Thoughts on Fixing An Unlikable Heroine

Several people mentioned having a hard time connecting to Nita, aka an unlikable heroine. So I watched a recommended romcom last night, thinking that maybe I just had to get back to my romance roots to remember how to write a protagonist people wanted to read about. I picked one that wasn’t about a successful business woman leaving the city to find love in a small town with a moppet adjacent because, dear god, there’s a limit to that plot, plus I’ve lived in small towns all my life and they are not Mayberry or Stars Hollow, they are Amityville.

Sorry, I digress.

The one I watched had an interesting premise and came recommended (either the AV Club or Jezebel, can’t remember which), but it was godawful, mostly because the heroine was so vile I wanted her to die alone. So then I went back to a June 2018 romcom that I had liked, also about an ambitious woman in the city who did not have an adjacent moppet, to see what made me root for her, all in hopes that I would see a way to making Nita a heroine readers wanted to spend time with. (Spoilers for two romcoms ahead.)

The awful heroine movie is No Sleep ‘Til Christmas, and the premise is that Lizzie, the heroine, can’t sleep and it’s screwing up her life right before Christmas season which is her busiest season (she’s an event planner) and also the month before her huge, expensive wedding to a sweet, handsome surgeon who’s crazy about her. Then she does a cute meet with a poor but honest bartender who also can’t sleep, and it turns out when they’re with each other, they both get a good eight hours of shut-eye. They start meeting on the sly to sleep together, and because they’re no longer sleep-deprived, they become successful at their jobs and evidently fall in love subconsciously, since the vast majority of the time they’re together, they’re unconscious.

In the rom-com that I liked, Set It Up, the heroine, Harper, is also a moppet-free ambitious professional in the big city. Bedeviled by an impossible boss, she meets a nice guy who is also bedeviled by an impossible boss, and they decide to fix up the impossibles so they’ll have time to pursue their own lives. Struggling to keep their bosses’ romance going requires that they talk to each and cooperate, which is a believable path to getting to know each other and inevitably falling for each other.

And then I analyzed why I loved and rooted for Harper and wanted Lizzie to end cuddled up to her money and alone.

First Look:
• The first scene No Sleep is Lizzie with her fiance and his mother. Lizzie is half asleep because of her insomnia, but even drowsy, she’s not happy about how close her fiance is to his mom. Then there’s a montage of sleeplessness, but really the first scene is enough. Mom is nicer than Lizzie.
• The movie begins with a montage of harried assistants doing horrible things for their bosses, and then getting out at the end of the day, finally free. Except for Harper, who watches them all go wistfully, stuck at work because she works for a boss-zilla who has just demanded a second dinner. Harper orders dinner while she runs back and forth across the office to add steps to her boss’s Fitbit, all of which tells the viewer that Harper is harried, hardworking, and determined to do well. Also she has this story she wants to write about senior Olympics that she really wants her boss to publish because it’s so important . . .
• Nita’s first look is drunk in a place she’s not supposed to be with a new partner. The drunk part is definitely putting people off, so as much as I hate it, that’s going to have to go. I’ll think of something.

The Cute Meet:
• Lizzie literally runs into Billy when she is driving aimlessly through the streets at 3AM and he’s jogging at 3AM, both because they have insomnia. Yeah, she hits him with her CAR. But he’s just fine (no, he’s not, he bounced off the hood if her CAR), so they yell at each, blaming each other for the accident.
• Harper meets Charlie when she doesn’t have enough cash to pay for boss-zilla’s dinner so he pays for it and then takes it her; desperate, she talks him into splitting the order into two dinners, which he does, although he lies to her about the pickle. Her last words to him are, “You’re a monster,” but he is eating the pickle he lied about, so it’s warranted.
• Nita meets Nick in the bar and knows instantly that he’s not real; he’s not impressed with her until she drinks five shots of scupper and only passes out briefly. I think it works, and I like the throwaway line about neither of them belonging anywhere, so I’m leaving that in place.

• Lizzie is a hugely successful event planner based on the way she spends money like water; she also has complete power over her professional life and her love life. Her big problem: her insomnia is making her . . . I don’t know. Inefficient? Cranky? Selfish? Unfortunately she’s still those things after she starts sleeping through the night, so sorry, still not likable. Plus, the minute I saw Lizzie splashing money around to solve her problems and planning on dropping a bomb of money on a big fancy wedding, I drew back. This chick has it all and she’s still bitchy and demanding?
• Harper is an assistant at the beck and call of her abusive boss, and has a terrible love life. She’s trying to keep her boss happy, an impossibility, while writing at night, hoping her boss will give her a chance to publish one of her articles. The minute I saw Harper staring in fear and frustration at her computer screen as she tried to write, I felt a bond. Harper is not perfect, in fact, she’s kind of a doormat, but she’s a plucky doormat.
• Nita has troubles–something in very wrong on the island she feels responsible for–but she’s not coming across as vulnerable, so I don’t think readers worry about her. I can up the threat to her job, Jason can do that, but I also need to up her fear quotient. Argh. Vulnerability is so key to any character but especially to a protagonist and especially in the first scenes. Must cogitate on this.

