Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stepford Books



So I'm reading this book... it started with this excellent action sequence, detailed and riveting. It has world intrigue, huge stakes, a hero trying to get out of the spy business but pulled back in for one last gig... Everything, right? So why am I grumbling?

It is too perfect... only... not quite... The author did everything right. EVERYTHING. But the seams of what the author is doing are... visible? I can see the evidence... (s)he is trying too hard...

It's funny, because I am ALSO listening to the Harry Potter books on tape, and noticing a preponderance of adverbs... Yet those are my favorite books EVER... Big no-nos everywhere, but it flows seamlessly and I'm tickled...


So what's my problem?



Pretty People

Y'all might have heard me grumble about pretty people, yes? How ANNOYING they are... *cough* I may be the only person who is quite so irritated with beauty, but I can tell you something. A person (real or fictional) who is gorgeous, smart, virile, coordinated and rich? 999,999 times out of a million is also an A$$HOLE. People just do not GET every blessing.

Let me share a little of an old debate I used to have with my Potterheads on this topic:


Sirius Black...

Hot.
Rich.
Brave.
From a family virtually devoid of decency and love.

In Order of the Phoenix Harry watches a memory of a girl looking longingly at Sirius. He doesn't even notice her.

Some of my (naïve) friends thought he just had more important things on his mind. A fifteen year old boy? Seriously?

I THINK he takes girls for granted. He can have anyone he wants any day of the week... he is a flavor of the day guy. You got it. Sirius was a PLAYA... I can't conceive of it any other way... thereby giving him the crucial flaw he needs to seem REAL, because if he was really all that fabulous AND was just concerned about his friends *gag*

Character like James Bond? ALSO a PLAYA...


Now I actually have a beauty queen in my Cozy Mystery who HAPPENS to be beautiful, smart, rich and nice... but she has some deep secrets... a couple that come out in the first, a few more later... and before readers see too much of her, it's possible she's mentioned as a murder suspect.


I just feel very strongly that characters who are too perfect are NOT credible, and worse... not INTERESTING.

You CAN though, SALVAGE the situation... Take Princess Natalya from War and Peace... beautiful, rich, well matched for marriage... makes a BAD mistake and LEARNS from it... So if you MUST have pretty characters, it would be wise to be really rotten to them.

And you know... I'm not the only one who thinks so... Ted Cross did a blog just yesterday on unbelievable characters.



Perfect Prose

The next piece... I guess as a reader, I don't want to be able to see the decision making process. “I need to have some of this, and then this kind of sequence, and then this...” I get that there is an underlying formula for thrillers, but it needs to flow fresh and new. Surprise me! Make me LAUGH. Make a mistake! Make sure your MC is not prepared for every darned thing!

There is definitely worse criticism to get, but I think this novel might have benefited from a few rounds of smoothing.



Speaking of smoothing...

You know I've been editing Legacy since I sumbitted Kahlotus for ABNA, yes? Well I am officially done with the 'big-edit' round. I am smoothing it, then sending it to the FABULOUS Jenny Milchman who reads family suspense and hopefully can give me a genre reader's opinion on whether I am on the right track.

So there.

40 comments:

Ted Cross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ted Cross said...

I've done a few posts on this theme. It has gotten to the point where each time I see a female show up in a fantasy book I expect she will be beautiful in some way. Books like The Belgariad series have every character be royalty, amazing at some skill or two to the point where they are the best in the world, and basically close to perfect. The problem is that I actually think the average readers prefer it this way. If I write a book with 'real' people, it will probably not do well. I think most readers, depite our complaints, actually want beautiful characters with unusual and fantastic abilities. I plan on writing characters as real as I can make them, but I do worry that this means few readers will like my work.

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! Ted, totally just remembered I was going to link you as I was waking up! (does that mean I woke up with you?) Anyway... in there now. I think you may be right, and I don't mind beautiful, in reality... I just want FLAWS. Look at Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)--talk about a flawed character! But her redeeming qualities were SO STRONG and her skills had an explanation. THAT is a great character.

Hannah Kincade said...

What's family suspense?? I think I've read al kinds but you never know. If you're looking for a beta...*two thumbs pointing to this guy...er, girl*

I'm with you on too perfect writing and characters. It's almost a relief when you pick out mistakes. I was reading a book last year that was utterly brilliant but he used the word quickly a lot. Oh boy did I grin every time I saw that word. Did it effect the quality of writing in reality? No but it made me feel better.

