Sunday, October 27, 2013

On reading, a novel guide, and unlikable characters

Today's my day to post at YA Outside the Lines. The topic: "reading hungrily." A sample: "I read the way people eat: for nourishment, for pleasure, for life."

In other news, my former agent and current friend Nathan Bransford is launching his guide, How to Write a Novel. I have not yet had the chance to read it, though I've already downloaded it, but I would recommend looking at it for a few reasons. One is that the tone of Nathan's blog, where he has written about writing and publishing for years, is engaging and often amusing, which suggests that this book will be the same. But the main reason is that, as a former client, I had several chances to experience a Bransford novel critique. I always came away from it feeling that my book had been thoroughly and justly analyzed; that I had a lot of work to; and that I could do it. It's not easy to give a novelist a list of umpteen things she needs to do to fix her pet project, yet make her feel energized and confident about tackling those umpteen things, but somehow he managed it. And I saw how my writing improved, so I know he has the insight and instincts ... which he then demonstrated further by publishing three novels of his own, the Jacob Wonderbar series!

I also want to point out a post that appeared recently on Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations blog: Sarah Aronson on unlikable characters. Sarah Aronson said so many things I have been thinking for a while, but she said them better than I ever could. Here are a couple of excerpts to illustrate why I recommend reading the whole thing:

"I want to read stories that offer me something much less safe and perhaps, a little more real or edgy with lots of moral ambiguity."
"Today, many of us are preoccupied with our images and what others say about our work. We ... have access to what our readers think of our creative decisions. Here is the big problem: if we let it infect us too much, it will hurt our work."

Happy reading!


  1. Thanks for sharing the link to the Sarah Aronson post on Cynsations. I agree with many of her points. Much like how we shouldn't worry about how others think about us by the choices that we make and the feelings that we have about certain topics, in ideal writing circumstances, we shouldn't let our fears about how others would interpret our characters' likability keep us from telling an honest story. It's not easy though...I was just searching for something on Twitter the other day and came up with a post written by an industry professional complaining about unlikeable characters.

    1. Not everyone will like everything we do. It's riskier to feature unlikable characters, but can be that much more powerful if we pull it off.