• Lizzie wants a successful career throwing big expensive parties and a big expensive wedding, and she’s getting both. She also wants a good night’s sleep, and nothing is working, and she’s worried her insomnia will screw up the things she’s already getting, the infamous “I don’t want” negative goal. It doesn’t help that there’s no time spent on why she can’t sleep aside from her daddy was never around when she was little (does not explain the insomnia or why it’s only happening now) or that all the obvious solutions are hand waved away (yes, Virginia, there are pills that will knock you on your ass no matter how traumatized you are by a Wound from Your Childhood).
• Harper has a dream that someday she’ll be a great writer, a great journalist like her boss, and she’s willing to go through all of the trauma and delayed gratification and work to achieve that dream, which right now is focused on finishing her senior Olympics story and getting it published by her boss. Extra points for not having a ridiculous Wound from Childhood.
• Nita also does not have Wound from Childhood, so that’s something, but her goal to keep the island safe is too unfocused, I think. And it needs to be clear in that first scene which means ARGH given everything I’ve already discovered, I’m going to have to rewrite that first scene from scratch. DAMN it.

Best Friends and Family:
• The people around Lizzie pretty much do what she tells them to. Her best friend (?) is her assistant, who mainly exists to worry about Lizzie, and who gets dismissed a lot, comic relief made flesh, except why she’s friends with Lizzie is beyond me; I’m assuming it’s because Lizzie pays her. Lizzie meets Billy’s best friends when she goes to demand he do something for her, and she insults them. She’s also bitchy about her fiancé’s mom, who appears to approve of her and be excited about her wedding and even goes to bail her out when Lizzie get arrested for threatening a bus driver who refuses to let her ride for free. The best line in the whole movie is at the end when Mom tells her, “I should have left you in that jail cell.”
• Harper has a best friend who is also her roommate, a BFF for life, absolutely supporting and loving and not comic relief. She also has a full life of her own, getting engaged early on to a guy who also thinks Harper is great, and Harper at no point makes their engagement about herself, she’s just delighted for them. And when Harper meets Charlie’s roommate, they laugh and bond, excellent foreshadowing for the future.
• Nita has just met Button in the beginning, but they’ll build a professional relationship and have each other’s backs. The people Nita is close to are her brother and sister, who clearly love her, approve of her, and support her, and she clearly loves them, too. Sandy and Daphne at the diner are good friends, and the people Nita interacts with have respect for her as a cop, and Nita attaches to Rab pretty quickly and then to Jeo, and then to Max, so that Nick’s cohorts become Team Nita pretty fast. I think I’ve got this one covered.

Conflict Resolution:
• When Lizzie hits a snag, she lies, she browbeats, she use people. Worst heroine scene ever: Lizzie threatening a perfectly nice bus driver with her shoe because the driver won’t let her ride for free. When life gives Lizzie lemons, she throws them at innocent bystanders.
• When Harper hits a snag, she brainstorms and solves her own problems, often fixing things for those around her, too (Charlie’s boss gets his dinner). She gets exasperated with Charlie, but it’s for legitimate reasons, and she never threatens him with her shoe.
• Nita’s reactions depend on the snag; she doggedly pursues her investigations, but she does melt down when she finds out the supernatural is real and Nick can smite. I think that’s a point for vulnerability, and it also makes her more human (irony), but it’s important that she cowgirls up pretty fast, and insists she’s fine even while her head is exploding. I think this part works.

The Relationship:
• I have no idea why Lizzie and Billy fall in love. She’s a Type A control freak/snob and he’s a slacker who can barely find his shoes. The story makes a pass at trying to say that she inspires him to get organized and he shows her the beauty of not planning, but it doesn’t work. She insists on calling all the shots in their relationship, she’s awful to his friends, she co-opts him into her lies to her fiance even though one of Billy’s few assets is that he’s an honest guy, and in the end she goes back on her promise to be a silent partner in his bar. This relationship is doomed because Lizzie is awful.
• Harper and Charlie, on the other hand, bond over their shared horrible work experiences, which leads them to decide to fix their bosses up with each other so they can get some downtime, which leads them to problem solve, cooperate, and work together to keep that plan going, which leads them to fall in love. Because of the way she handles herself in the partnership, Harper deserves her HEA.
• In Act One, Nita meets and investigates Nick, and in Act Two they form a partnership and work together to investigate, forming a bond, so I’m good there. Then in Act Three, Nick does the multiple personality thing, and Nita sticks with him, even though the Nick she knew is gone and he has no idea who she is. It’s that unconditional love bit; the idea that you stick no matter what. I’m happy with that. Then Act Four is . . .

