Thursday, December 13, 2012

You can't please everyone -- writer's tip

'Tis the season to be Jolly!

Question:  Thanks for the tips you gave me earlier this week when you suggested motivation might be the problem when a reader didn't "like" one of my characters. It was good advice, but when I talked to my friend and shared it with her, she said she just plain didn't LIKE him. That he was not a person she wanted to spend her time with, though she couldn't or wouldn't say why. What now?

Answer: Find another reader. No, seriously...not every one is going to like EVERYthing. Maybe you wrote about a dog and her dog bit her, or maybe you wrote about a lawyer and hers screwed up her divorce settlement...  . Listen politely to everyone who volunteers information. Thank them for their help. And let it go. Truly, you shouldn't worry too much until more than one person has the same complaint. That's the time to really pay attentions

Like the late, great Ricky Nelson said, "You can't please everyone---better please yourself!"

The only other suggestion I could make, would be to make the character more vulnerable. Nobody likes Mr. Perfect. Be sure he has something to lose, okay?

Dick Francis is an author who is very good at making his characters vulnerable and at creating reader empathy for them. In his very first book, Odds Against, he has a character who is a jockey. It is made clear very early on that the jockey’s wife, a social climber, had made him choose between his career (she was ashamed to be married to a jockey) and her, and he didn’t choose her. Already the reader can sympathize with him, because she cared more about what her friends thought, than she cared about what was important to her husband.

Then (also before the beginning of the story) he suffered a fall and a horse stepped on his hand, leaving him with a useless appendage, a cripple for life. Now he’s lost both the wife he loved and the career he loved. As the story begins he’s depressed, alone, andeverything he valued in life has been taken from him. Then his ex-father-in-law asks him to look into a mystery and he begins detecting.

He finds his brain isn’t crippled after all. Now Francis, even though he was new to the mystery field, and the story had a hole in the plot you could drive a truck through, played fair and gave the reader all the clues to solve the little puzzle.

Guess where the give-away clue was hidden? In a dinner scene where his ex-wife makes fun of him because he needs help to cut up his meat. Because the reader is identifying with him, feeling his embarrassment, most of us missed the vital clue. I know I certainly did.

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