by Matt Sinclair
What’s the difference between a memorable character and ‘meh’? In my opinion, that's a simple answer—sort of.
Effort and focus.
There are characters that just leap off the page, despite the quality of the story around them. Lisbeth Salandar of Stieg Larrson's Millennium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, et al.) comes immediately to mind. That's a character who is unlike anyone I'd ever met before in literature and she totally captivated me. While I enjoyed the stories in the trilogy, however, they could have used a bit more editing. Quibble.
How does this affect us? Let me ask a different way.
Who do you write for?
Are you one of the many writers who love writing for the sake of writing and write only to please yourself? That's fine. A lot of great literature starts that way.
But I've come to the opinion—and some of you will disagree—that you're unlikely to find any success outside your own home that way in terms of writing a great, memorable character. I'm not talking about financial success. That's beside the point. If you're writing for yourself, after all, you don't care about earning money off your writing. Not really.
But writing a great character, a great story, a great manuscript involves taking risks beyond pleasing yourself, so to speak. You need to see your characters and stories through the eyes of another. In his wonderful book about the craft of writing, Stephen King talks about his Ideal Reader. In his case, he's usually talking about his wife, Tabitha, who is a writer also and from all accounts a fine critic of all things King.
Maybe your significant other is your ideal reader. Maybe it depends on the manuscript. But what I'm ultimately trying to get to is who is your audience? Will they remember you and the characters you write?
I'm working on a short story at the moment that is different from what I usually write: it's a post-apocalyptic tale and so far it is intriguing me: it has tension and interesting characters, a death or two, and a spooky specter who looks like a Neanderthal. Neat!
But I'm not sure where it's going. It remains unfocused. You all know the answer to what I need: revision and more revision. It will take time. What I have right now is fine if I'm just writing for myself, but I'm not simply writing for myself. I'm writing for the thousands of people I want to please. They just don't know me very well yet.
We put the time into our work because we believe it's worthwhile. That our audience is worth fighting off the powers of "meh" and striving for excellence. We may not reach our goal every time. But it's worth the fight. Our readers and future readers will respect the decisions we make to get there.
Happy Memorial Day, fellow writers. Create something memorable!
Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, recently published a short story anthology called Spring Fevers, which is available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. It includes stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette. He also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.