Monday, August 5, 2013

Who's That Girl?

Admittedly, not one of Madonna's best songs, but the title sums up my latest experience as an author.

No, seriously... who IS that girl?
It seems incredible to say this, but it's true: I received my first fan letter as an author a few days ago.  Yes, it was from a friend, but she wrote as a FAN of Amy Bennett, author.  And what she said was music to the ears of a writer.

"At first I was reading because I admire you as a person and a friend, but somewhere in the first fifteen pages I forgot about you and just found myself not wanting to put the book down; a very good sign of being captured by the story and the characters.  The authenticity of the characters made the book very appealing as the interesting story reveals their true natures."  I'll stop there because I'm getting too misty-eyed to continue.

Ask any author and they'll tell you that no matter how compelling the story might be, it's ultimately all about the characters.  The most interesting story in the world can become the most boring if the characters are not someone the author--and ultimately, the reader--cares about.  And believe me, the reader can tell if the author doesn't like, or more importantly, care about their characters.

I care about my characters; I really like my characters.  Maybe not everything about them (does anyone ever really like everything about everyone they know?) but enough to want to follow their day-to-day lives and hope that everything works out for them... even though we know they're going to face obstacles, set-backs, and trouble along the way.  Conflict is what drives a story... and why should their lives run any smoother than ours?

A writer gets asked many questions about being a writer.  Some of those stock questions have stock answers, but sometimes a writer gets a question that makes them pause.  At my book launch party last week, this was the question that gave me pause:

“Which character is you?"
Of course, a writer creates their characters, but not, as some might think, out of thin air. At some time, the writer has met someone who sparks an idea for a character (work in retail long enough, I guarantee you'll have a never-ending treasure trove of potential murder victims.) But the reality, of course, lies in that question.

Which character is the writer?

Many people seem to think that the writer automatically identifies with the hero/heroine of the story, especially if the character is good-looking, brave, resourceful, and manages to thwart the villain with near-superhuman martial arts skills while demonstrating a rapier wit and a flair for appreciating fine wines. Perhaps it's true that the writer creates a larger-than-life hero or heroine, a character everyone would like to be, but very rarely do such characters mirror the actual flesh-and-blood person who created them.

If you want to find the writer in any of his or her characters, look for the flaws.

That's where the fear of the dark, of spiders, of failure, of love and commitment, of success, all those things that make the characters REAL is where you will find the author. It's only in the anonymity of writing fictional characters that a writer has the freedom to admit their own flaws and find a way to overcome them (or avoid them!) while creating characters with whom the majority of readers can identify. It's where you'll find me. But I didn't exactly say that in answer to the question.

What I did say was, “There's a little of me in ALL the characters.”  And maybe that's why I get so emotional when I read a comment from someone who's read my book and it's about how compelling they found my characters.  There's a little love in there for me, the author, as well.

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