Sunday, April 7, 2013

Smart-Ass vs. Jack-Ass

I'm struggling with a scene right now. It's not a long scene, and I know exactly what needs to happen in it. What's throwing me is tone. Willa has just been informed that she's stuck with Akenam for the foreseeable future. Akenam's mask is the Jester: he's witty, irreverent, and more than a bit of a smart-ass. That's not all he is, but that's how he appears, and to Willa, who takes her situation verrrrrrrrry seriously, he is an annoyance at best and dangerous at worst. He is escorting her to her quarters in the Terran Resettlement Project's compound, and being his banter-y, smart-assy self. But I'm having a hard time making him be actually funny, in addition to being slightly obnoxious. I think he's coming off as kind of a jack-ass, and that's not the opinion I want the reader to have of him.

It bugs me, how such a tiny thing-- maybe 10 lines of dialogue exchanged-- can slow me down so much.


  1. Of course I haven't read the scene, but I have to say that when one character is being funny and the other is reading him as an irreverent jackass, that can sour my opinion of the judger. Like, I'm more likely to see Willa as a stick in the mud for not finding him funny when I do than I am to see him as a jerk for being sassy, even if he fails to be funny. So in my mind, this is an argument for not erring on the side of emphasizing how likeable he is, especially if he'll get more chances to prove himself.

    I've been thinking of this lately, actually, with some characters who seem to annoy the other characters when I find them amusing--like Spike, as I rewatch Buffy. I find him funny, and while I see what everyone in the show has against him, I get annoyed that no one notices when his jokes are actually amusing. This relates to some of the problems I have with in-story tone in Mercedes Lackey's books, as well.

    Two cents!

  2. This is very helpful-- thank you! Willa IS kind of a stick in the mud, but I want the reader to be at least a little sympathetic. She's in way over head, a lot is riding on the next few weeks, and now she's got a "guide" who doesn't want to be there and seems to see everything as a big joke. She has every right to be freaking out a little. Akenam will indeed have plenty of chances to redeem himself later-- and in the past 24 hours he's been beaten to a pulp by dirt-dwelling savages, had his flying motorcycle pissed on by a dog, and been chewed out by his boss in front of a girl he thinks is kind of hot. He's pissed, and it's okay if he's sort of a snarky asshole in this scene.

    Favorite line of the scene so far: "Fine. Wear black wool on the equator. If there's a freak blizzard, the rest of us will look silly."