Now off to take a shower because . . . ew.
      (Although there was one promising “indelicate pictures” that I kind of loved. Did not click on it, though.)

  11. I just reread the four posted chapters. Good grief, I shouldn’t comment until I’ve read something three times. Anyway, I like Button’s ruthlessness. I also like her contrast to Nick and Nita in that she is neither Devil/dead nor demon/whatever-Nita-is. She’s one of those characters (expository?) who is the normal viewer from outside. Like me. (Please don’t groan in exasperation; no, I’ve never shot anyone, so I can’t have shot a demon.) I mean, I don’t have to think about what is extra-human about Button’s looks, Button’s radiation of heat/cold, or Button’s extra-abilities (making Vinnie’s bar burn up, or sensing murderers/living people by touch). I find her eagerness to professionally partner with Nita and her willingness to research the Devil as much fun as her trigger finger. Press the START Button and off she goes.

  12. Don’t know if you noticed or not, but Button as outsider makes another contrast with Nita, whose family has been there for…

  13. Jenny, terrific analysis. One thought after viewing some of your collages: I’d love to see some people of colour star in your books. And wouldn’t it make more of a contrast between Nita and Button, or any of the other characters?

    It’s totally your call and your world. Just putting it out there.

    More heresy: I never liked MacBeth, except redone as the show-stopping Sleep No More in NYC, and the movie version with Patrick Stewart. I’m more a Merchant of Venice gal.

    1. I’ve had a blog post in draft form on this for years, and I’ve never finished it because (a) I sound like an idiot and (b) I keep thinking I’ll figure this out. But I’ll never figure it out, so I have a long answer for you which will be a blog post by the end of the day.

      But the short answer is, “Yes.” Yes, you’re right, absolutely. Yes, it would make the books better. Yes, it’s way overdue.


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