There are two reasons people read: to escape, and to experience. The purpose of reading for me has always been to experience. I don’t care to experience the same thing over and over again, either. I don’t need to like the characters I read about. I have a deep desire to read about all types of personalities and experiences, even if they make me uncomfortable. In fact, it’s better if they make me uncomfortable. It challenges me mentally, forces me to open my mind to new things. I’m not self centered enough to believe my experience is the only one that’s valid. There is a lot of bumping and pulling out of feathers over this in the indie book world. And unfortunately, I see it more in indie than in trade. Over and over I read comments that say, “I hated this character and therefore I hated this book!” “I couldn’t find anything redeemable about this character…”
What I really want to ask you is: Do we have to? Maybe. If that’s your thing. But, perhaps reading is the experience of experiencing. The opening of your eyes to new things. People have a habit of telling me their life stories. Every gory detail too. And I can’t say I’ve always liked the people who share the nitty gritty details of their lives with me. While most are wonderful people, some of them are deplorable humans. However, I find their stories fascinating. Beautiful. Tragic. It happened to you, and I want to know about it. Most of the time, after hearing their stories, it is very apparent as to why I don’t like them. Life burned them, and changed them. And sometimes you have to change to survive. Congratulations on surviving, friend.
So, when I write stories this is what I do. I’m not trying to write characters that every women can relate to. And I am definitely not wanting my characters to be so normal, and so predictable that they make you as a reader feel comfortable. I respect you more than that. I want to give you something different each time. I want the sheltered woman to see through the eyes of a broken woman. I want the woman who always made the right decisions for her life to read about a woman who didn’t. Who the hell wants to read about someone who would do the exact same thing as you? If you do then I am definitely not the author for you. What I do want you to feel is compassion. Familiarity. I want to push you to think about your own choices. Why? Because as a society we don’t think enough. We have television, and movies and magazines to think for us. We like body types, and fashion, and faces that the media pushes at us. We hardly know ourselves. And sometimes a good book will allow you to know yourself a little bit better. Whether than means you’re relating to a villain, or you’re sympathizing with a fool. Know yourself! Push yourself! Read books that blow up the walls in your mind and leave wide open spaces. Or just read. Whatever.
Nahir Fernández says
I spend a lot time of my short life reading things that were okay, they didn’t make me wanna be a better person or make me feel more things, they just were okay, but then, I found The Opportunist and I fell so in love with the book that I found myself reading the whole saga in a week, I was introduced in this amazing and new world that you create. I’m that tipe of person who reads for experience and I think that I understand everything you said here. I just want to say that you are amazing and if one day i become a writer I want to be half as good as you are now.
Please never stop writing.
Teresa Mazon says
That’s a really interesting observation. Whether people read either to escape or to experience. I think I mostly read to experience, I want to most of all be challenged by different points of view and personalities. I like disturbing, difficult reads that address my blind spots. But since I have chronic pain, I also read sometimes to escape the constant awareness of physical pain. No wonder my favourite books are the ones drenched in raw emotions, like yours. They can sometimes distract me from my own experience, because I become totally enmeshed into the characters’ experiences. I totally understand what you are saying here about reading to experience. I am totally fascinated by how much or how little sometimes people are changed by their experiences. In your books, we saw Olivia changing a lot, Leah however didn’t change in the least. Perhaps I found your books touching my soul because of this. People also tell me their stories (they choose to do this, and pay me for it, as I am a psychologist/therapist), and my job is to help them to see the possibility of change. Still, that is probably why I am addicted to fiction, because then I am allowed to be judgemental, even though, I seldom are. I could still feel sympathy and even empathy for Leah. But she had the wrong kind of love for Caleb. Olivia (and Senna at the end) understood the need for real love to be selfless. Leah never got this. Ohhhhh how much I’d loved to work with Leah!!!!!
Bibi Johnson says
I read to escape (living in West Africa is not for the faint of heart), to learn (diverse subject matters), and lastly, to experience.
I neither have to love a book character nor understand the rationale behind their behavior, what I do want is, prose, plot, characters, atmosphere, that are intelligently written and structured. That being said, should I choose to dislike a character because of their personality then that’s okay (imo), more than this, should I choose to dislike the book because of this, then that’s okay. There’s really only so much insipid characterization one can accept. Women who grow instantly wet on seeing a good looking man? Come on. Men, who seem carved from GQ covers? Sigh. Writers who are prolific in churning out much of the same? Sorry, but I can’t deal.
In a previous post, you advised writers to hone their craft by reading Stephen King’s On Writing. That how a book is written is just as important as the characters. Tarryn, let’s be honest, most writers are not in your league (pick any genre). I’ll be honest, Mud Vein was my least favorite of your books yet I read 6 hours non-stop (without electricity, I might add) to finish it. The writing was superb, I just couldn’t deal with Senna and the lack of dialogue.
In conclusion, give me a book, any book- even a children’s book- and I’ll be your friend for life but I reserve the right to jettison such should the author fail to acknowledge the reader’s intelligence and depth of knowledge. I simply cannot simper and cower, regardless how mind blowing the story is.