Monday, July 12, 2010

The Importance of Being Fleshy

Happy Monday, y'all! I had a very relaxing weekend in which I passed the 10K mark of my WiP, made a huge lasagna, ate Vietnamese soup and po-boys with friends and watched a ton of Friday Night Lights and True Blood. Hope everyone else enjoyed the weekend.

I also did a lot of reading on my new Nook. I love that thing more every day. The new Temeraire novel comes out tomorrow and I've got it ready on my e-wishlist for the release. I can't wait!

Another wonderful feature of the Nook is the ability to download a free sample of a book before you decide to buy it. The samples range in length anywhere from 9-30 pages, and I must have downloaded half a dozen samples this weekend, prologues and all. It's been interesting to look at those beginnings and wonder how close this finished product is to the original material the agent saw potential in.

Some of the samples start more quickly than others, of course. Which seems to be a trend in YA, that the action get started quickly, I mean. The sample of a book I decided to buy did just that, got things rolling really quickly with zombies and mysterious souls. It seemed really exciting, and like it'd shape up to be something fun and hopefully romantic. Problem is, the more I read on, the less interested in the actual story I became. See, the dead bodies weren't the only "zombies". The characters might as well have been, too. They just weren't. . . FLESHY enough.

I'm still not finished, and I'm going to finish, but I'm just not feeling close enough to the characters. Like they haven't been drawn convincingly enough to carry the fantastical things that are happening to them. So now the way the plot is progressing just feels forced and fake to me. No real stakes have been revealed yet, and the motivations of the main characters either aren't all that clear, or border on "too stupid to live" territory.

I know that to the author, the characters felt alive and three-dimensional and their issues and motivations probably felt more real—just like my characters do to me. But somehow that didn't translate to me through the writing. The more I read on, the less of an emotional attachment I feel to the characters.

Not only has this experience led to a case of reader's remorse, it's shown me that no matter how hot your premise is, no matter how cool the plot, the reader still needs to identify with the characters to keep reading until your big plot twist at the end. Because that twist is nothing if the reader doesn't care about the people whose lives are being thrown into chaos.

Making your characters real doesn't stop when the first chapter ends. It's an evolution. They should change with the story, and change each other. They'll be affected by things that remind them of their past. They'll be emotional and angsty when things don't go right, but they'll also be aware of what's happening to them and work toward change. They must be ink made flesh.

Or else your fabulous plot with that amazing twist. . . will be just as insubstantial as your characters. So make 'em fleshy, and make it count!

Or else the corpses rising from the graves won't be the only zombies in your book. ;)


JEM said...

Excellent excellent post! I had the same experience with a very popular YA book recently. I was so disappointed in the characters that I won't be picking up any of the sequels. I tend to be a plot driven writer, but it's the characters that drive the story forward. Thanks for the great reminder!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Such an excellent reminder. I've always been a character writer, and my characters always come to me before the plot does. But I still have to take the time to make sure they come across on the page the way they do in my head-which is easier said than done.

Glad to hear you're loving your nook--even if the book on there leaves a little to be desired. :)

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent post! I always start a novel with a character in mind. In fact, today, I "saw" him riding his longboard down the street after I dropped my son off at band practice.

There was this kid, and I thought, "There he is! That's my next MC."

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

By the post title I thought you were going to tell us to chow down more! Ha! I love this post so much. You've hit on something I've noticed, too, that some books forget the character development. For me, that's what makes a story memorable.

Abby Annis said...

Great post, Tere! The character's are the most important aspect of a book for me and a big part of the reason I love YA so much. But it seems I've been disappointed a lot lately. So many great ideas out there that fell apart because the characterization wasn't strong enough.

I finally finished a book last night that I've been trying to read for over a month. The concept and the twist at the end were awesome and I may read the sequel just because it's the first book in a long time that actually surprised me at the end, but it won't be for the characters.

Tara McClendon said...

What a true post. I think this is a great reminder but also something that is tough to make happen.

Icy Roses said...

Hahaha, nice pic. And very good thing to remind us about. I tend to enjoy character-driven stories (I love literary fic) so I will definitely drop a book immediately if the characters don't pop out of the page.

Good thing to remember when writing.

KLM said...

I am sooooo with you on the "tired of the big, action-filled opener that then goes nowhwere" thing. Books are a marathon. If you run out of gas after 1500 meters, well, then I put your book down right about that point.

There are so many great books that probably wouldn't have made it past an agent's desk for lack of a gripping opener. But those slow-build kind of books are preferable to a book that poops out on me at the halfway mark and leaves me feeling like I just don't care.

Icy Roses said...

OOOO, sorry I just added another section to my review of Her Fearful Symmetry. Just adding some cons, because even though I very much liked the book, a lot of people seemed not to.

Jade said...

This is so true and something that I worry about with my own writing. I think the problem with some of my earlier ms was I was more focused on the premise and didn't spend enough time developing the characters.
Now I'm the opposite. My characters always come first and hopefully it shows in my writing.

Susan R. Mills said...

Excellent post! I rewrote my entire beginning because my lovely beta readers didn't feel connected enough to the characters to care what the outcome of the plot ended up being. Not a good thing, for sure. Characters have to be loved regardless of how exciting the plot is.