FYI? He’s a Jerk

“I’m glad you mentioned the ambiguity of Phillip. It’s something I’ve been struggling to come to terms with lately, just realising that his character is more than I originally portrayed him as…” Me, to a Beta reader recently

Sometime back in November of last year, I got an email from a critiquer saying that the Male MC of my novel When the Clock Broke… was too stuffy. “Is there a significant age difference between Aidelle and Phillip? I see him as 30-something and her, honestly more 18ish. If that isn’t correct, you may need to take a look at how you have them express themselves,” she said. After reading through the new draft of chapter one that I had given her, I happily concurred. I had made Aidelle oblivious to her scientific training and Phillip as supercilious as his father might be.

Phillip...also known as Matthew Lewis, as decided by my 'The Next Big Thing' post.

Phillip…also known as Matthew Lewis, as decided by my ‘The Next Big Thing’ post.

And I knew the reasons for subconsciously doing so. Why? The age-gap relationship is something I have prior knowledge of and, understandably, that bleeds through into my writing. It was my world-building intention to have the man five years older (think back only 300 years and men were marrying women half their age. It’s an incredibly natural thing to do, but I won’t go into the Psychology of it here), but not to make such a divide as was…more real.

So, in my new, revamped idea of editing, I set about crafting his dialogue to be less stuck up. However, I hit a major snag when it came to the scene where Phillip’s brother is trying to convince him that the servants can be trusted. I knew I always wanted Phillip to be concerned that his brother hangs out with the servants. I also wanted him to be open to the fact that they could help him. After all, Phillip is meant to be the gentle one of the family.

I started rewriting the dialogue, gearing it more towards a point in the previous scene that I had changed. You know how it is, though: the characters have other ideas. It didn’t make sense that Phillip go ‘okay, I’ll let the butler say that you’re psychic and I’m not going to care about that’ (or something like that!).



In fact, the more dialogue I tried rewriting, the more focused on status Phillip became. He wasn’t going to let up to the fact.


And then I understood why he could be so rude.

It just hit me in a scary way that Phillip’s character had become an arrogant man without my knowledge. And what was more scary was the thought that came after that: I wanted him to stay that way.

Sure, his pacifism is already annoying to his brothers and father, and the fact that he proclaims to want fairness but is hesitant about letting the servants help him is hypocritical; I’d just never realised he was…so much of a snob. Yet – it’s exactly how he should be, having been raised in a snobbish household.

His ambiguity is something in which I find I am relishing. Will he cave to the pressure of his family’s status, leaving Aidelle trapped? Will he rejoice in her return, or will he scorn her and finally agree to marry someone acceptable to the family? This ‘new’ – or perhaps simply more true to himself – Phillip brings up stacks of new questions about his motives. The end doesn’t feel like the finite end anymore…just the way I like my books.

What about you? Have you ever experienced a character change before your eyes for the advantage of plot?


Also – if I haven’t been liking posts as much, it’s not due to disinterest, but to technological issues. Have WordPress removed the ‘like’ button from the top-bar or is just me?


12 thoughts on “FYI? He’s a Jerk

  1. Nice! Sounds like you’re layering your characters with more complexities. And sounds like Phillip has just become even more interesting. 🙂

    I’ve experienced a character change. One I really liked, in fact, has now become a sort of enemy to the MC. But it was only natural he would become antagonistic and I had to let him. Maybe things will change in the future. But it added a much needed layer of complexity, so it had to be done. I really need to send you a first chapter. I’d love to get your take on it, especially with your studying of philosophy and psychology lately. Maybe this weekend I’ll get around to it. You up for it?

    • 😀

      Yeah, it’s weird that some characters, once they start to change, have that insistence to fall into antagonism (I don’t know if that’s a word, but oh well). Yeah, complexity rules, really.
      This weekend would be good, actually, since I don’t have any work because mock exams are done. I’ll do my best to give an unbiased critique, if that’s what you want. I’m pretty sure it’ll be awesome, but I know I can pick arbitrarily at a live carcass. Sorry, macabre metaphor. I’m not sure where that came from.

  2. Philip sounds like a very intriguing character. I’m a total pantser when I write, so I usually have no idea how a character is going to behave when I first put them into a story – it drive Kati nuts, actually. 😉 I’ve found it takes a couple of drafts before I really feel like I have a handle on all the characters, and I think that’s probably my favorite part of editing – seeing these character shifts.

    • I definitely used to be a pantser when I write, but now I’ve got a bit of stability. With editing, however, I always plot my way through the swill. It’s true; character personality shifts are amazing things to live through. I think I know my characters by the second or third draft, but sometimes I have ones like Phillip that creep up on me.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. Pingback: CampWriMo: Unexpected Expected Plot + The Men Are Still Good Jerks | Miss Alexandrina

  4. I’m glad you linked this. It made me laugh a lot. Perhaps I get it now: Phillip is supposed to be a jerk! I approve of the idea; it works well in the scheme of things. But there’s a fine line between making an MC somewhat hypocritical and the risk of making your audience indifferent to his fate. The most important character question: why should your readers care about him/her? Because he loves Aidelle, and remains engaged to her despite the concern of his family?

    • I do hope they’re not indifferent to him. Perhaps I should send you ch2 in its entirety; one of the advantages of multi-protagonist writing is that we get to see Phillip’s side as well, something crucial for both the inciting incident and character sympathy.
      He adores Aidelle, he really does, but he’s still a guy. Come on: they don’t know how to show their emotions well and this will cause friction.
      And to answer your two rhetoric questions…yes.

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