The Chief Means of Marketing – Part 5


What makes a novel interesting? What makes a blog post interesting? (And don’t forget, interesting is one of the necessary ingredients if what we produce is going to be buzz worthy).

I don’t think the answers to those two questions are necessarily the same. Fiction, I’m convinced, is interesting primarily if the story is interesting. Perhaps you’ve read here more than once Story trumps all.

But even saying that, there may not be agreement about what makes a story interesting. Some will say it’s the characters. Others will say it’s the plot. Still others will say it’s the way the story is told—the language the author uses. A smaller minority might say stories are interesting if they take the reader to a new place or show them something new about the world, life, history.

The main thing that each of these seem to have in common is the new factor. Yet writing instructors will say time and again, there are no new stories. I’ve read on blogs and in instruction books that there are ten basic plots. When I was in school, we learned there were five basic themes.

Off hand, one might think science fiction or fantasy has the easiest road, for surely those of us writing in the speculative genres have the newest, oddest, strangest stuff with which to construct stories.

But therein lies a danger. New for the sake of new isn’t interesting either. And new that is so odd it doesn’t seem to connect to reality isn’t interesting. In other words, readers want something new but familiar, and something different because the story requires the difference.

In addition, I’m more and more convinced that readers will become attached to a story primarily if they become attached to a character. What, then, makes a character interesting?

Again, if you brought in a hundred fiction writers, you might have a hundred different answers, but here are some broad brush strokes that I believe are needed to make a character interesting.

1) He or she must want something. And the story must be about them going after what they want. Without that central something that the character is trying to achieve, find, win, readers have no reason to be in the protagonist’s corner, hoping and fearing with him or her.

2) He or she must have some admirable qualities. It seems so much emphasis is being put on making characters seem real, some authors are forgetting to make the character likable or admirable. One of the complaints of the movie Prince Caspian was that the screenplay writers changed Peter from a noble character to one with angst. Fortunately other characters were still depicted with strengths, so movie goers didn’t seem to have a problem backing the side of good.

3) He or she must have some weakness. This is the point that has become blown out of proportion, in my opinion, but the answer isn’t to swing the pendulum clear to the other side and depict characters that are unnatural in their goodness. Plots aren’t interesting if they have no conflict, and characters aren’t interesting if they have no internal struggle.

OK, there are other factors, but I’ve gone on too long as it is. Your turn. What makes a character interesting?

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 2:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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