A friend who is an avid reader read an in-progress manuscript of mine recently (bless those who volunteer to be beta readers), and as with any constructive critique, I learned from the reader’s side of the story. Readers, he reminded, want to engage with the characters – if not to like them, at least to care whether they live or die. And so as I dug into that in the context of stories such as mine and expanded on it, here’s what my takeaway from what that valuable experience tells me.
Many things can carry a story. Mine is a period piece, set in the heady years of the ‘sixties, with a large cast of characters, whose lives cross others, and cross again. To write about that most dramatic decade is a challenge – you know – what to leave in, what to take out. Here’s just a quick spin through that decade’s events and experiences to consider:
- the pill
- the workplace
- interpersonal relationships
So the test here is what defined this decade, and how to capture those things in the lives of characters. As a writer, you have to honor your audience. Some will be reading for the historic feel, for instance, others will seek out characters they can superimpose over their own personalities to perhaps learn about themselves. And others, as a witty fellow, once told me, “…don’t give a damn if it’s true or not, long’s it’s a helluva story.”
I’m finding that much of postmodern literature, especially of the domestic (USA) variety, tends to give short shrift to character as the paramount object in that form of the novel. Instead, it’s used to amplify setting, historical era, or other social perspective the author wants to express in story.
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