Determining What Readers Want


I was between books. Nothing in my to-be-read pile seemed quite right, even the half dozen books I’d started. I found my way to the library and checked out a novel by an author I’d met. It wasn’t in my normal genre, but I was OK with that because I find it to be a nice change of pace now and then to read something different.

The next day, however, a book arrived that I’d been waiting for. I ripped open the package and read the first two chapters during lunch.

So now I had two books going. Two books I wanted to read.

And which one did I choose? The one with the character I liked better. Never mind that it used considerable jargon I didn’t understand or that it didn’t read as smoothly as the other one.

Please note, I didn’t sit down and analyze the characters to decide which book to read. I simply went with the one I felt like reading. At first I chose the one I thought more appropriate for putting me to sleep since I was reading right before bedtime. But the next time I chose, I reached for the same book. Finally it dawned on me, that’s the book I really wanted to read the most.

Why was that?

I looked at the various fiction elements in both books and knew. One character I liked and the other irritated me.

The one I liked wasn’t perfect, mind you. He was doing some dumb things and suffering the consequences. But he didn’t appear to be arrogant; he didn’t treat others as if they didn’t matter or were an inconvenience to him.

I suspect I tolerated and even felt empathy for him in the midst of his mess because I liked him. I’ve tried to pinpoint the likable qualities.

One thing that stands out is how other characters treated him. A good number were patient with him, were willing to help him and counsel him—even some family he pushed away. There was also a selfish character who pushed him away, which made me feel for him and like him all the more.

In fact that loss and another one of note, made him seem vulnerable.

At the same time, he had a number of admirable qualities. He was responsible and brave and selfless. And when he blew it, he was remorseful.

He wasn’t cocky or arrogant, yet he had a problem with pride. He wanted to be in charge, to rule what he couldn’t rule. But he wasn’t a bully or a snob. His problems put other people in jeopardy, but he suffered too.

Often times, I think I like a book for the story. I say with some frequency that story trumps all. But what I’m learning is that a good character makes the story. If I can’t connect with the character, then I have little interest in seeing him try to save the day or woo the girl or become a man.

Ho-hum, I think, a book with a protagonist I don’t connect with might still be good for one thing. It might put me to sleep. 😉

Published in: on March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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