This week’s assessment comes from author Tommie Lyn, who submitted Fallon McKniere, the heroine from her novel, On Berryhill Road. Now, this is not a book review, since I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Tommie Lyn’s work, but it’s an analysis of her character Fallon, whose name has not been changed since she’s taking up a slice of publishing history already. :)
First, a bit about Fallon’s background. When she was six, her Navy father was killed, but it was made to look like a suicide when a note is found confessing his involvement with a recent crime. Her mother, suspected of being an accomplice, was given a dishonorable discharge and eventually retreats into her shell, becoming paranoid and unable to hold down a job until she and Fallon end up on welfare in a rundown trailer. Fallon doesn’t fare well in school where she’s taunted, ostracized and often getting into fights. Finally she drops out at 16 and takes a job in a convenient store to get them off welfare.
Fallon is fearful of people, keeps them at a distance and keeps all interaction on a shallow, surface level, not accepting help from anyone. But she has great sympathy for anyone/anything suffering. One such person she helps is Donavan, the leading man. But Donovan inadvertently makes a comment that hurts her feelings, and in his efforts to apologize, he begins to break through the protective wall Fallon has erected around herself, emerging her from her protective shell.
Tommie wants to know if a person could endure what she put Fallon through and still have her be able to make a connection as Fallon does with Donovan...and through him, eventually to others.
To this, I say never underestimate the relational disposition of mankind.
Fallon had a rough childhood. Children can be very cruel and can cause severe emotional trauma that leaves scars well into adulthood. Most people can tell you off the top of their heads some incident in grade school that stuck with them, perhaps even shaping them into the person they are today.
But God made man to be a relational being. God said it wasn't good for man to be alone, and he made Adam a mate in Eve. So there's an inherent tendency in most men and women to seek companionship. Fallon might be substituting hurt and wounded animals for her relational need, but deep inside, she desires connection. We all do, but some of us just have steeper obstacles to overcome.
Fallon’s experience of being ostracized and taunted is very realistic, and if you brought her into adulthood as a wary, apprehensive, standoffish woman, than I’d say this rings true. It’s only common sense to avoid putting too much of yourself out there for interactions when you have a history of being trampled on. The term for this normal response is “gun-shy.”
The one part of the sketch that gave me pause was this inadvertent comment Donovan made that “hurt Fallon’s feelings.” It would seem that a girl as hardened and tough as Fallon would have to be to endure what she did would just take a lick and keep on ticking. But if you included some other snippets that show her soft heart in the face of the meanness of others, this might be more believable. If this book weren’t already in print, I’d probably suggest the author include some scene where Fallon doesn’t get invited to a big party (and maybe you did this?). She would be all tough on the exterior, telling them she didn’t want to go in the first place, but then have her crying alone in her room. That sort of thing. [I emailed Tommie this assessment prior to posting it and she responded that the comment Donovan makes brought up a slew of unwanted memories from Fallon's past. Donovan immediately realizes he said something to hurt her, but since he doesn't know her background, he doesn't know what. Thus he responds to her with kindness instead of the anger she's used to. So it's a very different sort of experience with hurt, I gathered.]
The reader would have to know that this random comment from this guy didn’t just all of a sudden make an impact like what you described. Since this comment seems to be what the entire story turns on, then it would be good for the reader to know that this random comment from this guy didn’t just all of a sudden make this type of impact.
The key to breaking open Fallon’s protective shell would definitely be Donovan’s persistence. Someone like Fallon would take notice if a person was consistently there for her, showing up when she’s in need (even if she doesn’t want to admit it with a fierce independent streak). He’d have to constantly surpass her rather low expectations.
Since she had an example of a loving relationship at least until she was 6, she probably knows what true love looks like. Children as young as six years old know whether their parent’s relationship is good or bad. I would also hope that her mother, even devastated at the lost of the love of her life and even as she descends deeper and deeper into instability, would still share stories about Fallon’s dad which would further solidify in Fallon’s mind the type relationship she should hold out for. Then, upon meeting Donovan, it’s feasible she might recognize some of the characteristics she wants/desires and bond with him, especially if there is anything in the book that you’ve written about Donovan that might make her remember her father or remind her of her father in some way. [Tommie wrote me that Donovan is in the Navy--like her dad--and that the first time Fallon sees his green eyes, she's reminded of her father's green eyes. So kudos, Tommie!]
So, based on what you’ve given me in the sketch, I don’t see anything unfeasible, Tommie. Human behavior is varied and oftentimes dependent on the situation. Fallon took some hard knocks, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be able to recover from them. The heart can remember, but it doesn't have to be held captive. If you’re ever in doubt about feasibility of a character like a backstory that’s intense, you could always incorporate some therapeutic encounters (either of a professional or lay variety) in your book, and that could suspend reader belief for sure that the character “worked out” her issues. Relatively easy to do. [Tommie's email indicated that this is definitely something she has worked into the book already...so that's great!]
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