Beshrew The Shrew

I was afraid this would happen.

Back in the early drafts of “Finding Kate,” Kate’s voice was so loud and clear that she turned people off. She was so mean, so bitter, so nasty, so clearly a shrew that it was hard for readers to identify with her — yet she is the main character, the narrator.

That’s a serious problem in fiction, and that was a big part of why I kept getting rejections.

Last winter, with the help of my writing group, I figured out how to solve the problem:  alter the timeline of the book so that we jump into the action further along in the story. Specifically, start with a scene that shows Kate in a more sympathetic light: first, she’s already engaged to be married, so obviously someone thinks she’s worth marrying; and second, her sister makes some less than kind comments about her dress, and her body inside it, that start to reveal some of the dynamics that made her who she is.

Yes! That’s it! Now the reader is firmly in Kate’s corner from the very beginning.

But guess what?

Now I get comments like, “I don’t get why everybody’s calling Kate a shrew. I mean, she seems like a perfectly nice person. It’s her sister who’s so horrible.” And when Kate does lash out, commenters say, “Kate’s reaction seems so over-the-top. Why is violence her first response to her sister’s cruelty?”

*face palm*

Clearly, the pendulum has gone too far in the other direction. As I mentioned in my last blog post, Blanche now appears to be a caricature of evil with Kate her innocent victim.

This is not what I intended at all.

Short of going back to a straight timeline — which I don’t want to do, because, remember, people didn’t like Kate — what do I do about this?

This is a complex problem that I won’t fix in one blog post, but one thing I have been thinking about is perception.

Why does everyone call Kate a shrew?

Why, in contrast, isn’t Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing” considered a shrew? Beatrice is equally sharp-tongued and, particularly where Benedick is concerned, nasty. Beatrice speaks her mind and says things that are extremely unpopular, quite against the accepted norms of the time:  “I’ll never get married;” “There’s no man good enough for me;” “Leave me alone, you’re an idiot.”

Yet everybody laughs. Everybody shakes their heads and goes, “Oh, that Beatrice. She’s a piece of work.” The Prince, Don Pedro, even proposes marriage to her! And she has the nerve to turn him down! And her uncle, on whose charity she is living, who is selling his own daughter Hero to the highest bidder, doesn’t even blink! “Oh, that Beatrice!”

But no, Beatrice is not called a shrew. The worst anyone says about her is when Benedick, in the depths of being tormented by her, begs to be delivered from “this harpy.” Similar, but not the same. And he’s been pushed to his limit.

I have thought about this a lot. The difference is surely that Beatrice is loved. Loved by a family that appreciates her intelligence and wit, by people who are bright and clever themselves and can play at word-games too.

Kate, in contrast, is surrounded by people who neither understand nor like her. No one in Kate’s world is remotely as clever as she is (except Petruchio), and she isn’t shy about letting them know it. Who appreciates being made to feel foolish on a regular basis? Therein lies the core of the difference: whereas Beatrice’s family can admire her cleverness as a more advanced form of their own wit, Kate’s family feels humiliated by her superiority and so they resent her and lash out against her.

They label her a shrew, and encourage the whole town to do it too so they won’t feel alone in their rancor.

Looking at it from the outside, we might not see Kate’s actions and words as particularly “shrewish” but from the perspective of Kate’s world, she is a shrew because they believe she is. When Petrucio (my Will) comes in from the outside, he brings in that outside perspective — the reader’s perspective — of, “Why are you treating her this way?”

Maybe I need to have him be more vocal about that…







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