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.

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