Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Talking With Readers

One thing I've loved about my new job is talking books with one of my co-workers. She's a big reader who ranges from literary to all things Harlequin. The perspective of someone who reads but doesn't write is fresh for me. Now another co-worker started reading a book and was telling me how mad she was at a male character over how he treated the heroine.

The depth of her immersion in the story was inspiring for me because last week she'd mentioned that the story was confusing at times due to an abundance of characters.

Yet that didn't stop her from rooting for the heroine.

How do I make a story like that? One that, despite its weaknesses, ensares a reader to the end?

There are lots of rules on how to do it, but sometimes I think it comes down to voice.

What was the last book you read that put you in tears or made you mad at a character? Any insight on how the writer did it? Do you talk books with nonwriters?

29 comments:

Isis Rushdan said...

I finished reading one book even though I thought the protagonist wasn't very likeable. Along the way, I kept asking myself why I was still turning the pages. It came down to several factors: although I didn't like the protagonist, I felt sympathy for her; the voice was amazing; the mystery woven into the plot hooked me.

Having non-writers as beta readers is very helpful.

Jessica Nelson said...

Isis, great insight! Rooting for the unlikable character...now that's a post. ;-) Thanks for stopping by!

KC said...

I like discussing books with non-writers...you get a different perspective. The last book that i read that made me cry was The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks...awesome book in my humble opinion. I cried because i thought she recapped her life with such detail and i felt like i was actually in the scene.

Deb Shucka said...

I talk books with anyone who'll engage with me. :-)

I just finished Chevy Stevens' newest book, Never Knowing. It is a compelling mystery, but I never quite liked the narrator. I found her to be a bit whiny and dumb. The mystery itself, and the tension, was enough to get me to finish the story.

Great, insightful post.

Sandra Orchard said...

I don't cry easily...and prefer books that make my heart pound, or ache, or that make me life.

But your post reminded me of some great advice to writers I read recently, "Make your readers cry so your heroine doesn't have to."

Erica Vetsch said...

I love to talk books with readers who aren't writers. They're much more forgiving and accepting than a lot of writers, because writers have been schooled to edit, whereas readers just want to love a story.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Oh I get mad at characters all the time if they've written the bad guy well.

And cry, hmmm. I almost cried at the beginning of These is My Words.

~ Wendy

Lisa Jordan said...

I loved Christa Parrish's Home Another Way. The female character was cranky, but it really fit her personality. The richness of the words and the conflict kept me turning pages. It's one of my all-time favorite books.

I'm quick to tear up at times while reading. I had social anger at the injustice in The Help. That's another book on my keeper shelf.

Jessica Nelson said...

KC, I love that title but have never heard of the author. I might need to keep a look out for that. Thanks for the comment!

LOL Deb, me too! And interesting thoughts about the narrator.

Sandra, that sounds like good advice. A crying heroine doesn't go over so well, I think. I know I have trouble writing mine crying. It always feels awkward.

Jessica Nelson said...

Yes Erica! Exactly. It's really enjoyable to just talk story and not necessarily the construction of it, if that makes sense?

Wendy, never heard of that, but LOL at you getting mad!

Lisa, I want to read both of those books!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, man, you've got me thinking here, Jessica. I'd have to say that I need to have great empathy for one of the characters to keep reading if I can't relate to one of the other main characters. There are way too many great books out there calling to me, that I don't have time to waste reading ones that don't resonate.

Jessica Nelson said...

I know, Eileen. I just had to put a book down. The premise interested me but the execution was so slow and I just couldn't relate to the main character. I always feel like I'm betraying an author when I don't finish their book. (even though I don't know the author)

Jessica R. Patch said...

One thing I love about book club, I jot mental notes when they talk about why they love and don't love a character.

One of them said, "I don't like it when the female MC whines the whole book about something. Even if it's something serious. I want her to move on."

I agree. I'll stick with a main character as long as she doesn't boo hoo the entire time.

