Literary Corner Cafe

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Writing Tips - People Are Interested In People

Writer Roger Rosenblatt has said there are four reasons people write novels: (1) to make suffering endurable; (2) to make evil intelligible; (3) to make justice desirable; and (4) to make love possible.

I agree with Mr. Rosenblatt, but I think we could take that a step further and say simply that people write in order to understand people and the human condition. Ultimately, people are drawn to reading in order to learn about people, themselves and others. Any book, whether it’s realistic in its outlook, or whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, a mystery or thriller, a love story, etc. is going to be greatly enriched by the inclusion of characters the reader can care about and identify with.

Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley” mysteries are the most popular mysteries around and have been for years now. Yes, George knows how to spin an intricate and convoluted plot that keeps the reader guessing until the last, or very nearly the last, page. But the best thing about the books is the fact that George invites the reader to inhabit Lynley’s world, to get to know him and his friends and co-workers. There was a huge outcry or protest when George “killed off” Lynley’s pregnant wife, Lady Helen Clyde, an outcry that must have pleased George in some ways because it was confirmation that her readers love and identify with her characters. Tommy Lynley experienced great emotional pain when his wife died, and the reader experienced it with him. And, just as Tommy Lynley wanted to know why such a thing would/could happen, and happen to Helen, who was a wonderful person and the victim of a random act of violence, the reader wanted to know as well. Random acts of violence are a part of Inspector Lynley’s world, but now they were hitting close to home, and, in George’s book, they were hitting close to home for the reader as well.

The above is just one example of many, and I believe if you look carefully at any book, whether it’s a lasting classic or simply popular at the moment, you’ll find the author has been able to establish a strong connection between his/her characters and the reader. The author has made us care. Are we engrossed in Captain Ahab’s search for Moby Dick? Most readers are even if they don’t care for the extensive sections on whaling. Do we care if Atticus Finch wins his case? We do. Do we care if Emma Woodhouse “sees the light” and realizes she’s in love with Mr. Knightley? We do. Do we care if there’s justice for Jean Valjean? Fervently. Does the viewer want to see Rocky Balboa win his fight/go the distance against Apollo Creed? Yes, the viewer certainly does. Sure, that’s a movie, but the principle’s the same. In fact, it's even more pronounced in mainstream movies, and the list just goes on and on. Books that endure, with a very few exceptions, are books that make us care about the central character or characters and their quest.

One of the most important things any writer or would be writer can remember is this: People are interested in people. They don’t have to be likable, (think Hannibal Lecter), but they do have to be interesting.


CharmedLassie said...

Perfectly put. If I get to the end of a novel and I don't really care how the protagonist ends up then the author hasn't done their job properly. Sometimes I feel writers can get too concerned with depicting 'reality'. There are realms of reality and, I have to say, some of them are boring beyond belief!

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