This month’s question is: What is your pet peeve when writing/editing/reading?
I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that a character needed to change by the end of the story—the bigger the change, the better. If you ever read Anatomy of a Story (John Truby), one of my favorite books on writing, he says the key to a satisfying story is starting with a character with a deep moral flaw.
However, lately I’ve given some thought to this, and I’m not sure I agree. Every time I’ve tried to craft a character with a major change, I have to make that character really detestable at the beginning. And there’s the problem: the reader must put up with this nasty character for quite awhile before the “change.”
In one of my novels like this, a CP told me she hated that character, but I persevered, sure that if I could make the character arc big enough, I could make this character’s story satisfying. But then I put the book aside for awhile and upon rereading it, realized I hated this character too. It doesn’t matter how much she changes at the end—I still don’t like her. Needless to say, that novel is trunked.
I’ve put down two kidlit books recently where the main character made a bad choice that didn’t feel justified. (For the record: If the main character is like Jean Valjean and stealing bread to feed his sister’s children, that is one thing. But if a character is stealing to impress the mean girl clique, you've lost me as a reader.)
I’m currently writing and revising a novel where I thought the main character would be unlikeable. He has a lot of issues. He’s “rough around the edges.” He gets in fights. But the reason why he does these things (like Valjean’s bread) is morally upright. I think Prince Jaron in THE FALSE PRINCE is like this.
Now I focus less on making sure my character changes in a big way. I’m not advocating perfect characters, but if there’s nothing heroic, nothing that makes me admire this character for being particularly kind or brave, I’m not going to keep reading.
That is why I no longer create characters that are unlikeable for most of the book. Now if there were more authors who did the same…
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