I’m harder on female characters than I am on male characters.
I came to this realization while reading “These Broken Stars.” If you haven’t read my review of the book, know this…I LOVED IT, but not at first. When the characters first crash landed on the planet where the story unfolds, I must admit that I was annoyed. With Lilac.
Lilac was born of…
This is pretty cool… one reader’s reaction to THESE BROKEN STARS was to realize that she’s a lot quicker to judge female characters for showing weakness than male characters, and come to love a character she’d originally hated.
It’s funny, because I had to constantly resist the urge to make Lilac more competent, to give her secret (and wildly out of character) survival skills so that she wouldn’t be useless in the beginning, to make her totally wow Tarver with her awesome specialness. Amie (who, by the way, never once lost faith in Lilac) can vouch for the fact that I’d occasionally go “I can’t do this, I have to give her a crossbow!”
I loved Lilac, and wanted readers to love her too… and that’s the easiest, cheatiest way to make a reader like a character. It’s Fiction-Writing 101. Make the character good at something, and readers will like him or her. But creating a potentially unlikable character who transforms into someone likable… that’s what I wanted to do.
I knew that many (if not most) readers would judge her for her failings in the first 1/3 of the book. I knew that there were going to be plenty of people who’d make their decision about her character and stick to it to the end. And that was a really tough choice, believe me, and one I may not have stuck to without the support of early readers. (I’m not nearly brave enough by myself.)
Willingly sacrificing some readers in order to provide others the arc you find more compelling is… rough. It involves committing to a level of trust in your readers that takes its toll on your confidence, especially when you can see an easier way out.
But that’s actually what has kind of amazed me since THESE BROKEN STARS came out. Yes, you see people saying things like “OMG I just want to SLAP Lilac!” in that first third. And, of course, there are people out there, I’m sure, who hate her, hate the book, etc. There always are. But I’ve been hearing from more and more readers about how much she grew on them and how much she came to represent for them. In a way I value these transformations of reader opinion even more than the people who say they liked her from the start (though obviously, that makes me glee too!)
As an author there’s absolutely no feeling like doing something that was really, really hard for you to do… and then having readers get it. It’s like a mind-meld. For a few hundred pages, those readers and the author, no matter how much time and distance separate them, are thinking the same thoughts and experiencing the same things.
Which is its own kind of magic.