• Lizzie leaves her honest, loving fiance at the altar to undoubtably ruin Billy’s life, starting by hitting him with her car again. I could spend days on this dumb ending, but then the writer doubled down by doing a one-year-later denouement in which Lizzie and Billy are in bed about to go to sleep when a baby cries, and they both say, “Not it.” Yes, the last scene is both of them refusing to take care of their child.
• Charlie tells her he loves her. Harper, who is not stupid, tells him she loves him, too. They kiss. There is no dumb one-year-later scene because Harper doesn’t need a one-year-later scene; we’ve watched her establish a solid relationship with a good guy and it’s going to work out for them because they’ll make sure it does.
• Nita goes to Hell to get Nick back. It’s a rom-com run, but I’m okay with that, mostly because it’s such a button on Nita’s I-can-and-will-do-anything-to-take-care-of-the-people-I-love character.

So I rewrite the first scene, and then read through and work on Nita’s vulnerability. I can do that. Argh.

54 thoughts on “Thoughts on Fixing An Unlikable Heroine

  1. Shouldn’t Nita’s objective to solve Jimmy’s murder/punish the murderer? Everyone likes a heroine who fights for justice.

    1. That’s what sends her into the bar, but it’s not her story goal. Her story goal is keeping the island safe; I just have to focus that.

  2. I didn’t have any trouble connecting to Nita. I loved her because she is badass, I love the way she marches into the bar, drunk or not (in poodle pajamas, yay!), to do the job that needs doing, and I could shout for joy over the way she whacked Rich with her baton when he tried to take her hostage. I saw vulnerability in her wanting to be normal, in her desire not to be seen as weird, in her care for others and anxiety about the trouble on the island.

    1. I don’t know that I had trouble with her drinking, just some facets. But I agree with others, she’s on her night off and isn’t driving.

      1. I don’t mind Nita turning up drunk – she wasn’t expecting to be working. I had a problem with her hitting more booze once she goes into the bar. At that point, she’s made the choice to take on the situation, she’s drunk the coffee, and drinking any more alcohol while she’s on the job just comes across to me as dumb. And I don’t want Nita to be dumb. I want her to be smarter than that.

        1. Good point as well on the scupper. I didn’t say anything about it because clearly it was a plot point, but why would she get more drunk when people are already harping on her for this and now it’s a work situation?

      2. Her being drunk at work (admittedly when she was supposed to be off duty) isn’t so much of an issue for me so much as the first few acts just dragged on and on and on, seemingly because of her being drunk, and how it takes a long time to get started, and everyone harps on her drinking some coffee, and blah blah it’s just long and I lost interest.

  3. I loved Set It Up. One of my favorites of this summer. A delightful, perfectly crafted soap bubble of a film. I was going to list a lot of points, but I think you covered them already.

    This is hard to put into words, but I also felt the movie as a whole just felt “contemporary.” Maybe “fresh” is overselling a simple rom com, but they felt right for their age (roommates, still figuring career out) and their relationship arc felt right for their age (no silly one year later thing like you mentioned.) Rom coms try so hard to be escapist, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a total fairy tale where everyone has to have a huge house and a glamorous job. Nothing wrong with it sometimes, just not a requirement.

    I’m not sure you can make a universally liked heroine. Characters in general, but heroines even more so. I think we’re tougher on heroines. I generally like characters (male and female) who have a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.

    I tend to not like sickly sweet martyr heroines or “perfect” heroines, but some people do like a Cinderella type fantasy. And that’s fine. There’s a perfect heroine for every reader, somewhere.

    1. One of the many things I liked about Set It Up is that Harper and Charlie don’t think about what they’re doing, and then at the end when they realize what they’ve done, they fix it, even though they both get fired. And then Charlie is so vulnerable at the end. It’s really a sweet movie, the kind you just smile all the way through.

  4. I like Nita and her being drunk doesn’t both me, I’ve had a lot of fun drunk. She’s an adult and not driving.

    Might you make her being drunk a side effect of the iron poisoning? Like she has 1 drink at home and gets super drunk?

    I guess I don’t see it as conduct unbecoming a heroine but I might be in the minority.

  5. If it is a problem Nita being drunk, she could be woozy from strong medicine and lack of sleep and Button thinking she was drunk when she phoned.

