by Greta Boris
Many writers are caught in a terrible love triangle between their protagonist and their audience. We must, we’re told, write compelling, likable, fascinating characters. We must also satisfy our readers with an interesting plot. The problem is it’s easier to love the characters who spring from our own creative genius than it is a faceless, nameless reader. But if we don’t abuse the one, we won’t have the other.
I’ve heard story structure expressed this way,
Act one: Get your main character up a tree. Act two: Throw rocks at him. Act three: Get him down again.
In the Beginning
I took the advice to “write what you know” a bit too literally. In my first fiction attempts, my protagonist did nothing but walk her dog around her Southern California neighborhood and fret about what she was going to do with her life. Boring.
Even the parts of the story I intended to be exciting didn’t put her at risk. I didn’t want her life to be any more uncomfortable than it already was. I was in love with my protagonist. She was me, my offspring, the fruit of my imagination. Why on earth would I put her up a tree and throw rocks at her?
Slowly but surely, through numerous agent and editor rejections, and my own analysis of the books I enjoyed, I learned the error of my ways.
Readers want thrills and chills. What would they do if they were kidnapped by a serial killer? If their child was lost? If they witnessed a terrible crime? Don’t get me wrong, they don’t actually want to experience those things, but they do want to face problems vicariously through your characters from the safety of their armchairs.
I began to attack my primary characters mercilessly. If that’s what those heartless readers wanted, by George, that’s what they’d get.
I read two of my new and brutally improved scenes to my critique group, Fictionaires. Two writers, whose opinions I’ve learned to value, said, “Is the whole book going to be this depressing? I wouldn’t read it if it was.”
Readers. You can’t live with ’em, and you can’t live without ’em. Who can understand them? How do you woo them? I was stymied.
I’ve just finished editing my new novel A Margin of Lust with my editor, Mary-Theresa Hussey. Somewhere in the process, I began tweaking dialog and changing story lines with her face (and her red pen) in my mind. I began to understand what she liked, and what she didn’t. I wanted to please.
All of a sudden my reader had a name. It changed everything.
The New World
As I’m writing book two in my series, I’m using my imagination to create a new character, Rachel Reader. I see her in my mind lounging in her backyard with a glass of wine, or cuddled by the fireplace with a cup of tea. Oh, and my book.
And guess what? She can’t put it down. I’m tweaking dialog and changing story lines to keep her riveted. I’m putting my protagonist through the wringer, but threading in moments of humor and warmth in the hopes Rachel will keep coming back for more.
The dog doesn’t die in Act Two, he’s just very sick—Rachel wouldn’t like a dead dog. But someone is stalking the protagonist in a dark parking lot—got to keep Rachel awake and turning pages.
So, how do you have a love affair with your reader? Make her as real as any of your characters and write your heart out, because to know her is to love her.
She’s also the Director of O.C. Writers, a community of over 700 published and aspiring authors in Orange County, California.
She’s published articles on culture, health, and entertainment for a variety of national magazines including Victorian Homes, Zombies, 50 Scariest Movies, Exodus, and Women of the Bible. She’s also the author of the Amazon Kindle Bestseller The Wine and Chocolate Workout – Sip, Savor, and Strengthen for a Healthier Life.
You can visit her at http://gretaboris.com. She describes her work (and her life) as an O.C. housewife meets Dante’s Inferno.
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