I'll follow a character I detest, as long as they're interesting (I can detest and still be interested) and doing things I can relate to emotionally.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jessie, I think it's neat that you and your coworker are able to talk about books. As a writer, I learn so much from readers about what they want. For them story is most important. As Erica said, they don't judge us as harshly on craft as we tend to judge ourselves, which is freeing.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Patti Lacy's Rhythm of Secrets has an antagonist you love to hate.

And I recently quit reading a book midstream because the characters were insipid. Sigh.

Yes, I talk books with non-writers. It's interesting to discover how they think and what they enjoy.

Aly Brown said...

Jess, The Center Cannot Hold is a wonderful book. It is perhaps the best book I've ever read to capture the essence of what it is like to live with schizophrenia. I highly recommend it both for its insight and its voice.
I'll be your non-writing voracious reader anytime! I think I missed my calling as an editor - I only get to do it for my son's English papers, LOL.

Loree Huebner said...

I always force myself to read through, even if I don't connect to a book. I've been surprised in the end a few times.

I have finished many books in tears, and also, with a slam down on the desk.

Anita Grace Howard said...

What a great post! THe book that made me cry the most, out of all of the ones I've ever read, was Angela's Ashes. And yes. The voice was POWERFUL. Witty, sardonic, and poignant, all in one. Pretty amazing feat. ;)

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh Anita, as you know I couldn't read past the third chapter of Angela's Ashes. I put it down bawling and have not been able to bring myself to pick it back up again. But all those words you used for his Voice, yes, they're true. It was all of that.

Loree, I used to force myself to read through hoping it would be a jewel in the end but lately...*sigh*...they've been duds and I can't bring myself to do it anymore.

Jessica Nelson said...

Jessica, great points! That's true, interesting trumps unlikable every time. :-)

Keli, it's wonderful! I really look forward to it.

Jessica Nelson said...

Ooooh, Jeanette, I like that word insipid. :-)

Aly, I'll talk books with you anytime! In middle school I read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, which I think dealt with schizophrenia. I really loved it. I'll have to check out Center. Thank you so much for popping by. I love hearing from you. :-)

Janet, said...

I also like talking with non writers about books. They like or dislike the book because of the story or characters, not because of the way it is written. I have this bad habit of editing everything I read.

Linda Kage said...

That's one thing I miss about working at the public library. There used to be this little old lady who loved to read cozy murder mysteries. And every time she came in, she'd say, "I'm back to kill off someone else."

Sarah Forgrave said...

Funny, This post reminded me of something that just happened this weekend. I was doing research in Amish country and was sitting in a restaurant lobby waiting to meet someone. This lady next to me commented about the notes I was jotting, and I told her I was a novelist. Next thing I knew, she gushed on and on about all the Harlequin books she reads and she gave me some book ideas to write, LOL. Pretty sure I won't write them, but it was fun nonetheless to chat and hear her perspective on what makes a good book. :)

Bethany C. said...

Sadly, I don't remember the last book that did this--which is probably why I'm so irritable lately. (IT'S NOT HORMONES!!)

Anita suggested I swing by your blog as you have stolen the lion's share of her heart. I'm glad I did. I like it here :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jess -

Since I've got a recommendation pending for the last book that provided a strong emotional reaction, I won't mention it here.

I'll put up with all sorts of difficulties if the story grabs me. (I hasten to add the above-referenced story was well written.)

Blessings,
Susan :)

Karen Lange said...

Ann Gabhart's The Seeker had me in tears, and I don't normally cry over a book. Jody Hedlund's The Preacher's Bride was another one. :)

Nancy said...

L.M.Alcott always makes me cry. She akes me cry over the same spot every time. It is the way she mixed the words that have a double meaning with God, and the present situation. I always say I won't cry there. I forget the exact words and I cry. So it must be a masterful mix of meaning of words and plot situation that does it.

Adriana said...

Great post! You made a great insights and point of views. Thanks for sharing.