Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weak Fiction (Part 3 of 3)

Make me care. Good fiction presents at least one person that readers care about. They may not like the person very much but if the character intrigues them, that's another way to say they care. Scarlett O'Hara isn't particularly likeable, but she's fascinating and readers care—they want to know what happens to her. Before we send off our magnus opus, we need to ask: Why would anyone want to read this?

Someone once gave me a manuscript and it took eight pages to get the heroine awake and out of bed. Another three pages lapsed before she got out of the shower. She kept remembering past events and thinking of terrible trials she had endured. I don't know what happened after her shower: I put down the manuscript. I didn't care.

If we can't identify in some way, we won't continue to read (unless forced to do so in a literature class). We call it reader identification.

When we read (and this is just as true with watching a film or TV), we become at least one of the characters and that transcends gender and age. The story or the character touches something inside us. We become involved in the story.

When I was fifteen I read The Human Comedy, which none of my friends then or since has liked, but I hooked into every character, especially the teen-aged boy Homer or the drunken Mr. Grogan. Markus was Homer's older brother and away in service. I felt the pain and the heartache of the family when they learned of Marcus's death.

One book won't appeal to everyone, but I've seen too many manuscripts where we have no one with whom to identify or care about.

Good writers make us care;
good writers work hard so readers can identify with their characters.


  1. Cec,

    Could you write a blog series on how to develop these memorable characters? I'm just in the planning process for writing a novel and would love some pointers on characterization before I get started.

    As always, great post today.


  2. It takes me eight pages to get out of bed, too. But that's in real life.

    I learn so much from you, even though I write non-fiction. I can utilize your wisdom to help me hook my readers and keep them hooked to the last line, when I hope they sigh in satisfaction, and ask for more.

    The Human Comedy is one of my husband's favorite movies. Didn't Mickey Rooney play the young boy?

    Thank you for teaching us. You remind me of the Apostle John--always planting God's grace, sharing your gifts with others so they can grow.


  3. My pastor husband asks himself the "who cares" question when he puts a sermon together. He says it helps keep him focused on the practical, personal thrust of his message.

    What's good for the pastor goes for the writer as well. Thanks, Cec. I hear your voice as I read your posts. And you make me care about my writing--more.

  4. Jodie asked about characters. I can do that, but I already have a number of blog entries, so it will probably be a few months before I do that.
    Thanks for asking. I'd love to do it.


  5. Cec, I love Lori Copeland's inspirational fiction because her characters sing their songs right away. The hero and heroine leap off the page!

    Lori has such a sense of humor too! She will have you chuckling at something you can identify with that previously upset you. That's a beautiful gift.

    Have Twila or Shirley read any of her books? I can't get enough of them.

    On writing a ms:
    Some authors say to see if chapter two is the real beginning. :D

    This blog ROCKS!!! You're a great teacher.

    Blessings, Nancy J Locke

  6. I'm doing the character dance, too, as I finish the first draft. I have drawn the conclusion that some people will care, but will there be enough who get involved with a dirt bike rider and his friends?

    I just completed your When a Man You Love Was Abused. Wonderful! But I kept thinking as I read that a dear female friend would profit from reading it. Could you write one for females?

  7. Cec-

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful lessons. They are practical, and I can immediately apply the lessons you share to my current writing projects.


  8. Ah, Cec, we have something in common. I also read The Human Comedy when I was about 15, and loved it.



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