The too perfect character is the reason why I've never been a big Superman fan. Perfect bastard.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Oh, I'm with you on this. When I'm reading a book, I want to see some protagonist flaws. Otherwise, I can't relate to the character!

Mary Vaughn said...

So right! Everyone has flaws little ones and big ones. I'm far from perfect and I don't want to know anyone who is, even n a book. It's an ego thing.

Hart Johnson said...

Hannah-I am CALLING it family suspense because I am not capable of a family thriller, but the high tension, lotta action, but centered around family (family secrets, etc.) I'm not positive mine fits, (though it does fit the above)... but it is about my KID protags trying to solve the FAMILY secrets (but the plot isn't a YA plot) And yeah.... Superman is boring... I'll go along with that. Even in Smallville, I sort of dig Lex Luther more...

Elizabeth-I think that is it for me, too--relatability.

Hart Johnson said...

*giggles* EXACTLY, Mary!

L.A. Colvin said...

Great post fellow crusader. It's hard for a character to grow if they're too perfect. You end of with what you started with.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Too true. It's the flaws that make a person--in a novel.

Cold As Heaven said...

We don't like the things that are too perfect. It reminds us of our own flaws I guess. I'm just the same. I like things that are off the main track; authors with a personal and incorrect style (like Thomas Bernhard), Satanist black metal bands (like Gorgoroth) and chunky women (like Marianne Sägebrecht; Kate Winslet doesn't even qualify as chunky). That's the way it is >:)

Cold As Heaven

Zan Marie said...

Hi, Hart. I'm a fellow Crusader and I'm just stopping by to say hello. I do know what you mean on the perfect characters everywhere. Note to me: Come up with a flaw for my SciFi MC. ; )

Cheeseboy said...

I think the main problem stems from the girls that are attracted to the good looking, asshole. If girls didn't give him attention, he'd probably stop being an asshole. It's like the whole chicken or the asshole thing.

I'm interested what book it is you are reading in which the author is trying too hard.

Old Kitty said...

Pretty people who suffer prettily are fabulous and speak to my inner diva!! It's also a great way of getting thoroughly NAKED!! Yay! take care
x

Ciara said...

I can't stand a perfect protagonist. I'll throw the book at the wall. :)

VR Barkowski said...

Americans in particular like beautiful, inordinately gifted characters, or at least that's what US publishers want. Can't say for sure if it's what readers truly prefer. So even when our characters have flaws oozing out of every pore, in most cases s/he better be a hottie.

This is one of the reasons I prefer British fiction to American. In fact, a large part of the charm of HP is that the the three MCs aren't beautiful and perfect, it's what makes them relatable. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Congratz on finishing the *big edit round*!!!

Helen Ginger said...

My main character has flaws, but the reader sees the reasons for those flaws. Her past not only created those flaws, but is greatly affecting her future.

Diana said...

Good post. fellow crusader coming to check you out. (that totally came off like a pick up line. Feel free to reread that in a Joey voice for effect) Anyway...I hate perfect characters. I love that Herminone in HP was super smart, yet she was far from perfect. (I also noticed the adverb thing btw)

Cherie Reich said...

Dropping by to say hi to a fellow crusader. :)

I agree that character flaws are a must, but I'm very suspicious of "perfect" people. I always look for what is really going on there.

Hart Johnson said...

LA-WELCOME! And definitely--if there is no room for growth, what a bore!

Holly-yes--it's only in REAL life we are flawless! (teehee)

CaH--I like author tics, too--something that makes them unique. And YAY for chunky women! *shifty*

Zan-WELCOME! And yes, get on that flaw! teehee

Abe-you are so right--I think that is an insecurity thing. Of course I may be extreme in my 'just skipping meeting them' before assuming they're awful, but I think MOST people would act badly sometimes, but pretty people never get the self correction (abandonment by peers) for it that changes that.

Jenny-Yes MAKE THEM SUFFER (but they better be naked about it)

Ciara-I would, but when I'm in the bathtub, it would bounce back and hit me!

VR-you may definitely have something there. Americans are a material lot. Maybe we just prefer to WATCH instead of participating and if you are just watching, pretty is nice... (totally agree on the Potterverse though--think how much people love Tonks or Moody--or LUNA! odd or unusual makes them even MORE appealing.)

Helen-I like those reasons to be in there, too--I love psychologically damanged characters. So much more interesting.

