Writing is about respect, not disdain, for the audience. When talented people write badly it’s generally for one of two reasons; Either they’re blinded by an idea they feel compelled to prove, or they’re driven by an emotion they must express. When talented people write well, it’s generally for this reason: they’re moved by a desire to touch the audience.Robert McKee
I’m reading another short-listed book. This year has been all about prize winners and short-lists and listening to the ‘big’ writers to see if I can glean some wisdom. Now this is going to sound really weird, but this author of 5 novels, who teaches writing at tertiary level, who was short-listed for the Miles Franklin prize, uses too many words… I feel so dumb writing that sentence, and maybe I am too dumb to read this book, but lordy, there is very little showing and an awful lot of telling. Perhaps it’s third person perspective is to blame?
I should be utterly gripped by this book because it’s a mystery about a stolen artwork and two of the main characters are an artist and an historian, art nerd that I am it should be right up my alley…but I am trudging through it, determined to love it but it’s soooo hard… It’s all dysfuntional families and the inner workings of damaged minds. It reminds me a little too much of Kate Atkinson’s God in Ruins; what a slog. I finally made it to the last page and then flung it out the window in a fit of pique. I did go down and fish it out of the bushes, but yes it made me so mad. I will read this book but it may be thrown out the window too. Watch this space.
In writing fictional characters it’s so important to avoid insulting the audience, making them work too hard, or boring them to tears. My own ‘villain’, Paula, in Hotel Deja Vu was too wishy-washy and I went back to beef her up a little and ensure she really deserved her ending. She had to experience absolutely ZERO personal growth to warrant that last chapter!
One thing I am very cautious about is descibing my characters’ appearance beyond the absolutely essential. My senior year English teacher Marylin Hume wrote 2 trilogies on King Arthur and Merlin. They are stunning books and beautifully written, researched (she has a PhD in Arthurian Legend no less!) and imagined, but it irritates me that the good guys are thoroughly good, beautiful, upright and strong, while the baddies, like Morgana, are ugly in body and black of heart. Completely and utterly. I agree that a character simply must ‘deserve’ what happens to them in the story, I don’t believe it’s ‘realistic’ to make all characters into caricatures, even if it’s fantasy or myth. Archetypes are one thing, but making all characters black and white with no shades of grey is not something I enjoy reading. I like to love my baddies and even hate my goodies just a little bit.
On the topic of reworking villains, I can’t wait to see the new Maleficent movie!
I really should be getting ready for Nanowrimo.