    Currently have horrible cough and even with napping during day, I am barely functioning

    1. That works. I think I am having trouble sympathizing with Nita because she didnt seem to care about all the partners she slept with. She was just scratching an itch. She would do the same to Nick.

  6. Up the threat to her job – no, don’t think that’s the way. She’s who she is, and that’s not her job. Concentrate otherwheres.
    Keep the island safe, you could underline, but clear to me.

  7. I have no problems relating to Nita, and I like that she’s drunk. I don’t think drunk automatically means unlikeable or unreliable, I think it means your usual defences are down. It was her night off, and she’s not driving. I love that she doesn’t let it stop her from trying to solve the case and right the wrong. I can see how making another drink while investigating seems slightly iffy, but again, she’s been very clear that it isn’t her case and she’s not on the clock, she’s just doing what needs to be done because clearly Jason isn’t going to. At least that’s how I read it.

  8. I’m sure I liked Nita in the earlier drafts of the first scene, but she did seem less relatable in the latest draft (once she got into the bar, it was all good) Unhelpfully, I can’t remember or pinpoint why, sorry 😕

  9. I think what really pulls me in is the heroine’s emotions. If I can see her vulnerability and emotional investment in her goal, then she and her story matter to me. Plus she has to be fun; and have values I respect.

    I didn’t like Set It Up – I’m beyond tired of worshipping hypercapitalism, and so hated the world of the story. It does sound ten times better than the other story, though.

    I know we’re not meant to suggest solutions, but like Office Wench, I was wondering whether Nita’s symptoms couldn’t be due to the iron filings; then she wouldn’t know what’s wrong with her, and might well make herself a hot toddy if that was (e.g.) her father’s remedy for a cold/flu. (It was my uncle’s: the only time I’ve ever had a hot toddy was when I was staying with them as a student and started feeling poorly. After the toddy, my symptoms developed into a nasty bout of flu – which is why I’ve never finished ‘Ulysses’; and also never risked a toddy again.)

  10. I don’t find Nita unlikable, but I don’t love her either. She’s…okay… at best. A little cranky, but so am I. It’s just slow in parts and I’m really not sure what’s with the belief in spookiness/outright saying “this dude isn’t real” vs. “oh wait, this is genuinely about demons now!” I couldn’t figure out if she was bought in on the premise from the start because of her powers or supposed to be skeptical or what. I’m not super into Nick either but I get the impression that he’s supposed to develop more later on and I guess being dead might hamper your personality spark and flair a bit anyway. Button may have some promise, she seems the most lively here from what we get.

    I’ll be fair: I didn’t watch Lucifer and I have never been super fascinated with this devil plot, and I would probably not have picked up the book if it were in a store if it was written by someone else. Because it’s you, I’m willing to give it more consideration and “maybe,” and I know it’s still baking right now.

    I have really enjoyed this entry comparing unlikable vs. still likable heroines though 🙂 I think what it really boils down to is, don’t be a jerk. Harper isn’t a jerk, she’s struggling like everyone else.

  11. “So I rewrite the first scene, and then read through and work on Nita’s vulnerability. I can do that.”

    ‘Course you can. Pat, pat, pat.

    But really, you can.

  12. My go-to watch for unlovable heroines is the Korean Drama, My Love From Another Star. I know I’ve recommended it before, but it is a fun rom-com with a mystery. It takes about 30 minutes to get into it because kdramas have a slower pace. However, after that it gets moving. I know it reads like a sci-if story, but it is really a superhero drama. Very fun. Great graphics. And I want his library because it is awesome.

    The heroine is awful at first. I have watched it many times trying to figure out when they make her likeable, and about the third watch it occurred to me that the writer did not change her. Instead, the writer changed my perception of the her by revealing more about her life.

    In the beginning, she is self-absorbed and uneducated, and she still is by the end. However, by the end I completely love her. The plot kept my interest until the writers could spring little surprises about the her that would make me love her. It was gradual and wonderful, and she was just as rotten in the beginning as she was in the end. However, I learned enough to know that those bad qualities were only part of her story, not the entire package.

    You can watch it for free on the Viki app or online at Viki. I always pay the $5.00 per month fee because I hate commercials and you should be able to cancel it whenever. You may also find it on Kocowa or Netflix. YouTube probably has a copy, but you will miss the slick beautiful effects that make it shine.

    The pacing it similar to book pacing, so it might be a good study. If nothing else, it is wonderful popcorn eating, pj wearing, snuggled in for winter and TV fun. Love it. It hooks me every time.

  13. PS – The heroine is tough and not a nice boss, so her vulnerability factor is zero, until…. the writer begins to weave in the parts of her life that make us understand and empathize with her.

