No Need to Shout: Lesson from Gone With the Wind

So I’ve got this case of Laryngitis Extraordinarus (I’m sure that’s the technical term) and can barely speak at a whisper…which makes for an interesting school morning.  Usually I spend a lot of time screaming, “Get your shoes!” or “Where is your backpack?” or “How long does it take to eat a bowl of cereal?” But this morning, my kids had to stop and look at me to figure out what I was saying.  Here’s the kicker: they actually listened.

Best morning ever.

We got out the door on time with hair done, coats on, backpacks zipped.  No frantic shouting, no sad kids.  I need to whisper more often.

It got me thinking about voice.  The trend in YA is for loud characters with a distinct sound. In most cases that translates to tough, sarcastic and sometimes bitter (or other b-word) voices.  I get it. We like characters who don’t hold  back, who take action — like Scarlett O’Hara. 

I remember finishing Gone With the Wind for the first time and thinking, “Scarlett is such a witch.  I LOVE her.”  She’s the first female main character (in modern publication) who held up her middle finger and told the world to go fiddle-dee-dee itself. 

I can’t think of a contemporary novel with a female MC who compares.

And while Scarlett rocks my socks off, she isn’t the character who makes Margaret Mitchell’s writing extraordinary.  It’s Melanie.

For those of you who haven’t read Gone With Wind (fools), Melanie is sweet, innocent, and undeniably good.  The reader loves Melanie because all the other characters adore her (even if Scarlett hates, envies and ultimately wants to steal her husband).  Melanie participates in very little dialogue, but every word she utters is potent.

She whispers and every other character leans in to listen.

We all want to write a Scarlett, a memorable, fiery character.  But Scarlett wouldn’t be as appealing without the masterful juxtaposition of the nearly-voiceless Melanie.

Genius.

12 Comments

  • Barbara Kloss

    YAY for contrasting characters! I haven’t read Gone with the Wind (please don’t hate me!)…I remember seeing the movie, being SO frustrated with Ms. O’Hara, and wanting nothing to do with the book afterwards 😀

    I wonder, though, that this seeming “trend” of fiery females is in contrast to Bella Swan?

  • William Kendall

    I prefer the fire over the sheer idiocy and docility of Bella (only saw the first film to see what the fuss was about, and have no interest in reading the books).

    As to Gone With The Wind… I’ve never read the book either. The film frustrated me to no end, for many, many reasons. I can respect it as a classic film, but it doesn’t suit me personally.

    And as to laryngitis, I’ve been there! Not much fun…

  • Becky Wallace

    @William: I wouldn’t expect you to read GWTW. LOL. That’d be like asking my husband to read Twilight. Never in a million years.

    However, I have read several of Tom Clancy’s books and the entire Bourne series. And while they aren’t my favorite genre, they certainly taught me a few things about action sequencing and male dialouge. It was a good learning experience.

  • Carol Riggs

    Intriguing post! (ha, and how nice your kids listened while you whispered!) There does seem to be a trend for snarky and aggressive female characters (TWILIGHT notwithstanding)–usually that means a MC is “strong.” But your Melanie example is a strength of a diff kind. Good point.

  • Laura C.

    I applaud fiery females and Scarlett was certainly ahead of her time.
    Though I usually have my mc’s ‘save the cat’ in the first chapter to make them appealing, I’m trying a not-so-sympathetic character in my newest WIP. She has many flaws. I hope my readers don’t hate her…

  • Laura C.

    Oh! And I hope you feel better soon, Becky!
    (I’ve been having trouble posting the last few days and didn’t finish my last post before I hitpublish–sure that it woldn’t publish, but it did… Yup, dumb explanation, huh?)

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