What To Do When Your Characters Drink Too Much, (and other tales of character creation)

So, that moment when you’re first getting your edits back from your publisher is pretty nerve-wracking. Not just wondering about whether or not they’re disappointed, or what you missed out, but whether you will have to cut and change and lose great big chunks of your work, and by extension, yourself.

It’s scary. But when my edits came back from my wonderful editor, everything made so much sense, it was like a lightbulb moment- YES! That needed more work, add a scene here, yes yes yes. The only problem?

‘The characters seem to be drinking wine all the time- perhaps some times they could deal with their trauma by eating cake?’

I’m paraphrasing, but that was pretty much the gist. And I froze. Because that did keep happening. Was I encouraging young people to drink away their problems? That wasn’t what I did. But if you make your characters do something, you’re pretty much saying that’s okay, that’s ‘normal’. But somehow, you’re telling everyone that this is how you should deal with an issue. I often make the comment that I need a stiff drink, but rarely do.

But cake? Eating cake isn’t quite as dramatic an image as mainlining tequila, but sure, eating your feelings is a thing. But then, do I want to say that that’s okay? Difficult, suddenly playing God with people. Characters symbolise things. One person symbolises ALL people.

Writers have responsibilities, which is a fairly grandiose thing to deal with when you’re writing chick lit. My characters still drink, they get hungover and pay their penance. In many ways, drinking was a chance for them to be silly together, to break down barriers and take chances they’d never be strong enough to take whilst sober. But I didn’t want to write about a group of alcoholics who spend all their time drinking expensive cocktails. That said, I didn’t really want to write about a bunch of people having important conversations whilst wearing bowling shoes.

So what to do? Well, I did cut out some drinking scenes (although a few people have still mentioned the amount of drinking, so I guess I’m a bit of a lush) and I made Tabby a ‘busy’ worrier, so she dealt with stress by cleaning, cooking, doing anything she could to keep busy, until eventually she talked about it (which, as we all know, is the healthy thing to do!). Plus she went running, which I find to be a pretty decent way to blow off steam.

But it made me think how drinking is so very part of British culture, and The Last Word is a very British book. And all of these types of drinking have different styles and points- an expensive cocktail in Covent Garden is not the same as a pint in an old man pub. Shots in a club are not the same as sharing a bottle at home on a Friday night.

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