    She has to be self-centered (at least on the outside), and she might not have book smarts, but her street smarts are sharp. Usually, I put one toe into a show with a heroine who is not bookish and kind, nor a tough warrior for justice, and then I dash back out. However, this one truly does make the unlovable loveable. Her good outweighs her bad, and her bad becomes one of the things that allows her to fight for her love, not caring what the world thinks of it or of her.

  14. Okay, I’ve been holding back on Nita feedback because I feel like I don’t have a time to do it justice, but I did do a brief skim of the opening scenes (just the first few scenes with her and Nick) and I don’t find Nita unlikeable at all. Her drinking didn’t bother me either.

    I *am* a little confused why she doesn’t just tell Button, “no I’ve been drinking, I’m off work and in my pjs. Not coming and you can’t make me. ” (Is the drinking important for the scupper scene later?) Maybe the dialogue is meant to convey the urgency? If it is, I didn’t really pick up on it.

    I mean I know a Crusie heroine isn’t going to be as buttoned up as
    Olivia Benson or Carter from Person of Interest. She’s going to be quirkier than that, but this seemed like a strange way to introduce her. Not unlikeable, just odd.

    If anything I feel like she just feels a little vague. There’s so many characters and so much info going on, I don’t feel like I “met” her.

    Does that make sense?

  15. PPS – Yes, the first five minutes is strange. However, I might bet money that if you give it 30 minutes, it will hook you until the end.

  16. Like Thea, I don’t think you need to up the job threat – in fact, I found that thread unlikely. I certainly go for the boss saying quit sleeping with your partners, but she is so obviously competent, well liked, etc. that a threat of dismissal seems contrived to me.

    Interestingly, Nita being a bit drunk didn’t bother me on any draft, and I have a real thing about people being drunk. It seemed like an anomaly for her, so I was ok with it. I also felt like it provided for the multiple cups of coffee bit, which I love, and which shows me all the things I like about Nita – she understands and accepts assistance with a situation (drunk) without being defensive and even though she is not crazy about the solution (coffee) because she is smart enough and self confident enough and knows who she is . Also, starts creating the relationship with Button, that Nita is accepting help from her – i.e. treating her like an equal, etc. I just think that’s an awful lot of character to establish in a few paragraphs, and it is where I start liking and rooting for her. Oh, and the obvious understanding and affection between Nita and her brother. That was a big factor too.

    I don’t feel that Nita comes across lacking in vulnerability – in the diner scene when her dad shows up, she seems very ‘normal person’ in not wanting Nick and her dad to interact.

    1. I had go do something else, but in the time that took, I realized that I like Nita best when she is interacting with Button and Mort, if that is any help. I can’t put my finger on what’s different, maybe she is more open with them in some way? IDK,

  17. My two cents, if I ate bad food, I would not want alcohol. It would make me feel worse. So I never connected to that but was willing to go with it.

    I also felt bad for her having to drink all that coffee. And I like coffee.

  18. There’s a book by Margaret Drabble called Realms of Gold which is Women’s Fiction if ever there was any, which is about three British women who are cousins but who are of very different classes because of how things have worked out. But it’s really mostly about Frances, and her life, and she’s the highest class one and the richest and most successful and also she’s competently dealing with her complex life, until plot. But it starts off with her in a hotel room having a depressive meltdown, which sounds awful, but it’s actually a rare moment of vulnerability, and a good place to make the reader start liking her. And the thing that makes it work, I think, is that her depressive POV is seen in omni and fascinatingly, from inside and outside and it’s the only thing happening — she’s alone in a hotel room. We’re focused in on it, and Drabble makes me like it, like her, care.

    I am thinking about this because if you described it to me “character is alone in a hotel room having a meltdown” I would think it was a terrible place to start. But it isn’t. But with Nita being drunk and then drinking more… it does put me off her. Her fuzzy thinking about be fine if it were the middle of the book and I was used to her normal thinking. But I’m right in her head watching her being fuzzy, and it isn’t doing it for me. She doesn’t crystalize as herself for me until after she’s stopped being drunk. I feel she needs her panties-in-the-lasagne-pan moment to stop being a set of characteristics and become a person. Or if the drunkness were more individual and real and interesting in its own right? But I keep thinking if this scene where she shows up drunk in poodle pants were half way through the book I’d love it.

    Of course, probably you will make me love it anyway. I have read every draft of this so far.

    1. Maybe there should be a few paragraphs at the very start, Nita on the phone protesting that she isn’t fit to go out and detect, or protect, or anything. She can look at a cold medicine and an empty cocktail glass or whatever, and she can say things like “Of course I want to protect the Island! That’s what I live for!” and then we segue to the bar scene.

