Monday, April 12, 2010
Good Characters/Bad Choices
When DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS first came out way back in February, I read every little scrap of information I could find. These days, I don't read as many reviews if only to keep my confidence up for the book that I'm working on. Occasionally though, people send me links to reviews and then I can't help myself. It's like being handed a plain brown envelope and having someone say - this may or may not say that you are awesome. Open it if you want. Against my better judgment, I usually want.
In the reviews lately, I've noticed an interesting trend. Several readers have said that they didn't like the book because Lucy makes bad choices. Um, yeah. That's kind of the point. One reader said recently that I didn't convince her that Lucy's choices were the best. As an author, I'm not trying to.
Most good books are about bad choices. If books were about good choices I can give you a one word review: boring. If DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS were about good choices, lets see how it would go:
Lucy comes home to find her mother dead in their hoarded home. She gasps and cries and then calls 911. She's not afraid to let anyone in, because she reached out for help years ago from her friends and teachers who all know about the problem and support her thoroughly. The paramedics and the police arrive, dig her mother's body out and take her away. Then Lucy calls her therapist and goes to live with her father.
Just taking a look at the bookshelf behind me, I can see so many other examples of bad choices making for good reading.
*Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHT has Bella falling hard for a sparkly vampire that is clearly dangerous to her and everyone around her, yet she keeps him a secret from her parents. Bad choice.
*In Maggie Steifvater's SHIVER, Grace finds a naked, wounded boy on her back porch. Instead of calling the authorities, she moves the werewolf into her bedroom and falls in love. Bad choice.
*In 13 REASON'S WHY by Jay Asher, Hannah internalizes the wrongs that have been done to her and commits suicide after recording tapes so that people will understand why she is so upset. Yet another bad choice.
I could go on. Think about books that you love. I'll bet that there is at least one bad choice in every one of them.
The interesting thing is that teens seem to get that it is only by exploring the bad choices we can see what might have been. It seems to be mostly adults who are having issues with Lucy's bad choices. I am an adult, so I actually get this reaction. While I was writing the book there were so many times that I groaned out loud because of what Lucy was doing. Her entire life is built on a foundation of bad choices by so many people. I wanted to tell her to stop, to reach out to someone, that it wouldn't be as bad as she thought. But that's not my job. My job is to sit back and let my characters make bad choices, and hopefully write a good story.
On this date: In 1861, the Civil War began.