Disappointment and Wetsday

Bought a book this week — not like that is unusual or anything. I am on a first name basis with the clerks at my local Barnes and Noble. I spend more on books than I do on shoes, and that is no insignificant sum.
But the point is, this book looked wonderful. Great cover art, intriguing blurb on the back cover, the first page or two grabbed me. I really couldn’t wait to finish the one I was reading so I could get to my new one. It promised to be fantastic.
So it was a surprise when, about 20 pages in, I found myself wondering who the heck these people were and why I was spending my valuable free time with them. I forced myself to keep going. After all, it had a good hook, the story line was creative but not outlandish, the writing was perfectly fine. It had all the things I normally enjoy in an historical romance.
Finally, after being annoyed for seven or eight chapters, I tossed it back in the TBR pile, where I am sure it will languish til I make a run to the used book store. What a waste of $7.99!
My first reaction was, “Why did this get published when I have read lots better by my unpubbed friends – and even by my own self?” I can guarantee you that there are better books sitting in slush piles in every agent and editors office.
The next question — and one that is more important — was, “What went wrong here?” The author seemed to have a sure winner — it was a good premise, she was good at the craft, in terms of grammar and showing-not-telling, etc. Frankly, I could see this book as a contest winner — it was technically just great.
But the problem was, I had absolutely zero interest in the characters. They seemed to have all the depth and meaning of the DD’s old Barbie and Ken dolls – in regency dress, of course. The heroine flounced around at a ball or two, the hero quirked one quizzical eyebrow several times, and the de rigeur minor character attempted to provide comic relief. I just didn’t give a *@!&%.
They just weren’t real. Usually there comes a point when you recognize something in a character that connects you to him or her. As I keep telling my oldest DD the literature fiend, that is what makes Austen so great — even though you have never been in a small English town in the 1800’s, you know those people. You see times in your life when you have been in a similar situation. After all, who amongst us hasn’t stood by the wall at a party, figuring that the hunky guy over there was thinking “Not pretty enough to tempt me” when he looked your way?
So that was what was wrong — I didn’t know these characters. There was nothing about them, nothing they did, said or were that let me understand them. They were just stick people moving around in a somewhat familiar landscape. Bor-ing.
Which brings me around to my writing. What I need to do is figure out what went wrong for our unnamed author, and make sure it doesn’t happen to my folks. I have to make sure that my characters have some “sticky places” where the reader gets attached to them.
I’m not talking about likeable. I hate Becky Sharp, Willoughby, Lucius Malfoy and a lot more of my favorite characters. But even in their loathsomeness, I recognized them. I recognized parts of me in them. And that makes them real.

And this brings me to the intro to our wet boy this week. As y’all may have noticed, I love LOST. I have been fascinated by the whole Twilight-Zone-Meets-Gilligan’s-Island story. But the heart of it has always been the characters. I recognize the renowned surgeon who isn’t good enough for his father, the con man who wants to settle an old score, the sweet and meek wife with a secret. They are people I know. Heck, sometimes they are me. That is what makes a successful character, in tv, a book, or wherever.
So this week I salute said talented surgeon with daddy issues, the charming and tres bon Jack Shepherd, aka Matthew Fox:

So tell me, who is one of your most memorable characters? What made him or her real to you?

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4 Responses

  1. And one last thought . . .
    The first picture of Matthew, where he looks kind of like he just woke up. That is absolutely the Marquess in my WIP. Have a great morning-after-the-night-before scene based on that photo.

  2. Another great post, romancemama. What are you going to do when Lost is lost to you?
    Disappointing reads are inevitable. I persist to the end but groaning all the way. A story without spark can be a boring read. RitaVF

  3. Excellent post, ro’mama! I’ve been victimized (that’s exactly how it feels!) by leading blurbs, only to find the material falls far short. Hubby shakes his head when I read on. I complain bitterly the whole time but my OCD territory is completing any book started.

    But if it makes us go back and check our writing to ensure the reader has the same connection with the characters we do, it served a purpose, and the time wasn’t a total loss.

    Favorite character I love to hate? Michael Chiklis on The Shield, an old tv series. Corrupt cop to the core, he loves his wife and autistic son, but turned to other women instead of his wife when the pressure of dealing with his child’s condition got too tough. Consequence? A divorce he can’t accept. And is he on the take because he’s a basic slimeball, or to provide the very expensive care his son needs? Just when you’re set to dismiss him completely, he does something so good and out of character it throws you off, starts you thinking there’s something redeemable beneath the surface. That single glimpse kept me coming back for more.

    Beautiful man today, Ro’. See why he’s your Marquess!Sigh.

  4. Ok, I left a comment, but I don’t know where it went. Anyway, Been there done that more then once and just want to say I always thought it was just me where I just couldn’t feel it… so it’s good to know.. that I’m NOT the only one!!!! Sending love..

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