  19. I feel like I would know who Nita is as a person if I knew more about why she has such a strong drive to protect the island. For instance, did the island used to be a lot more messed up, when Nita was younger, and she’s determined not to let it return to that state? Or maybe she felt like the island residents somehow had her back against some threat and she’s returning the favor? I don’t know — it just seems like such a personal goal to me (beyond just her job), it feels like something internal must be motivating it beyond being a natural fixer. And understanding that would make her more relatable and expose some of her vulnerability.

    1. “All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

      I have a duty!” Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

  20. To me, there’s an elephant in the room for Nita: the presence of demons on the island. As I read, I can’t figure out why she is treating the subject of demons as something absolutely new. After all, her brother believes in them. She’s a cop and she’s smart, so I’d expect her to have been curious.

    I don’t particularly care if she is employed. But I would care if she were feeling old fears rising as unexplainable (except if you accept demons) things are happening.

    1. I was pretty much going with “no sane person would believe demons were real.”

      I think to her, Mort believes in demons the same way some people believe in UFOs. It’s possible but highly unlikely. Although I may have to take Mort’s belief out of there.

      1. No sane, sensible person would jump on that band wagon without tangible evidence, other people however see lights in the sky and automatically think UFO (they were stadium lighting effects from a concert, but my friend believed for a week)

        Someone has to be the voice of reason and Button shouldn’t accept so easily either, though she may use what she sees now to connect the dots with things she already knew, but didn’t understand

        Perhaps the island has always been that way, a tiny number of fanatical individual demon believers who think there is a conspiracy to hide the truth and the sensible normal people who analyse the evidence which proves nothing

        Then every time real proof has turned up it has been overshadowed by something big, a massive prank, someone claiming credit for faking evidence (conspiracy) etc

        1. But in Nita Dodd’s world demons are real and are, in fact, the agents that created the island. Enough mythological perception of their origins has made islanders identify as demon-related — even though they mask that perception in the artificiality of Demon Island. This world isn’t Nantucket. Nick isn’t revealing something that has just come about (in human time). Anyway, that’s just my reaction.

          I’m interested that in Wild Ride the other key amusement park players know about the proximity of the supernatural world. In Maybe This Time, few people (mostly two kids) know that ghosts exist. The Devil in Nita Dodd is extremely different: from the start, most people don’t accept demons — yet the demons are there already (Rab and Jeo). I can’t use my experience as a Crusie reader to figure out what’s going on — because this situation is completely different. I have to trust the story for awhile.

          1. That’s a good point, although the people in Wild Ride are running a prison for five demons, so of course they know those five exist. The people who come to the park don’t know, even at the end, it’s just the Guardia and the long time concession owners.

            I don’t think most of the island knows. I don’t think most of the island is demon although there would be some. So I have to get that on the page. Daphne knows because she’s been best friends with Phronsie since kindergarten. Mort knows because he fell in love with Phronsie. Mitzi knows because of the Mayor, and the Mayor knows because Mammon has been political for a hundred years. All of those people have reason not to talk about it. I think I just have to pull some stuff out so that the assumption is nobody knows. As I remember, I put it in earlier because I wanted a hint to the reader that the supernatural is real in this book, but they get that in the second scene, so I can just yank it in the first scene and in that Act Two scene in the bar.

        2. Plus it’s to the island business’s benefit to keep the idea going that there are demons (wink, wink) on Demon Island and hey, wanna buy a ball cap with horns?

  21. I was not going to post any comment because I have only read up to the point where Button takes Nita home and sees somebody moving in the house. But when I read your post above, the words NO NO NO came into my head. I could never write a novel and so I hope I am not crossing any lines here.

    I think Nita being drunk is a great plot device because she can say and do things she might not otherwise do: for instance, put scupper into a glass without knowing what it is. (side note: How does Button know what scupper is? Vinnie had to ask but she knew. Why does Nick not question her knowledge? ). Nita, however, is a boring drunk. She keeps telling me, the reader, that she is drunk and needs to sober up. Yet she goes into the bar and has another drink. If you do not want to be drunk, stop drinking! And her worrying about what Button thinks of her inebriation does not make sense to me, because Nita is a badass and she knows she is not going to get fired. The socks (which I like) is a great shorthand way of telling me about Nita, but her worrying about what Button thinks about her, sends out conflicting messages. And, Nita is a badass. She does not allow Nick or the gang in the pub to faze her. Why is she so worried about Button? (Is She Button or Chloe? You use both when referring to her. I know Button is he surname but is that the name that should come to mind when thinking about her?)

    Just a suggestion: the first chapter makes more sense (to me) if Nita does not realise she is drunk. She has only drunk a small amount and she normally holds her liquor. Except this time she has an empty stomach after being sick. I am surprised how many people do not know that you should not drink on an empty stomach or mix soft drinks with alcohol. When Mort gets into the car Nita says she is sitting in the car because of a bad doughnut, not due to being drunk. Also, Nita does not comment or question about passing out from the Scupper.

