Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CHARACTERS THAT GET ME EVERY TIME – AND WHY

by Laney Katz Becker

Before I begin, I’ve got a confession to make: This is the first time I’ve ever blogged. I swore I’d never write a blog, but when you’re part of a team sometimes the majority wins. So, here I sit, doing what I promised myself I wouldn’t do. It’s not that I have anything against blogs, but to be honest, it’s not the sort of thing women my age are doing. In fact, if I stopped typing right now and phoned, oh, say, six or seven of my friends, I’ll bet that only one or two of them would even know what a blog is.

OK, I’m back. I was wrong. I guess my friends are more hip than I give them credit for.

Even still, let me make this clear:

One. I stand behind the sentiment I expressed in the opening of this, my first ever blog. This blog-thing isn’t something I wanted to do; it’s not something I’m comfortable doing, in fact, I don’t even know what I’m doing, so, please – be kind.

Two. The topic for this, my first ever blog, Characters that get me every time – and why, wasn’t something I chose. It was assigned to me by my colleague Rachel Vater. (Hey, if I voted against doing this blog, I certainly wasn’t going to suddenly get all enthusiastic and passionate by proclaiming that there was some topic I was just dying to write about. So I asked for topic ideas and then I did what I was told.)

Three. I’m a totally unreliable narrator. I mean it. I never, ever, voted against this blog. In fact, I think it’s a great way to help writers understand more about agents, and what we’re looking for. I *love* new things, so doing a blog is something I’ve been looking forward to.

So, how am I doing so far? Do I have your interest? Better yet, what kind of “character” do you think I am? Yup. This rant of mine has all just been a rather elaborate way to demonstrate what “gets me” and why.

Clearly, I’m a huge fan of the adage “show, don’t tell.” As a reader I always bring my brain. Or at least I try to. I’d much rather figure out who you are, (“you” being your character) and what makes you tick, than have you spell it all out for me. I also appreciate it if you have dimension; after all, who in this world is wholly good or wholly bad? You’ve got flaws? Good. Me, too.

If you’ve got personality, then I’m *really* likely to sit up and pay attention. I love characters with “voice.” The fresher the better. That, however, does not necessarily mean I like characters who are quirky, unless such quirks are there for a reason, and (big and) are believable. If I can hear you correctly, (again – I’m talking about voice), then I can understand what motivates you. That’s good, because once we form that connection I’m much better able to walk in your shoes, and I totally love trying on other personas. But, be forewarned: If you’re being different just to be different, or if you’re acting quirky just to be quirky, well, I’m likely to see through that and I will probably just find you annoying. Authenticity is something I value.

If I find myself smiling while I’m reading, chances are I’m enjoying your tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. If your struggles and challenges make me cry, I’ll hate you for giving me puffy eyelids, but I’ll love you for touching my heart. If your kindness renews my faith in my fellow man, then you’ve motivated me to rethink my skepticism.

The bottom line here ladies and gents: Make your characters real, multi-faceted and give them depth. Then, through you, they will speak to me. And once a character has been brought to life, that’s it! You’ve got me – every time.

P.S. I really did vote against this blog.

*Maybe!*

16 comments:

booklady said...

Nice first blog entry. You should be proud. Take care, though -- once you start getting comments you might become addicted. ;-)

As for characters, I'm with you on your tastes -- I don't want to be told that a character is smart or nice or rude -- I want to be shown. And it annoys me, too, when characters are given quirks just because they're supposed to have them then because they are actually unique.

Miss Sharp said...

Actually, I was hoping for a list of characters, or at least something a little more concrete. But, it was a great first blog post anyway!

cbfine said...

literary characters I would like to make love to:

Sydney Carton and Marc Basset

PK said...

Excellent first entry!

It's nice to know that someone appreciates when authors refrain from 'dumbing down' their work and let their characters speak for themselves.

Good luck on your next topic.

Laney said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Well, I looked up what Miss Laney don't want... as per yer Folio Site.

Don't Wants,
FICTION... Fantasy, Sci Fi, horror, romance, genre mysteries, Westerns.

Miss Laney, can I sell you a story about a three legged huntin' dog, (fantasy), with a bionic prosthesis, (sci/fi), what growed canine teeth big as a Saber Tooth Tiger,(horror). He's a chiahuhua what escaped Paris Hilton's car when she's filmin'in Arkansas, but he loves a big ole Blue Tick Hound named May-Bell,(romance, yes, he has high hopes), and he mysteriously disappears, ghost like, on occasion, (Genre Mystery), 'spcially when he's wearin' a Cow Boy hat, (Westerns!

My phone pushin' hard on my ear, waitin' on yer call!

Life's too short, have fun, girl!

Haste yee back ;-)

http://www.jacketflap.com/profile.asp?member=PYXX

Barrie said...

Hey, Rachel gave me my first blog topic too!

Congrats on your foray into the blogosphere! Nice post!

Wilfred Bereswill said...

If I were a blog agent, I might have sent off a form rejection after that fifth paragraph.

Very nice way to make your point Laney. Nice first blog.

Travis Erwin said...

Welcome to the blog world. Solid first post.

Here's a question. Do you think novels that rely strongly on character to hold reader interest are harder to sell than the clear cut plot driven piece?

Laney said...

Darn! I wrote a nice long response to that last question and when I went to post it - it disappeared. So this repeat answer will be brief. I think fiction is always a tough(er) sell than non-fiction; there's less fiction published, for starters. I think that if, when you refer to "clear cut plot driven" you mean genre fiction, then yes -- I think genre fiction is easier to sell than up-market commercial fiction. Also, if the character- driven fiction can be termed "quiet" then that further complicates things because it's hard to make fiction stand out. Still, a character-driven novel that really moves me, that gets under my skin, has real, memorable characters,well, it's hard to say no to that. But who says you can't have both? Character-driven fiction that's also well-paced...then you've got the best of all worlds, right?

Josephine Damian said...

Laney: (said in a tone that mirror's Fight Club). The first rule of posting comments: You must copy it first before hitting the publish button. Blogger eats about a third of comments - I learned the hard way to always copy first.

That said, blogging is an addiction - I know cause I'm off to blogger re-hab Monday - I start a 3 month long hiatus.

On that note, Welcome to the blogosphere!

Josephine Damian said...

PS: I'm reading THE MOVIEGOER right now - has a voice that positively jumps off the page and grabs you.

ML said...

Bravo on your first post, brave blogger! I *really* liked your use of asterisks; it emphasized your voice so that I could actually hear you saying it.

I agree about pointless quirks getting annoying, but sometimes I like reading about character habits that could seem pointless, but make them more real. For example, if a character always scratches her left elbow dry when she gets nervous and she snores when she sleeps. Do you consider these details to be quirks? If so, how can the writer tell that the realistic details are crossing into annoying?

Pranayama mama said...

it's like you're channeling ally sheedy's character from the breakfast club; c'mon, answer the question: did you vote for the blog or didn't you?

Laney said...

My lips will be forever sealed about whether I voted for the blog. Unless I change my mind.

About the other comment -- when quirky becomes annoying. I'm sure that line it's different for everyone, but I think that some characteristic of a character (scratching her elbow) is different from just being a "quirky" character. It crosses the line, for me, when a character is so broad that I no longer feel they're real, but rather a caricature.

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