Monday, July 2, 2018


Quiet characters get a bad rap, but they have much to offer and to teach us as writers. Consider our readers, many of whom may be quiet themselves. It’s part of the whole window/mirror equation: it’s important to present a reflection to a young reader who is quiet or a late bloomer or a bit of an introvert.

Eleven-year-old Frances fits this description. She’s the main character in THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY, a quiet storm of a middle-grade novel by April Stevens which gives us an excellent example of a “quiet” book that churns deeply. Frances is quirky and introverted. And Stevens paints her metamorphosis with the most delicate of brush strokes. That’s the take-away here: capturing the granular, stop-action moments of growth in a quiet character makes their trajectory leap off the page. It’s all about detail.

Main character Frances is a lot of things: a nature-lover, an introvert, someone who strongly dislikes change (hence her wearing the same coat and hat with earflaps for far too long!). She’s also super-smart, but knows to dial it down in class because she notices that it irritates her peers if she raises her hand too much. Frances also has a name that she calls herself: Figgrotten. Frances’s quirks (and name) drive her big sister crazy, and the siblings often clash. Her only friend at the outset of the story is her school bus driver Alvin.

Here is what editor Emma Dryden says about these stories in her blog post The Resonant Roar of Quiet Books:  When a quiet story—what I will call a deceptively quiet story—manages to make readers experience emotions deeply, that to my mind is a story that has the opportunity to roar, to thunder, to resonate so very loudly with readers.”

Author April Stevens
In THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY, author April Stevens accomplishes this with deft and artful use of detail. Here are a few gems from THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY that demonstrate how these fine brush strokes can make readers catch their breath and recognize a bit of themselves on the page.

Frances cares little about her appearance for most of the first half of the book, and this earns the scorn of her older sister, who calls Frances “an ugly little freak” in a heated moment. Later in the book, Frances finds one of her sister’s abandoned hair clips in the bathroom. She… "took the little clip, snapped it into her hair, and stepped back and looked at herself. How was it possible that something so small could make her look so different?” Frances shoves the clip in her pocket, and the next day at school, asks her new friend Fiona (another wonderfully quirky quiet girl character) to help her put it on. Fiona cheerfully agrees, saying, “Sure… but you know you have to take off your hat.” This is a huge physical and symbolic act, as Frances removes the security of her hat with earflaps to take a small step into a new way of being: “Figgrotten turned and looked at herself in the mirror and again felt surprised at how the little clip changed her so much. Then she stuffed her hat into her jacket pocket, took a deep breath, and walked out of the bathroom…Having the clip in her hair for the rest of the day made Figgrotten feel so different she might as well have been wearing fake eyelashes for the first time. Or a dress.”

See what I mean? Tiny brush strokes. Small moments. Granular detail. They make the reader feel. We see Frances/Figgrotten and her tentative steps into a new openness, a newer, more vulnerable way of being in the world. As a result, we feel that hope and tentativeness and courage and vulnerability right along with her.

As Emma Dryden points out, “it is the “quiet” story that can, if crafted well, be loud as thunder to a reader and have a lasting impact, wholly remarkable and memorable.”
Editor Emma Dryden
April Stevens has reminded me of this—the resonant power of the quiet story. Don’t shy away from reading them, for there is much to be gained from studying the craft within them. And don’t shy away from writing them either—there are readers who need to see themselves in “deceptively quiet” stories. What "quiet" stories do you recommend?


  1. I'm working on a list of MG introvert characters for NCTE 2018! I'd put Erin Entrada Kelly's Newbery-winning HELLO,UNIVERSE in here, and soon-to-be published AFTER ZERO by Christina Collins. Love to hear some other suggestions.

  2. Sarah, Plain and Tall
    A Gathering of Days

    Seems like a lot of historical fiction tends toward the quiet.


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