    Button I understand. She is new to the Island and does not want Nita to destroy her career, but at the same time she does not want to alienate Nita. Button does her job by the book and has a family legacy to live up to. I like the coffee scenes and do not want to lose those. I think Button could still say the same lines even if Nita does not realise she is drunk.

    The only problem I had with Button was when she turned off the car engine and said “me too”. Button does not believe in the supernatural. Jason, who she has no reason not to believe, has said the case is closed. I can understand her going through the motions so that she can get Nita to agree to go home, and her being loyal to her partner, but I think until Button goes into the Bar, she is more likely to believe Jason.

    Also, when Button tells Nita about the guys down at the station telling her about Nita being spooky and Mort believing in the devil, I do not know why she brings it up at this point. Her making that speech after Mort gets into the back of the car and says Vinnie had told him the devil is in the bar makes more sense to me.

    Mort sends out conflicting messages too. He makes a snarky comment about Nita being more worried about how the gun got onto the Island rather than the actual shooting. I do not see Mort undermining Nita this way, and when I read those lines I heard Jason’s voice rather than Mort’s. I can hear Mort telling Button to take care of Nita because she is drunk and his worried about what Nick and the gang might do if Nita annoys them with her questions, but (this is just how I read it) Mort seems to think his sister will do something stupid and Button has to stop her. I thought Mort was one of the good guys, who loves his sister, am I missing something?

    I love this book already. I do not dislike Nita. I just think she is sending out conflicting messages about who she is. And I really hope something nasty happens to Jason, who is an asshat.

    P.S Merry Christmas to all.

    1. First of all, the fact you can’t/don’t want to write a novel is immaterial. You’re a great reader.

      And yeah, I pretty much agree with everything you said. I’d already fixed some of that, but I’ll go back in now and look again. Thank you!

      1. It’s a late reply as I’m only now catching up after holiday madness, but I liked Nita as well. She’s interesting and I wanted to keep reading to get to know her better. The only off-putting thing about her, to me, was that she seemed a little repetitive: she has a one track mind with that “something is wrong on my island” bit.

  22. Nita doesn’t have to be drunk, she can be really sick from the doughnut with iron sprinkles, the symptoms can be flu-like so she’s not snockered but can’t really think that well because she’s sick. Having Button pick her up because Morte called makes her heroic. She responded to her twin when she just wants to sleep. What if she drinks the scupper because she couldn’t feel worse and not only does it taste like strawberries and sunshine it cures her iron filing flu. I’m not trying to rewrite but you have all the parts there.

  23. Would it be possible for Nita to have accidentally received scupper earlier in the day so she’s vulnerable from the start of the action? As in, she’s SURE she hadn’t had any alcohol (though she had been planning on it since it’s her birthday)…she can’t figure out why she feels so loopy/is seeing things others don’t while people who know her can’t figure out why she’s acting so out of character. Seems like that’s a vulnerability she would dislike intensely and it would create a more immediate and personal trigger for her even before finding out about the murder.

    Also, I wouldn’t say I dislike her, more that I can’t fully identify with her and her motivations. That’s not a sensation I mind all that much since it’s not that I find her unbearable to spend time with, though I admit it does mean there’s an emotional distance between us (at least for what I’ve seen of her so far).

  24. My biggest issue with Nita is that I did not understand why she so adamantly refused to believe that demons are real. While that would not normally be an odd belief for a character to have, in context, it felt like a belief that needed explaining. We the readers know demons are real. Nita’s brother and father know demons are real. It is strongly implied that Nita’s mother and grandmother know demons are real. In this context, to me, Nita’s refusal to believe in demons came across as Nita putting her head in the sand, not Nita being the sane one. And my assumption – based in part on the paragraph about the Alien movie – was that Nita’s refusal to believe in demons was an act of defiance/will, rooted in some traumatic event in her past, and I found it frustrating not to know what that was. And because Nita’s scenes are written from her point of view, it felt like Nita was hiding something from us, the readers, by not telling us why she doesn’t believe in demons. And then – after her repeated insistence that demons aren’t real – her decision to believe that they were real felt abrupt and forced. I didn’t understand why this particular piece of evidence was what pushed her over the edge into belief, when it appears that everyone else in her life has known that demons are real for a very long time.

