Carl wasn’t very interesting. That’s kind of a problem for the guy who’s supposed to be the hero of a story.
It wasn’t exactly his fault. I was more interested in the villains. It’s kind of a weakness of mine. I’ve liked villains almost for as long as I can remember. So when I sat down to create a new version of “Sleeping Beauty” it’s no surprise I focused on the bad guys, especially since Maleficent — the wicked witch in the Disney version — is one of my all-time favorites.
I spent time developing the character of Rex, Sleeping Beauty’s father, who is obsessed with his daughter’s budding sexuality and therefore tracks down a spell to put her into a coma, so she will sleep until the right man comes along to marry her.
And I spent time developing Marie, her mother, who is on the edge of insanity and willing to do anything to get her daughter back.
But poor Carl, the guy who actually is in love with the titular character and who is recruited by Marie to break the spell, got short shrift. Partly that’s because he’s a pawn. Marie manipulates him to bring Beth — her Pretty Princess — back from darkness of Rex’s spell.
But to stay true to the original story’s intent — that only True Love’s First Kiss can wake her — I needed to have Carl have a personality of his own. He had to actually be in love with Beth.
In my original manuscript, Carl mentions another girl at school, Meghan, who has become “a bitch” since Beth succumbed to a coma two years ago. Sitting at Beth’s bedside to talk to her after school, Carl reports:
Today, Jenny Gaines got sick and threw up, and Meghan told everyone it was morning sickness and called her a slut. By the time lunch rolled around, everyone was calling her a slut and wanting to know who the father was.
That’s the first and last we hear of this incident in the original story, which I wrote for a contest back in 2006. I was limited to 4000 words for the whole piece, so I didn’t have a lot of space to develop things.
When I was looking to expand on Carl’s character for the rewrite, though, this little throwaway incident evolved into a much larger portion of the plot. I decided I needed some scenes of Carl at school. I therefore wrote a passage wherein Carl comes across Meghan telling a group of her friends that a car that looked like Jenny’s was seen at the women’s health clinic and that that must she had an abortion. Shocked and angered at Meghan’s largely unmotivated assassination of Jenny’s character, Carl confronts her:
“Your story doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “First of all, all your information comes third-hand. You didn’t see the car. Neither did Stacey or her sister. Second, you don’t know it was her car. You just said it looked like hers. That doesn’t make it hers. Third, you don’t know Jenny is pregnant. She’s never said she is. No one knows whether she’s pregnant or not. Fourth, even if she is, she could have been getting a regular exam or a sonogram or something. They don’t only do abortions there, you know.
“And fifth, and most importantly, it’s none of your damned business whether she’s pregnant or not and whether she has an abortion or not!”
This scene brings Carl’s character into sharper relief. He’s not just a lovesick teenager being manipulated by an insane adult. He has principles. He stands up for people being bullied. He has a soft heart. All of that not only makes him more interesting to read about, but it also validates how he feels about Beth and why he takes the actions he does.
I also needed motivation for Carl to act on Marie’s instructions. Who believes you can wake a woman from a two-year coma with True Love’s First Kiss? Certainly Carl wouldn’t. This scene ends with Meghan telling him, “Better go back to your coma-girl, Carl.” He’s left contemplating what to do about the situation.
That was followed up by a dream sequence wherein Beth tells him what to do. However, that didn’t feel right after I read through it. The story has a lot of flashback scenes, but there hadn’t been any dreams.
So I cut the dream scene, but there still didn’t seem to be enough to motivate Carl to go through with what seems like a mad plan cooked up by Beth’s mother. My editor suggested the Meghan plot didn’t resolve very satisfactorily. I saw the opportunity to fix both problems.
I wrote a new scene wherein Carl runs into Jenny Gaines. The two are embarrassed and don’t quite know what to say to each other. Then Jenny thanks Carl for sticking up for her. She ends the encounter by saying, “You’re pretty cool, Carl. For what it’s worth, I hope your friend Beth wakes up soon. She deserves someone like you.”
That comment gives him what he needs. The idea that Beth deserves him and, by implication, he deserves her convinces him he is desperate enough to believe the ravings of a woman he otherwise believes to be insane.
When I first wrote “Sleeping Beauty,” Carl wasn’t very interesting. He was a generic Prince Charming, and he wasn’t terribly charming. By giving him some scenes of his own away from Beth and the main plot of the story, he gets the opportunity to develop. That makes both him and his actions more believable.
And, in a fairytale, that’s pretty important.
You can get “Sleeping Beauty” for free for your Kindle on September 18 and 19, 2012. Click here to download it!