Friday, January 25, 2008

Mean Girls

Our promised ice storm came to nothing much because the temperatures were just a few degrees warmer than they forecast, so it's just rain. Is it bad of me that I set my clock radio alarm an hour earlier so that I could lie warm in bed and listen to how awful the traffic would be -- and gloat to myself that I didn't have to be out in it? In spite of my early start, I got to work even later than normal because the usual cold weather Betty Crocker curse kicked in and I found myself making waffles for breakfast. Which takes forever.

I've come across another problem with the book (and at least this one I spotted before my agent did). In the secondary plot, the main character is essentially the female version of the "fortunate fool/foolish Hans/lucky Hans" character from fairy tales -- the good-hearted person that good things just seem to happen to. Everything goes her way, and she's so used to things working out for her that she thinks that's just the way the world works. This plot balances the main plot where anything that can go wrong for those characters does go wrong, and there is some tension in the secondary plot for the readers because we know that things working out right for the secondary character only mean that she's blissfully heading toward trouble. It would actually be better for her if she did run into a huge roadblock. But still, it means those scenes themselves are without conflict.

And then I realized I'd built potential for conflict into the situation because there's a character who makes a good "mean girl" kind of rival, the sort of woman who gets insanely jealous of anyone she sees as a threat and who turns it all into a competition. She's not the outright, confrontational kind of bitchy, more the subtle, undermining kind -- the one guys think is actually being nice and wonder why other girls hate her. And because the main character in that subplot is so naive, she wouldn't recognize the bitchiness, but the reader needs to.

I'm lucky that I haven't really had to deal with that kind of situation. We didn't have the "mean girl" queen bees in my school. The popular girls were popular because they were nice and pretty. The ones who were bitchy and conniving were the ones who wanted to be popular, but they didn't have the power to really carry out the full-on mean girls treatment. I did have one situation that was very similar, but like my character, I was blissfully ignorant until years later when this person was working with my mom and confessed. She was two years behind me, so it wasn't like we were in competition for class rank, awards, scholarships, or anything else. We were just in Spanish class together. But she apparently saw me as a threat and tried to undermine me. Most of it was just silly pranks that I never even noticed. The one thing I was aware of was that on a band trip, at night she put toothpaste on my pillowcase. I didn't know who did it, and when I noticed it during the night, I just got up and rinsed out the pillowcase and then dried it with the hotel blowdryer. I thought it was one of my friends in my room playing a fun slumber party prank on me, so I took it as a compliment, not knowing that it was an act of bitter revenge by someone in the connecting room. I never even reacted or said anything about it, so I'm sure it was maddening to her. I had no idea any of this was going on until she was out of school and back there as a teacher. I have worked with a few people who might have qualified, but they were kind of boring and conventional in their bitchiness, and we were in a toxic environment to begin with.

So now I have to come up with some devious tricks for my mean girl to pull, and I find getting into that mindset even more disturbing than understanding my real villain. Maybe it's because I know I'd never be tempted to plot murders or to try to take over the world, so I know that plotting is purely hypothetical. But I might be tempted to sneakily undermine someone, and it's a little alarming when I let myself think that way.

Anyone have any good suggestions for sneaky bitch inspiration? I'd thought about some old Buffy episodes, but Cordelia was always pretty open and up-front about her bitchiness. She didn't bother with subtle. Or any personal mean girl horror stories? You really don't want me tapping too deeply into that part of my personality. There's no telling what kind of damage I might do if I unleashed it.

1 comment:

Shel said...

Shanna -
Try watching a few episodes of "Ugly Betty", "Alias" or maybe even "Veronica Mars". They all have those sneaky mean girls.