On Sunday I got together with my book club buds. It was time to
massacre discuss two books. (We have two book choices each month: a main and a second for eager beavers.) I did not read the second book (Thank Goodness!), so I will not mention the title. I feel it would be unkind of me to name a book I did not read. I will tell you that it was a debut book, and it was a thriller. Three women read the second book. They did not like it. No. Correction. They hated it.
The three issues that they discussed make regular appearances on blogs across LJ. But I believe they’re sooooo important, I’m giving them blog time again.
Names help carry the tone of the story. The author received a HUGE eye roll for naming a character Billy Madison . . . an adult character who’s not a dancer from another country.
I’ve discussed name importance on my blog before http://tracy-d74.livejournal.com/20744.html. Names should fit the era and culture of your story because they come with meaning, images, and emotions. Look at these two female names: Ingrid and Rainn. Each name stirs a different image. Let’s try two male names: Viktor and Jon. Did you see two different faces? Was one of them jongibbs? The image you see is based on past experiences with those names. Those experiences are tethered to emotions. Names matter. Pick well.
Antagonists are more than bullies and evil incarnate. The story involved a single mother who meets a guy, who turns out to be a murderer. They meet and marry within one month of meeting. That’s not the issue. People meet and marry quickly on a regular basis. The issue? The three reviewers hated the antagonist from the moment he appeared in the book . . . on page seven. And that hatred hung with them the entire book.
We writers grapple with the question: How mean or evil do we make the antagonist? Too mean . . . readers may not love to hate them. Too nice . . . they aren’t a believable foe. I say, it depends on the type of story and the antagonist’s ultimate role in the book. Obviously a serial killer who lurks in the shadows and toys with the police and his prey can be vile. The reader is meant to connect with the victims and those trying to stop the murders. However, if you’re trying to show how a single mother with a five-year-old will date and marry the antagonist, he needs to show some redeeming qualities. You can wipe away the veneer gradually and then what's left of it just before you reveal he’s a mass murderer. It needs to make sense why the two people are together or why two people despise each other. Otherwise it just seems convenient or contrived.
Protagonists need flaws, believable flaws. Again, the women who read the book said, “Why did they make this woman so stupid? I just could not believe her. He made her throw out pictures of her deceased parents and then five minutes later asked her to marry him and she said yes.” All three groaned and rolled their eyes. The entire paragraph above was said in almost perfect unison.
No one likes perfect people. Okay, I won’t speak for everyone, just most everyone. As a general rule, people like to see flaws in others. Not too many. Too many means the person may suck the life-force out of you or leave you feeling hopeless when you’re around them. And sometimes the drained or hopelessness feeling triggers anger. Not anger at the situation that has the person bound, but anger at the person for not getting unbound. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m pointing out human nature. Flaws need to be just right so we can be okay with our own suitcase(s) full of childhood horrors. Readers want the same thing: enough flaws that make the character real, relatable. Too many . . . we get mad. Balance. Show the character learning from their mistakes. Show them evolving . . . not to perfection but to a place better than we found them.