What makes a story readable? What makes a character believable? What makes a book “unputdownable”?
Of course, you must have a great story, you must have a great imagination and hopefully you have a way with words…but beyond that: what are the secrets to a readable, “unputdownable” book?
Let me put it another way. What makes you stop reading a book after the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter? Is it bad writing? Is it bad grammar? Is the story overdone and hackneyed? All of these reasons may be true of why you stopped reading that book. But dig a little deeper. Make a list of the books that stand out to you. What is memorable about them? Was it the stories? Was it the Characters?
I have made a list of my favourite authors and my favourite books. I have noted one common theme amongst the top 20. “Perfection contained in their flaws”. I loved these books because the characters in these stories were flawed. They were assuaged by guilt, anger, jealousy, revenge, boredom, sloth, lust, pettiness, envy, ego. They were all believable because they were flawed. Now I know that there is a place in the reading world for perfect characters: You know the type. The hero is always tall, dark and handsome. He is charming and completely unaware of his astounding good looks and luck seems to follow him everywhere. He always gets the girl and he always bests the villain. The heroine is always a little fragile but actually very strong. She is beautiful and clever. She always has no problem finding a man who will rescue her or better her life. She does not have a nasty bone in her body. She has no hang-ups about her image but is always brimming with self-confidence. The prerequisite bad guy/girl: I know this is gender-biased but usually it is a guy. Going with the biased status quo: The bad guy is always mean, sometimes charming, usually rich and powerful and always has an ulterior motive to everything. In other words he is all “bad”.
Boring , predictable, putdown-able and forgettable are the four main adjectives that come to my mind when I contemplate the above stereotypes.
Instead to me great writing and believable stories need to be true to life. Even if the setting is in a fantastical world, the characters and their conflict need to be something that I can relate to. Call me a cynic or call me a realist but I like flawed characters. I like it when the hero/heroine is not the perfect matinee idol from the silver-screen. The characters that I remember and that I live through are flawed and because of their flaws they are interesting and multi-faceted. Some of my favourite characters from great novels are: Catherine and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Anna and Vronksy from Anna Karenin, Daisy, Tom and Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby. These are my favourite Characters in my favourite novels. I have reread these books countless times and each time I gasp or chuckle or sigh a little more at the flaws created in these characters. Another common theme that makes a story”unputdownable” in my view is also shared by these three great classics. This common theme is the idea that not every love story has a happy ending and that not every story has a good ending. To me these three novels encapsulate memorable writing. They are the epitome of success. Every time I read one of these stories I am drawn again into a world that often times shocks my sensibilities and then unlocks my inhibitions. These characters and their stories challenge my world view.
That is my challenge as a writer and that is my aim as an author. I want to create characters that are real and that a reader can relate to. I want to delve into the strange psychology of a being (whether that be human or fantastic) that is flawed. I want to create a character that is often in conflict with themselves and their own flaws. I want to create characters that the reader sometimes wants to just shake from sheer frustration. I want to know that a reader is able to connect on such a level with my characters that the characters cease to become characters and begin to become reflections of people the reader knows or even a reflection of the reader themselves. My challenge as a writer is to create characters that wrench all the readers emotions whether those be positive or negative emotions. I know that when you begin to love or hate my characters, I have hooked you. You, the reader, will not be able to put down my book even if you cannot stand the characters just for sheer curiosity sake to see where the story will take them.
So jump on my magic carpet: Beware though for this is not some exquisitely woven carpet of perfect hues and textures. It is a lived in, walked on and a little frayed with wear carpet. There are a few threadbare patches. There is dog hair and cat hair in a few areas. But the carpet is a real carpet in a real home. This carpet is not a museum piece or an art prop. In the same way, this writer’s stories are real stories inspired by the myriad of real characters I have come across. So jump onto the magic carpet and take a stroll through a world of imagination with me. I promise you a journey. As we all know that is the best part of any trip: it’s the journey after all that remains in the memory far longer than the destination. Meet my characters. I hope they frustrate you. I know they will anger you. I hope you love them and sometimes you just want to give them a good talking to. You may want to drag a comb through their hair at times and with others you may want to throw them under a bus. Most of all I hope you remember them for good or bad. I hope they challenge you. I hope you cry with them and laugh with them. They are all waiting for you on the magic carpet. So take a ride with me…
weaving away…the weaver of threads on a magic carpet
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