Over the course of your character arc do you pick any of the following: petty fights with tertiary characters? You nose? The most self-serving option, every single time? Scabs (metaphorical)? Scabs (literal)?
Do you have hobbies? Two AM drives past your girlhood home don’t count, even if your hands go very white on the steering wheel at the sight of the tire swing, still there, a great dark empty zero. Michelle at the front desk raises orchids. Have you talked to Michelle at all?
Do you have any girlfriends? Girlfriends who you don’t secretly hate for having what you want: the prettiness, the prosperity, the peace of mind? For settling for what you’ve been told to want: the prettiness, the prosperity, the peace? Wait. Girlfriends you hate for both those things simultaneously? Really? Don’t you think that’s pushing the complicated and nuanced vibe a bit too far?
Do you remind that Important Male Critic of his mother? His ex? The substitute math teacher who laughed when he mispronounced Pythagorean? The freckled, feckless girl who edged him out in grad school for the Hippolyte Cerfbeer Essay Prize? The woman before him in the grocery line who didn’t put down the divider bar, meaning he had to reach for it himself?
Were you the one who went to HR about Michelle’s hand lotion? You were, weren’t you? Do you have documentation for your fragrance sensitivity? Or is it simply that Mama also used to smell of cotton and tuberose?
Seriously. Have you considered getting help?
And speaking of: have you ever just let anything go? Even once in your entire life? We’re not saying Michelle is perfect (she has that adorable gap between her two front teeth that she’s so insecure about). But she keeps her grudges appropriate: she only looks at her ex’s Instagram every few days and sometimes texts her besties about his new girlfriend’s weird earlobes. She doesn’t keep an itemized list — a list, I ask you! — of names and addresses. Michelle has never googled “EpiPen failure”; Michelle doesn’t soothe herself at night saying he is deathly allergic to bees, remember, he is nothing, a bug could kill him, he is deathly allergic to bees.
At your last performance review, did you really offer Humbert Humbert and Raskolnikov as counterpoints? Be reasonable. It’s not that they’re men, it’s that they’re classics. Out of your league and deeply philosophical. Do you realize how arrogant your argument comes off? Have you noticed how Michelle is never arrogant? And she’s pretty accomplished. That orchid at her desk is thriving, despite this crappy office light! Would it be too much to suggest Michelle narrate? You’re a little intense to carry a whole book, but you’d make a memorable foil.
Wait. Did you just imply Michelle lacks depth? Listen, she’s got back-story. The ex. The Instagram. The perfect sister who went to law school and is getting married next month. The hapless crush on Dan with the accent who lives downstairs. Plus the orchids. They could really do something with the orchids for cover art.
Does the reading public want to, say, hang out and grab a beer with you? You do drink, right? Of course. Like Mama, who took her coffee well Irished. Does the boy at the bottle shop know your name? No? Are you so drab that it doesn’t register: every day the same woman of indiscriminate age, same woman of indiscriminate features, same ten years out of fashion coat, same discounted bottle of Chablis?
Have you been taking care of yourself? You’d feel a lot better if you did. Look at Michelle and her besties. Mani-pedis, once a month. What? You know the trick to the perfect manicure? You never chip it? Even when you — what’s that? — work with your hands? A quick soak and swipe of a Q-tip to get the grit out from underneath. Oh, that hard earned grit: dirt from land on which you have trespassed and stalk sap and errant orchid petals, leaving your nails polished and perfect and sharp.