Friday, July 15, 2011

Reader expectations…and the obstinate writer

Full disclosure: this post is cross-posted at Romancing The Muses and Three Wicked Writers Plus Two for two reasons…1) I'm really curious about responses to this topic and want to get the most opinions possible…and 2) my bloggy brain has gone radio silent and honestly couldn't squeeze out two topics this week! I'll be back to my usual form next week, I hope.

Now to my post…

Me obstinate? Noooo way. Never. I mean, I'm not so stubborn that I'll do something that would increase my chances of failure just to say I did. That would be silly.

That would be me.

I like writing about characters with issues. Not too surprising, really, because I think most of us do. Where's the fun in crafting perfect characters? (Though I used to do just that in high school, when I'd had enough of my own imperfections, thank you very much, so at least my heroine could have a three inch waist and a gorgeous, flawless man who hung on her every word.) But along with creating imperfect characters, sometimes your characters aren't just quirky-cute-off. Sometimes they're wholesale screwed up…or make very screwed up decisions. Which is all well and good, if by the time they get on the page they're mostly sorted out…or you're writing a genre that's not romance. Meaning, if the hero/heroine sleeps with someone who's not their BIG LOVE people won't want to kill you.

I've been told my heroes sometimes don't seem heroic right away. I tend to like hard-edged guys, and while they definitely grow and change and soften a bit, the first time they show up they're likely to be…well, harder to love. I've tried to smooth down some of their edges. I really have. But I butt up against that age old adage that if your hero isn't heroic, no one will want to spend time with him to wait for him to grow and change. But…waaah! I like my guys rougher. I like their conflicts to be closer to life. Guys sometimes screw up (as do women, but I know many women who read m/f or m/f/m romance pay more attention to the guys) and sometimes those screwups are HUGE. The point is whether they learn and get better afterward…at least to me.

In my latest release, the hero is faced with a decision I've been told has given some angst to readers. Understandably, because if I were reading it, I'd feel the same. When you bond with a heroine - when you become her in a sense - the hero making a choice that potentially will harm her hurts. So how far do you go in staying true to the character? Do you go all the way, balls to the wall (excuse the expression, but it fits in this case) or do you pull your punches, knowing you may piss some people off? It's a tough choice and I'm sure the answer will be different for every writer.

A couple of my heroines have also been called on the carpet for not being nice. I like trying to redeem characters, and I also need to keep myself entertained and engaged by writing characters with the full complement of emotions and flaws. Some deliberate too much. Some angst. Some are recovering narcissists. I can't keep writing the same character slightly tweaked, even if I know she may be more well-received. I'd get bored that way, as would my readers. And some people have enjoyed those more complicated heroines, so I guess it's truly a matter of what you prefer. As a reader myself, I love characters with flaws as big as their strengths...and occasionally even bigger. Watching them wrestle with their dark side and ultimately win is hugely satisfying to me.

I'm curious…as a reader are there things you just won't accept? In a romance, for example, if the hero/heroine sleeps with someone else after he's started to fall for the hero/heroine is that a dealbreaker or does it depend on circumstances? And writers…how far will you/won't you go in the pursuit of telling your story the way you think it needs to be told?

I'm looking forward to hearing your answers! And I apologize for the cross-post…I'm planning on being more bright-eyed and blog-inspired next week!


Jen B. said...

Ah, this is a very good question. I suspect you will get answers all over the board. For me, just about anything goes as long as:
1. The author has the skill to write the story.
2. The storyline fits together like a proper puzzle. I hate forced plot points.
3. The characters react like real people and there are real consequences.
My favorite example of this is the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey. The main character of the first 3 books is Phedre. She is a courtesan. She also likes pain with her pleasure. Through the course of the story she uses her body and sexuality to solve problems, fight wars and turn political favors. I found myself frustrated for her companion because he had to accept this aspect of her. In the end, they truly loved each other. And, it felt so real and deep (in the fictional world). I look forward to reading other people's opinions.

Allie Standifer said...

My Club Botticelli ladies are anything, but the perfect heroines. They are sarcastic, verbally abusive and prickly. My heros, the poor saps, have to have the courage or proper medication to put up with them. I don't think there's a mold for heros and heroines anymore. We broke the crap out it ages ago. My characters are flawed because I don't know how to write them any other way.

Cari Quinn said...

Thanks, Jen and Allie. I agree, I like characters who are more real and do all the crazy, sometimes destructive things real people do.

I suppose the answer is to not think about how the book will be received while writing. I try not to do this anyway, but lately outside opinions seem to be creeping in. Not all readers will love every character, and I guess the fact that the characters of mine some people have had issues with are liked by others just goes to show how differently people view things.

Allie, your Club Botticelli books sound right up my alley. ;)

Tess MacKall said...

I like my characters to be real. People aren't always heroic. Nor are they always likable.

I think the key to it all is to input enough in those first three or four pages that the reader knows what your characters are up against and that there is enough hint of the past that the reader can identify. Makes a questionable hero a bit easier to swallow. No pun intended. LOL

Great question.

Janice Seagraves said...

I'm sorry to say this, but, a lot of what you can write has to do with how much your editor will let you get away with.

Other than that, well, write as you feel and be true to yourself and your characters.


Taryn Elliott said...

I like a more genuine character as well. we all know that dreaded cookie-cutter character tag comes out when we don't push for more.

I don't even mind if I hate a character a little. It's better than not remembering the story after i've closed the book...that's for damn sure.

SueW said...

Who did you want to sleep with more when you read GWTW? Ashley or Rhett? Yet, for me Rhett was the more genuinely flawed and misunderstood.

I submit pieces of wip novels for crit, I feel that some of it is if you write your characters as real people, there is a certain % of reader who hates that it doesn't fit their preconception. Are even sarcastic about it-One critter called me on the protagonist being too young. Which would be fine but she is 19 when she meets her mate (200 plus) and he trains her his way. (Genetic vampires not many powers) She grows up quickly in the new society. Gets tougher with the outside world. Like Jen B, they truly love each other.

Harlie Williams said...

I will admit that I like my characters flawed but I do have a problem with the hero having sex with someone else in the book UNLESS its a BDSM themed book.

Spenser from Provoke Me drove me crazy at first. In fact in my review, I mentioned that I threw my Nook and I wasn't kidding. At one point, I wanted to slap him. Cari though redeemed him in the end. Once I read it again, it all made sense. Just saying...

Anyhoos....people aren't perfect and neither should characters in a book. Just my opinion.