Showing posts with label The Almost Moon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Almost Moon. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Can Handle the Truth

I'm working on a short story I wrote a couple months ago, using it as a way to get my creative motivation running at high idle again after the long holiday interruption.  This story drew some of the best critique notes I've ever received, and I'm referencing them as I revise.

My reviewer talked extensively about the characters.  In the opening scene, the MC does a reckless, dispicable thing.  It's something "normal," "well-adjusted" people may secretly be tempted to do, but should never actually do because the potential for numerous, disastrous outcomes is so blatant.  But MC isn't "normal" or "well-adjusted," and one of my tasks was to make him believable and endearing to the reader.  According to my reviewer, I scored a slam-dunk with the MC.  It was the supporting cast that needs work.

Reviewer said, "There didn't seem to be much of Virginia (a secondary character) beyond the typical wino, but I think you mean for there to be. And I think that’s awesome. I love when a rugged character---someone people usually sneer at, like a wino---has a deeper meaning within them. The fact that she did take (MC) in says she has that, maybe, but I’d like to know for sure. I’d like to see it."

And Reviewer is so right!  I'm now excited about digging deeper into Virginia's character.

The critique went on to discuss a sideline character:  "Now, to me, the irate lady in the parking lot was the most real. Ohh, I wanted to slap her upside the head, but man, I know that woman. Thinks she’s doing good, but goes about it in all the wrong way with all the wrong attitude. It’s a kind of person that frustrates me, personally, to freakin’ death. And so I loved that she was in the story, making me feel that, wanting to stand between her and Rocco (the MC) and tell her to shove her cell phone up her---"

And it was this observation that got me thinking:  What kind of reader am I?

Do I embrace a character I'm reading, accepting them for the person the author wrote?  Or do I judge them, doubting someone would act they way the character is behaving or say the things the character does?  The deeper I delved into these questions, the more I realized my answer is....both.

I thought about The Almost Moon, by Alice Sebold.  I really enjoyed that book and, with absolute abandon, devoured the characters and plots.  I swallowed them whole, relished their tastes and textures, never wishing for a dash of salt or to cut them up into smaller, more manageable pieces.  For me, Sebold showed in that book her mastery as a character-driven author.

Other people in my book club HATED the book.  The most common complaint was readers couldn't relate to Helen, the main character.  They felt Helen was a wholly unbelievable character, since she acted in ways most readers rejected as cruel and unrealistic.

And then I started thinking about The Shack, by William P. Young. (Please brace yourselves for my minority opinions of this book, and be advised of my upcoming spoilers.)

I was completely frustrated by this book and actually threw it across the room when I finished it.  Why?  Because I couldn't believe that Mack spend an entire weekend holed up with the Blessed Trinity -- an exclusive audience with God, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit -- after his five-year-old daughter was brutally raped and murdered -- and he never ever once asked God/Jesus/HolySpirit about the Devil.  Not one question.  Not even, "Did the Devil make the murderer act?"  Mack didn't bring up the Devil's name ONCE.  Sorry, but if I had a whole weekend face-to-face with God, and I was a church-going man who'd wavered in his faith in the wake of such an evil atrocity, I would have wanted to know God's take on the Devil.

So, why do I accept some characters as the authors portrayed them and reject others?  I suppose it depends on the ability of the author to reach me, to unwittingly tap into my past experiences and my brand of reality.

But I also think an author who is successful in winning his character over with the reader is an author who writes that character's truth.  All of it.  I may not like what a character is doing, but if he is acting from the gut of his truth, I'm going to embrace him, and stay engaged in his story, until the bitter end.

Sebold wrote all of Helen's ugly truths, masterfully balancing them out with Helen's compassion and wit. And this is what I have to do with Virginia, in my short story.  Find her truth.  Once I know it, I'll be able to deliver her with more depth and vibrancy than I did in the original draft.  And I think that if Young had been bold enough to explore all of Mack's truths, I would have enjoyed The Shack much more than I did.

So what about you?  What kind of reader are you?  Do you question more often than embrace the characters you read?