I Heart Characters!

While deciding what to write about today, I read this great blog post from YAtopia, in which they said:

Each of us readers has something we look for in a book – an element that will make or break it for us. Other elements may not be perfect, but as long as the thing we love best is excellent, we can still warrant five out of five stars. Of course, we all love a well-rounded story, but which of these elements is most important to you?

Strangely enough, this is on my list of things to blog about! (I have a running email to myself, in my ‘Author Blog’ folder in gmail, with blog post ideas because my brain is NOT a sieve like the lovely Veronica Roth’s, it’s a really crappy colander with gaping holes through which entire olives can escape!)

This is a topic I love discussing with other readers. How I phrase the question is thus: What do you read for? My mom reads to discover beautiful language. She loves well drawn descriptions and lovely lyrical passages. I have a friend who reads for the message in the story, the theme and metaphors (but she wrote her Master’s thesis on James Joyce, so it’s not surprising!).

So what do I read for?

Characters. I love people and their little quirks. My most favorite book of all time is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It’s a good story and I enjoy it, but the characters to me have become my best friends over the last 14 years and 5 reads. I used to dream about being at Battle School with Ender and he was my best friend. I love Valentine and her complexity. And don’t get me started on Peter. He might be the most fascinating person in the whole book!

But my love of characters when reading doesn’t translate to my writing. I can’t focus on just my characters, because then my plot might begin to lag or I won’t incorporate the setting well enough. The same goes with the other elements: if you focus too much on plot, you lose the risk of a satisfying character arc. If you search too strongly for a beautiful style/voice, you may lose any emotional connection in the story and fail to convey your themes.

To be cliche, it’s a juggling act!

In reading we can be selective. In writing we can’t.

SO! What do you read for?

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I write speculative fiction inspired by mythos from around the world, complex family dynamics, and my own experiences living with mental illness. After earning my BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University in 2008, I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College in 2012. I live in Denver, where my husband and I spend countless hours chasing our three young sons (and sometimes catching them!). I collect tarot decks, dye my hair mermaid colors, and procrastinate by decorating my home. My debut novel, Feathers Sharp as Knives, releases on May 2, 2023.

11 thoughts on “I Heart Characters!

  1. Characters first. I want to join them on their journey… which brings me to setting. I want a world so creative, I feel like I can pack my bags and move right in.

    1. I love it when the setting feels like its own character, like the prairie in My Antonia by Willa Cather or Manderley in Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. And part of the fun of fantasy is discovering a fully created foreign world–like Harry Potter or Wheel of Time.

  2. I know EXACTLY what you mean. If I don’t feel anything for the characters, I don’t connect with the book. And I agree with Miss Cole–I want to join the characters on their journey.

    But I will say that I tend to like side characters better than main ones. For example? I felt pretty much nothing for Harry Potter until the part in Deathly Hallows when he was standing at his parents’ grave. After that point, and every time I’ve reread the series, I appreciate him and his journey so much more.

  3. I don’t know – it’s a mix for me. I used to think I was extremely drawn to voice and amazing characters, but plot-driven novels do it for me too. But I do know I’m more drawn to stories written in first person. I’ve been reading some third person POV novels lately and they are very hard to get through.

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