Posted by: Trisha Leigh | April 13, 2011

What Are You Hungry For?

I love French fries. Like, adore them.  I would eat them for 3 meals a day if I had no concern for my health or fitting into my bathing suit in a few weeks.

You're hungry now, aren't you. Sorry about that.

Even though I love French fries, you know what they don’t do? Fill me up. If I ate nothing but French fries, I’d constantly be hungry, wishing I had something more to put in my belly.

Point? Yes, I have one.

Some books are like junk food. They’re tasty and fun and we devour them like huge cones of cotton candy at a baseball game, but…what do they give us? Not nutrition (something that fills our minds and hearts and stays with us in our blood). Not knowledge.

Now, I’m not saying we should never read books that are nothing but fun fluff. I read (and enjoyed the crap out of) Twilight. That being admitted, I recall being frustrated more than once while reading.

I didn’t feel like I was getting what I wanted, what I needed, and it made me throw at least one of those books against the wall. I wanted one singular thing – Edward and Bella to be together. Nothing else mattered. None of the other characters, the world, Forks, not even Bella’s parents. If everyone had died and left only the two of them, but they were happy and together, I would have been satisfied.

I recently finished another series where I felt similarly about the main characters. As with Twilight, I read over 1500 pages in three days just to drink in their happily ever after. The bad part? Halfway through the 3rd book I texted my friend I just want this to be over.

And I meant it.

I wanted what I wanted, what the author made me want, and nothing more.

To some extent I think characters (in this example, the junk food) are a bigger draw than plot, pacing, or setting (perhaps the meat and vegetables of the story).  I would never read 1500 pages of well-plotted, paced books set in a beautiful world if I didn’t care a lick about the characters. In fact I could (but won’t) name at least three beautifully written and tightly plotted books (Look at all those adverbs. I feel naughty) I’ve read in the past 6 months that I won’t be buying the sequels to because I didn’t connect with the characters.

For me, reading books that are predictable and readable and fun is fine…once in a while. Once in a while I stuff my face with ribs and French fries, and spoons full of cookie dough (I did that just a few weeks ago, incidentally). You know what, though? I didn’t feel so good after I was done. Certainly not satisfied. Instead I felt restless and full of too much fluff that was doing nothing for me in the long run.

Relatable, sympathetic characters are important. They’re hard to create, and if you happen to write an Edward and a Bella in the same book, magic happens. The kind of books I would rather read, and the ones I strive with each word to write, are more like balanced meals. The ones with a juicy steak of a plot covered in a world built of sautéed mushrooms, perfectly paired (paced) with a baked potato loaded with emotions and consequences and connection.

See? A complete meal can be yummy too.

And yes. There will hopefully be strawberry pie for dessert – those characters, those voices that suck you in – but not only because you care about what happens to them. They also illuminate the world around them, suffer the impact of their choices, and let us experience the way their stories alter them forever.

What do you think? Do you think the desserts deserve more credit, are they what the public at large wants to read? What kinds of books do you want to write?

 

What I’m watching right this second: The KC Royals try not to lose a ball game in extra innings.

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Responses

  1. I like to read all kinds of “meals” — it depends on my mood. A steady diet of any one kind of book gets monotonous to me, so I like to mix it up.

    Now, I describe the books I write as “popcorn” — light and salty. 😉 I hope they’ll provide a good mind-snack for people not in the mood for something heavier.

    • I agree that variety is the spice of life! I do not, however, like popcorn so I shall think of your books like Cracked Pepper and Olive Oil Triscuits which are perhaps the best salty snack in this whole world.

  2. There are some books that are fluffy and fun. I don’t think characters are my weakness. I fall in love with the world, and will read a book with bad characters just to walk the streets of a beautiful (but fictional) city.

    Fluffy books are fun, cute, but lack depth, character, world building, and actual thought behind the actions. I hate it when an author forces a situation just to make conflict, or dumbs a character down just so they will fight. Conflict should arise as a natural consequence of the choices the characters make.

    I like a book with intelligent characters, good tactics, an intelligent situation, a dose of humor. I like my fiction to be realistic when it comes to emotions and situations. No eyes meeting across a crowded room and dropping your pants three minutes later. No guessing the name of the killer because you found a button.

    • Yes, realism is so important, I agree! I do think you’re somewhat of a rarity among readers, though. most won’t stay with a book or series if they don’t love the characters. Thanks for the comment!


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