Diane-Welcome! Funny-I never noticed the adverb thing READING it, only listening, but then I've been reading those books regularly since before i was really writing... (and I, too, love Hermione's flaws... going overboard sometimes)

Hart Johnson said...

Ha! Cherie- you snuck in there! I'm suspicious that way, too--definitely expect there to be something horrible about them!

RosieC said...

Congrats on finishing the edits :)

Good point about the characters. They do need flaws, and they need plenty of them, especially if they're annoyingly beautiful. Hopefully the characters don't any US while we're writing them :)

Misha said...

I don't mind good looking characters, but like you said, give them flaws.

I think I have this part down... Best looking guy = biggest bastard I could imagine without him being the bad guy.

I HAAAAAATE perfect characters.

They are so boring.
:-)

kangaroobee said...

Some days I think there aren't enough serious difficulties in my MG novel. It's quite funny and definitely quirky, but the dangers are fractionally too easy to get out of, hmm... Thanks for bringing this up.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Sirius was a Playa...so funny, Hart. He was also arrogant which actually may have helped him a little in the whole wizard hunting thing. Dropping by to say hello as a fellow crusader too.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

see, that's exactly why i love Sirius Black. If he had been all of those things and also a nice guy, instead of kind of an asshole, i wouldn't have liked him as much.

Margo Benson said...

Helloooo! Dropping in on a fellow crusader - good post, I loathe perfectly perfect characters. I write romance so they have to have *something* but not neceassarily perfect abs or pnuematic boobs. J K Rowling is always being picked up on the adverbs but, hey, the storytelling is so gorgeous, she should worry!
Having said that, much as I like Gary Oldman, I'd have someone more archtypically handsome for Sirius Black!

Helena said...

Perfect is boring! That's why I never liked the James Bond movies -- too much silly male fantasy. But I make an exception for the two new Daniel Craig ones because there's a grittier feel to them and Craig makes a couple mistakes.

And yes, when the formula shows in a book (thriller, mystery, whatever), I feel like I'm being talked down to. Not good. Why doesn't the writer's editor catch stuff like that?

Margo Kelly said...

Great post. I'm a new follower from the crusade. Nice to meet you! :)

Lynda Young said...

Great post. No one is perfect, so why would we want to read about a perfect character? :)

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Siruis Black was one of my favorite characters! If the character isn't flawed then the story is no fun.

Abby Minard said...

Ooh, the dreaded Mary Sue complex. I remember some of my friends in book club talking about this a couple years ago, and I had never heard of it. They described Bella as this in Twilight especially in the last book when she's aboslutely perfect in every way- it didn't even hurt that bad when she changed. Anyway, my thing is, I don't really mind if a character is perfect. I want to escape into a fantasy world where yes, the characters are beautiful, and they have cool powers, and maybe a couple flaws. But that's what I'm used to. Anyway, I never really noticed it as a reader until other writers and readers pointed it out to me lol. It's nice to see some flaws, but I also hate it if EVERYTHING bad happens to the character. Then, I'm like C'MON, I want to be entertained, not depressed. Anyway, so that's my take on it.

Ella said...

Well Done Hart; Congrats!
Yes, we need the MC to be flawed, look like a diamond, sparkling and attractive, but flawed, real, authentic otherwise we lose interest. We need to relate to them in some form, flaws are what gives us insight and we can all relate!

Great post~

Elizabeth Twist said...

Hear hear, Hart! A crooked tooth; a zit; a wrinkle; a bad habit - all of these things add texture to real people as they do to fictional characters. I like my books like I like my life: a little bit messy and out of control.

Kari Marie said...

I agree with this. What's fun is writing characters who think their perfect and of course they aren't adding to all the conflict.

Tanya Reimer said...

Hello crusader.
I loved your post!And I'm going to use that line-- oh my book isn't ready yet, just smooothing it out! Love it.

Adina West said...

Congrats on finishing your major edits Hart, and fingers crossed for you. I absolutely believe you can do the whole 'dark, mystery-filled' fiction thing. Hope your agent agrees...

Lydia K said...

Perfection is not interesting. My opinion!

erica and christy said...

But on the other hand, it is nice to live through your characters. I write MG/YA and I always WANTED in real life to "get" the super-hot, talented, nice guy (or at least hot, hey, I wasn't that picky, haha). So I want my characters to, also. I WANT PERFECT, DAMMIT!! *sigh*
erica

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Looks, brains, talent, money- she better show she is human in some way if she doesn't want me bashing her head in.