So you can read my books

Saturday, February 23, 2013


{Image of Victor's Mother courtesy of Leonora Roy}
"Remember what Aristotle said 2,000 years ago about drama: You have to have a plot, character, meaning and spectacle."
Anne Rice
     The most beautiful mansion will collapse if
      the foundation is flawed.
          Make the conflict unique, pitting the character, not
          only against his enemies,
          but against the flaws within him or her.
          THE GOOD GUY -
                                           a withdrawn, emotionally
           wounded man is mistaken in a bar
           for a hitman and given money with the picture
           of a woman he is supposed
           to kill.
                                           The "good guy" follows the man
           to get his license # to give to the police
           only to find the man who has contracted the death
           of a young woman is
                                           getting into a police car!
                                           Can the "good guy" pull himself
           out of his past enough to save a woman
                                           whose life is in his hands?
     To escape the routine of their lives and find escape.
     Giving them cliched heroines is just more of the same.
                  beautiful girls who think they’re ugly;
                  dark, brooding strangers who stalk them and
                  reveal that said girl is
                                        a fairy/witch/sorcerer/gnome
                                        who is the Chosen One and
                                        Must Save the World.
      Please. Just stop. We all know where this is going.
     EXAMPLE of tipping expectations on their ears -
     LAMB by Christopher Moore
                                            A 2000 year old Jewish man is brought back from the dead by an 
                                            inept angel to write a new gospel.
                                            The man is Levi called Biff (from the sound his head made when his
                                            mother hit him on the head in exasperation -- which was a lot.)
                                            Biff was Jesus' childhood best friend -- think Larry the Cable Guy
                                            mangling the young years of the Son of God.
                                            Jesus: "Biff, you keep saying my Father has no sense of humor. Not
                                            so - He gave me you."
      (Nearly) anything goes when writing novels,
      even with an aim to publication.
      You have to give readers/publishers a reason to pick
      your book out of the millions
      they could pick.
     As with the above example, it is all in the execution.
     It begins with characters you give a damn about.  So AVOID -
     Heroines or heroes who are victims (many readers already feel victimized -- if they
     want to live a victim's life, they just have to put down the book and live their own life)
    Passive (many readers feel powerless, they read to feel empowered not neutered),
    Whiners ( they have their mothers or in-laws for that.)
     Perfect (they want to be able to relate to their heroines or heroes, to imagine they could
     possibly become them one day -- perfection only lets them know they are merely reading
     a book.)
      Think: "Wouldn't it be interesting if I were ... "
         "A young short order cook who can see the voiceless
          dead who
          demand he finds justice for them --
                     A ghost of a girl hands him a seashell,
                     motioning for him to hold it to his ear.
                     He drops it in horror when he hears the
                     grunting of her rapist/murderer. 
                     She points to an oncoming car.  Her rapist. 
                     It is his boyhood friend.
                     ODD THOMAS by DEAN KOONTZ.
         "A high school junior who dreams of escaping his
           small-minded town where
           everything is boringly commonplace --
           especially now when his beloved mother
           has died and his father retreated into madness.
          The ostrasized family in town is visited by a
          young relative -- a haunted eyed girl
          who is treated shabbily by his class mates. 
          He comes to her defense. He is scorned
          both by his classmates and by her.
          But through her, he learns there is a class of
          beings wearing human faces yet
          anything but. 

          And they may have killed his
          mother -- and it may be that it is only his
          voodoo-believing maid that has kept him alive ...

          so far ... but his defense of the girl has targeted him
          for vicious retribution.
          BEAUTIFUL CREATURES BY Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
     Depression readers can get for free. 
     Humor provided a relief valve for the events in your
     book and in the lives of your readers.
     Ask yourself which would you read right now: 
     Which book would most people on the street read?
     Drop "Virtue" and "Flaw" entirely.
    a character has "Admiration Traits and "Access Traits".
    One is a trait The Reader wishes s/he had;
    the other is one The Reader already has
    and is grounds for empathy with the character.

     In your story,
                          you will typically want at least
      one character who is Admirable
      ("I wish I were this guy") and
     at least one character who is Accessible ("I am this guy").
     They are not required to be separate;
     Harry Potter has both Access and Admiration traits,
                           which is why he works as not only
                           the hero of his enormous franchise,
                           but its primary narrator.
In fact, it is best for every character to have both traits.
                   If you've studied any fiction that's come out
                   of Hollywood any time recently,
                   however, you'll know that they've missed
                   this memo—
                  Michael Bay in particular has been unable to
                 figure out Access traits
                 for over a decade—
                 so let's start with the basics
                 of having at least one character who is

Going back to Harry Potter for a moment will also let us
notice something very interesting
                about Access Traits vs Admiration Traits:
                they are subjective.
What are Harry's traits?
                  He's courageous and quick-thinking under pressure;
                  as early as the first book, Albus Dumbledore
                  praises his "sheer outstanding nerve".
                  He's intensely loyal to his True Companions;
                  since both his mother and father are dead,
                  he is understandably protective of the people
                  he has chosen to be
                  his surrogate family.
                  He's kind of a jock
                  his scholastic efforts are lackluster,
                  and his main appeal amongst his classmates
                  is the fact that he's a leading athlete.
                  He is quite selfless, insisting on putting himself
                  in the line of fire
                  lest someone else get hurt.
And he is the possessor of some form of Plot Armor:
when Voldemort,
                  the Big Bad of the series, used a magic spell on him
                  that kills anyone it's used on, period, end of story...
                  it didn't kill him.
He became The Boy Who Lived.

Which of these make Harry Accessible, and which of them make him Admirable?
And think about that answer, because for every single person on the planet,
 the answer will be different.
And this is why it's important you put a variety of traits on your characters:
                    because one Reader's virtue is another's flaw.
                    Every Reader will bond with every character
                    in a different way,
                    for different reasons,
So providing as many reasons as possible—
both Admiration points and Access points—
makes those characters more likely to win an audience.
What do you think makes novels and their characters stand


  1. Good points. Sometimes we can't figure out what makes people bond with a character, especially when they bond in so many different ways.
    And no one wants to be neutered.

  2. Recognition of traits that we either admire or that we think we have, will bond us to a character. If we think the premise of the story, or the quest is a worthy one, we want that hero/heroine to succeed.

    Good points to remember. Thanks, Roland. BTW - are you getting more rest since Hemingway and Faulkner were subbing here?

  3. Alex:
    My voice went higher even as I wrote "neutered!"

    Writing novels is something akin to magic and weather prediction I think.

    Hemingway growled that I damn well better be more rested after the work he did. LOL.

    I always dreamed to be Green Lantern -- I had will power to burn!!