  25. So I came across this blog a couple of months ago and have been following along since. In addition to which I’ve been reading backwards through the old posts. Which is to say that I’ve become familiar with the discussion about Nita. But, until tonight, I had not read the actual story. So I’m coming at it relatively fresh for what that’s worth. And I have to say I’m enjoying the story and definitely looking forward to more. Thanks for letting us tag along on your creative process. I’d like to respond to two of the questions that have come up.
    First, I agree that Nita is not a warm and fuzzy character but I do think she becomes more sympathetic as the story progresses. I don’t have a problem with her personality myself; I like no nonsense, take no prisoners, anti-cheerleader types; women who, when on the job, aren’t here to make friends but to get the job done. However, I could see where other people might not feel an emotional connection to her, at least initially. I worry that people might abandon the story before developing that connection. I do feel the story opens a skosh abruptly and I’m wondering if it would help to add a brief opening scene which would give people a reason to bond with Nita (or the other characters). Because at the beginning I was not engaged and kept reading the story out of intellectual curiosity and it took a while for me to become engaged with the characters.
    Second, apart from everything else, I do have a problem with Nita’s intentional drinking in the bar at the same time she’s asking investigative questions. That’s extremely unprofessional no matter how much weirdness is happening and it just does not seem to fit her personality. If you absolutely need to have her drink the scupper at that point, could it be by accident?
    Those are my initial thoughts. I hope they make some sort of sense and are at least vaguely helpful. I also saw a few very minor typos if you’d like me to mention them?
    Let me conclude by reiterating that I’m excited to read more of the story. Thanks for writing it!

  26. Follow up to my earlier comment (hopefully I’m not overstepping) – Maybe add an opening scene earlier in the day where Nita is “working her beat” by checking in with the various locals to see how they’re doing and you can get a sense of how much she cares about her island and is protective of it. One of the people she checks in and banters with could be the guy (Jimmy?) who gave her the poisoned donut (intentionally??) and who was later shot. That would give people an opportunity to emotionally connect with Nita and even with Jimmy (before she gets sick and he dies and everything goes to hell?). Or something like that??? I’m new to commenting on WIPs – have I gone too far in making this suggestion? Hmm, please do disregard if that’s the case….

    1. No worries. The deal is that you tell me the truth, and I decide what to do with it, so there is no overstepping. But nope, no adding more stuff to the beginning of a story that already starts slow. I need to cut the beginning, not add, and find a different way to make Nita more likable.

  27. I liked ‘Set it Up’ very much, even made a date to watch it with my friend who has Netflix because I have a permanent crush on Lucy Liu. We both laughed our asses off and wanted the protagonists to get their HEA. That other thing you watched, OMG that is the kind of movie I wish was a paperback so I could throw it across the room.

  28. I had no problem connecting to Nita in the beginning, even with her drinking, and I say that as a child of an alcoholic parent.

    The reap of Lizzie made me laugh. It reminds me so much of that very-short-lived USA series with Sarah Shahi playing a legal mediator named Kate. Kate was awful. Like, epic levels of FAIL awful. They piled on the sympathetic and vulnerable — ex husband (I think he cheated on her?), mother died of cancer when Kate was a kid, father who just died, “wicked” stepmom who is Kate’s age, etc., etc. In the final episode before it got cancelled, the season ends with Kate losing everything. She thinks she’s pregnant only to find out she’s not. Her and her ex-now-not-so-ex break up again. Her stepmom fires her from the law firm. Kate gets thrown in jail by a judge. And when they panned off of her, behind bars, and sobbing… I actually cheered. Her losing everything, being miserable and dumped and tossed behind bars was the perfect ending to that miserable witch.

  29. I’m coming really late to the party – both my kids have late December birthdays, it’s freaking nuts – but I have thoughts and I’m going to share them.

    The problem with Nita’s drunk scene is that everyone, including herself, keeps calling her out for being drunk. “Drunk” has specific, sloppy, distasteful connotations in my mind. I do not like to be around drunks. However, Nita is not sloppy or distasteful in this scene. She’s buzzed, perhaps intoxicated, definitely not herself and incapacited *in her own judgement.* Ms Ultraresponsible was feeling off because of a bad donut, made herself a drink to help settle her stomach. Maybe it worked, a little, so maybe she had started on a second when Mort called and when she stood up, she was woozy because bad donut/alcohol. So she made the call toButton. She’s squiffy, her body’s acting weird, her filters are gone, so yeah, Ms HighlyControlled feels drunk. But she’s really not. Get Mort to throw in a “Really? You dont seem drunk to me” type of sibling line, use some different synonyms, and I think it will work.

    And yeah, I know all this because I’ve read Nita for a while now, but it’s also there in the text, in her approach to her job, in her attention to detail. Drunk is one beer short of wasted, and that’s not our Girl. She’s certainly not an alcoholic. Getting her to drink the scupper -which I love- may take some finagling, but I don’t think you need a complete rewrite, I really don’t. ( Maybe all that coffee makes her jittery?)

    Sorry for coming in so late.


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