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.


Julie_c said...

I think some people get confused between fiction and self-help. If the characters didn't make bad choices or face conflict, then we wouldn't feel as though they've earned their (hopefully) happy ending. We, the readers, are flawed, so who wants to hear the story of Polly Perfect who gets straight A's, the cute boy, and a credit cards to buy cute clothes.

I might want to BE Polly Perfect, but I sure don't want to reader about her.

BTW - is anyone sending links to bad reviews?!?!?

Candyland said...

OMG. I couldn't agree more. I don't like to read about flawless characters, anyway. That is...BORING, yeah. Only word that comes to mind.

Bad choices=learning and evolving as a human.

Forget those reviews.

cynjay said...

Honestly, the reviews themselves haven't been bad - and so far nobody has sent any bad reviews to me directly.

It was just this little point that kept coming up over and over that was interesting.People often like the book, but Lucy's choices drive them crazy.

Candyland said...

Well, people don't always make good choices. Your book is real, something I love.

cynjay said...

Aw! Thanks!

Indigo said...

Perhaps in a perfect world everyone would make the right choice and there would be no hunger, and etc...I think when a book can reflect the choices of a character even bad ones, it sticks close to reality; making it more believable in the end.

To quote Tom Clancy, "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

For me that means a dose of reality, which as we all know includes bad choices. (Hugs)Indigo

Jay Asher said...

That was one aspect of reviews that was very frustrating for me to come to terms with (so it's good to know I have company!). The reviewer may have found the book a total page-turner and well written, but because they didn't agree with my character's actions (which they were never supposed to), they gave it 1 star. Aargh!

As well, some people just think they're way smarter than everyone else. They knew the character's decisions weren't good, they're just afraid other readers won't be as smart as them. (People who think that way are so adorable!)

cynjay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cynjay said...

Great points - Jay, I think you have lots of company.

I just heard from a reader that she really wanted to give the book to a kid in a hoarding situation, but now she wouldn't because of the ending. That was heartbreaking to me because it is those kids who need to know they're not alone. I'd trust them to be smart enough to know it's not a how-to book, or at least use it as a jumping-off point for discussion.

Maggie said...

So true. If books were all full of good choices, absolutely nothing would happen. Bad choices are what keep you wanting to read, in my opinion. They make me want to find out the consequences and everything else that might come out of them. Good choices are predictable and boring.

I, personally, love your book. No bad thoughts from me :D

SWK said...

Agreed. I'm a bit confused. If a character did the right thing all the time, would there be a story? And would your protagonist be a realistic teenager? I recently examined YA novels with titles or themes about lying--another popular teen theme (incl. the award-winning WHAT I SAW & HOW I LIED)-- that is essentially a bad choice!

out of the wordwork said...

Great post! Completely agree - it's the bad choices we learn the most from in the long run, I think. And even if the choice is bad if I, the reader, can believe that in that situation, with everything that happened to the character to that point or if I see how a character has a certain personality trait (shyness, anger, avoidance, whatever) that helps me to see why that choice was made then, bad or not, it is understandable to me as a reader.