For this week’s Musings post, I wanted to kick off a new blog series I plan on writing over the next few months: Tales of Nottingham Character Reflections. When fellow writer and blogger C.S. Taylor and I were hanging out in my THIEF Facebook Party back in June, she asked me about a detail I’d included in Marion’s (my MC’s) description — and that was about her wanting to feel seen. Taylor asked me why I felt that was important, and when I gave her the answer, I realized it not only extended to Marion but to multiple other main characters of mine. Taylor straight up messaged me after my party and said, “Savanna, you need to do a blog post about that.”
11 or 12 year old Sarah was excited to try out this homeschool group her mom had discovered near their new home. She enjoyed homeschooling as it was, but meeting new friends and participating in field trips and other fun events sounded like a great idea, even if she was pretty nervous about the making-new-friends part. She went with her younger siblings and — soon — her adopted brother as well. The day’s events were fun, and every month’s meeting had a particular theme to go along with it. (Christmas was her favorite!)
But the making friends part… That wasn’t panning out.
See, her fellow homeschoolers had this “rite of passage” of sorts. They didn’t want to talk to you. Oh sure, if you spoke to them, they’d talk, but very rarely would they hang around long, choosing their set-in-stone friend groups over including new people. Later, it would be described to her as “waiting to see how long someone lasted.” If they lasted past a few monthly meetings, they’d most likely be around for a long while, and thus they would be accepted and befriended accordingly. But heaven forbid they include anyone that they thought might leave them anytime soon.
Her younger siblings made fast friends, because of course — what excessive drama is there when it comes to toddlers and small elementary school children? But the middleschool and highschoolers? Might as well forget about it.
And it took months, literal months, for her to finally be asked by the group to hang out. And 11 or 12 year old Sarah was so shocked and terrified that she said no, knocking her three steps back. She settled herself on the floor once more with her back against the wall, watching a game of basketball play out, and feeling lonelier and more foolish than she thought she ever had.
Eventually she overcame her own roadblocks and made friends in this group. And at first, things were going well…but then came the bullying, the excessive pressure to remain clique-ish and closed off, the racist and rude comments. (Not by everyone of course! There were plenty of wonderful people in the group! But there was a decent majority that participated in the above issues.) She partook in them too, knowing it was wrong, but she didn’t want to lose her friends. And when she lost her friends anyway, she had to have her moment of, “Is there something wrong with me? What’s so wrong with me that I can’t make friends?”
She struggled with this for a while, constantly wondering, as the cycle of making new friends only to have them cast her aside continued.
Then God blessed her with a forever friend and a smidge of wisdom: If nobody else was going to be inclusive, why not she and her forever friend? They could be those people for the newcomers that she never had. She could get them introduced into the group instead of watching them sit on the sidelines month in and month out as she did. Screw the cliques and the “rite of passage” and the whole thing.
And Sarah was an introvert, but hell, she had to do it. Lucky for her, her forever friend was an extrovert that hopped on board pretty quickly.
It became her life’s mission (okay, middleschool/early highschool mission) to set things right. And while it was exhausting for her introversion, it worked. She pissed off plenty of old “friends”, but what did that matter? She wasn’t putting up with it anymore. All she’d wanted was to feel seen and to be accepted for her quirkiness and her flaws and everything about her that people around there didn’t seem to appreciate. She had her forever friend for the last bit; and she wanted to be the person that made others feel seen.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Sarah in that story is me. *winks* And while life wasn’t a basket of roses and then some after those days, I think it’s also fair to clarify that I have a lot of good memories about that group. I was able to pursue one of my favorite hobbies of acting for a few years. I made more friends, quite a few of them that I stay in contact with and would love to catch up with in person once the whole COVID thing is over. It’s also fair to say that plenty more friendship struggles came. Once I introduced newcomers into the group of middleschoolers and highschoolers, they often cast me aside for others, and it took me a while to be okay with that. My latter highschool days were a roller coaster in terms of friendships, but I tried.
And there were plenty of times I failed, guys. I failed to be inclusive because I was tired. I wanted a break. My introversion was screaming internally. Call it what you want. I failed, and there’s a few specific moments that I still kick myself over even now because I know I could have and should have done better, made more of an effort. But if nothing else, I feel blessed that God has given me enough perception to recognize when someone is being excluded and how I can help be that inclusive person for them. It was my middleschool and early highschool mission, I said — but it’s just as much my mission now, only in slightly different ways since I’m not surrounded by big groups much anymore.
It’s where my writing comes in.
In truth, I never realized how big of a deal it was for the majority of my main characters to feel seen until Taylor brought it up. Marion may be my biggest character that struggles with it due to her circumstances in THIEF, but she isn’t the first. Vivianna, Nex, and Tyde struggle with it in my Quelmirian Duology. Miriam and Calvin both struggle with it in Smoke and Mirrors. Even Robin Hood in THIEF and the subsequent books struggles with it to an extent.
But Marion… Out of all of them, she has the hardest time with it. She’s raised by a father who wants what’s best for her but has manipulated her future for her instead of her being able to pick and choose and become the person she wants to be. She has to play a role for the Sheriff of Nottingham in order to go undercover to infiltrate Robin Hood’s gang. And when she falls in love with Robin Hood and Ambrosia and Jon and the other gang members, it eats away at every fiber of her being that with them she can be who she wants to be, but it’s all under the pretense of lies.
I talked about this a little bit in my Facebook party, but THIEF is one of the books closest to my heart of all the ones I’ve written. It was hard to write, not just in the busy-life or hard-to-write-a-book sense, but in that God was using it to help me along with life and some questions and topics I struggled with at the time. While Marion wrestled with her destiny, I was finding healing in what God was showing me. It’s the book that has the most “me” in it, even if it’s tucked away out of readers’ views, and I think that’s why Marion has so much to work through about wanting to feel seen and finding the people that will help her feel that way. It was an originally unintentional addition, but it became one of the core aspects of her personality and character. Marion wouldn’t be Marion without this desire to feel seen and included for who she truly is, not for the masks she has to hide behind.
It’s a lesson I had to learn. It’s a lesson that I know so many others struggle with. And I want them to know that they aren’t alone in this journey.
Is feeling seen important to you and/or to the characters you write about? If not, what’s a core component of your characters that you see recurring, if there’s one?
And for my non-writers, thanks for reading till the end of this post! What’s a fun fact (or two, or five) about you? Let’s get to know each other in the comments!