Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reader's Manifesto

I am a very picky reader. No, really picky. It takes me a lot to get invested in a book and keep on reading til the end. The writing has to be good. The characters have to be good. I can be forgiving excellent writing... But there are a lot of books out there I simply can't read. So here is my manifesto, as it were. The things that I would really really love to read and really really hate.

Romance that doesn't rely on "just because". I really hate this. No, I mean, I really hate this. I was reading a book, recently, and the male character saw this female character and fell in instant love with her. He was blushing. All he wanted to do was appease her and she was so sweet and innocent and I wanted to strangle him and her both. She was a side character and could have been interesting in her own right but she will never rise above the status of love interest in my eyes because he fell in love with her for no discernible reason.

I want to SEE why characters are in love. I want to see what they have in common. On that note, love is more than just blushes and arguments and sex. Love is about touching and closeness. About getting through things together. I want to read about a couple I can really see together--even if they're not perfect together and, hell, I don't think they should be. I believe the greatest love is one you have to work at.

I want characters. No. Not characters. Real honest to goodness people. I'm tired of reading about heroines who serve either as Love Interest or Xena. Even a woman who can kick ass has got to have other things in her life. Give her a hobby. Make her passionate about comic books. Say she can play a musical instrument well. Give her a life outside of the story. Give her a background and not just the tragic childhood bullshit but friends, too. Teachers. Guides. Enemies. Frenemies. And this applies to your hero, too. Give him a life, hobbies, a job, that doesn't directly influence plot. This makes them well rounded. This makes them surprising and fascinating. This makes me want to give a damn.

In that vein, I want to see main characters with flaws that make them less heroic. I don't mean like klutziness or being bad at piano, but things like anger, like not being able to get along or let go, like fear, cowardice even, wanting to run away. These aren't pleasant emotions, no, but they are human emotions.

I want minorities to stop being relegated to the sidelines of fiction. The token black person, or, dear god the token gay person. The gay best friend. That man over there he's gay. Gay characters, even minor ones, can and should be just as well rounded. Minorities and gays alike (and I'm speaking of all LGBT not just men) are more than just the lables that we impose on them.

For example, suppose you have an Asian man in your cast. Don't just slap a Japanese name on him, give him a dojo and make him a master in martial arts. He can have all that if you want but give him a hobby. Make him like Nascar. Give him real problems. Give him things in his past he has regretted and not just cutting someone up but hurting someone emotionally. Make him human. Even if you aren't of that particular culture and are afraid to be wrong, remember that NO ONE is the same no matter what culture but humanity is something everyone understands.

Same thing with LGBT characters, especially if they're you're main characters. Being LGBT is not the be all and end all of their existence. It should be relegated to the background noise of their lives. Who they look at when they pass on the street. Some of the choices they make but dear god not all of them. Even the most flaming gay man--if he is well rounded and human--will be accepted as not a stereotype but a character. You don't have to understand an LGBT lifestyle in order to make that character human. As I said, everyone is different.

Creating well developed characters isn't always easy and the time and effort in making them consistent can sometimes make you want to tear your hair out but I believe it's worth it. My rule of thumb is, if you can explain a character in one word, one sentence even, they're not complex enough. You have to be able to say, it's complicated.

I want to read a story that I can't see the end of. This is harder to advise for and the the only thing I can say is don't be afraid of your story. Don't be afraid that it might not sell if it ends on a downer and no one will like this character. As I've said in every post so far and as I will keep saying, write the story that's inside you. Let your imagination take you.

This is what I want to read and so this is what I write. Lately, it's been easier to find these kinds of books. Maybe it's a shifting trend in publishing or maybe I just have friends who can rec really awesome books. Anyhow that's my manifesto. What's yours?

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