I just finished reading an eBook. It had too many grammar and spelling mistakes, enough of them to distract the reader from the story. The plot wandered a bit, and there were too many unresolved issues at the end of the book. It might sound strange to say that I loved the book, but I did, and I have put it on my list to read again in the near future.
Some of you are probably reading the paragraph above for the second time and wondering what you missed. Whenever I read a book, especially by a new author, I don’t approach it like an English teacher grading papers. What I’m looking for is a story with engaging characters I will care about. If I become hopelessly in love with Amanda─ who has just turned eighteen and feels that her life is over because she finished high school─ the author has done something remarkable because he has engaged my emotions with his characters. To put it another way, we like to read about characters we like, just as we want to hang around with likable people. This is not to say that the characters shouldn't have faults. My closest friends have faults, but the things that engage us with a real person are subtle enough that it is not easy to define, nor is it easy to put into a book. I don’t know any perfect people, but if I did it would be intimidating enough that I wouldn't want to hang out with them. I once worked with a man who was too hard on himself. At odd moments he confessed all of his shortcomings and wanted to know what he could do about them. If he was slicing cake for the morning break, you would get the biggest piece as he self-flagellated himself over his latest failing. The next time your story doesn't seem to be working, examine your characters to see what motivates them. Are they more intelligent than they should be, too attractive, do they know how to solve every problem without any hesitation? And the most important quality of all, will your readers love them, like them, care to the point where they would give up watching their favorite ball game just to listen to them pour out their heart and ask for understanding?
There has been a lot of attention lately on the forthcoming sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird. Think about the characters in that novel. We see all of their flaws and faults, which is what the story is all about. Even the ones like Atticus Finch who tries to present a facade of perfection to his children, have flaws, even though we might not immediately be able to point them out. Literature is supposed to be a reflection of real life. Put your characters under a microscope and study their flaws. How real are they? Will I love them just as you do? Then go and show it to your readers in the same way a teen will try to draw attention to his date at a Valentine’s party. The next time one of you want me to read your story and tell you what I think, I'm going to listen for the sigh at the end of your request. If you aren't presenting your story because you love your characters and for no other reason, I probably won’t like it either.
Have a great afternoon and happy creating.