I’d like to give a warm welcome to my fellow Kensington author, Jim Duncan, author of the up-and-coming DEADWORLD!
She’s as tough as anything haunting Chicago’s streets. But to deal with an inhuman power that won’t stay buried, this FBI agent needs help that comes at an immortal price…
Jackie Rutledge has seen her share of supernatural killers. But her latest murder case is what recurring nightmares are made of. Brutally exsanguinated human victims, vanishing-into-the-ether evidence, and a city on the edge of panic mean that she and her psychic partner, Laurel, are going to need more than just backup…
So Jackie is fine with any help rugged P.I. Nick Anderson can give – even if that includes the impish ghost and sexy vampire who make up his team. But Nick is hiding secrets of his own. And Jackie’s investigation has plunged them both into a vengeful game reaching back centuries – and up against a malevolent force hungry for more than just victory…
Coming April 5, 2011! Preorder DEADWORLD now! (And Happy-Almost-Release Day!)
Jim is going to tell you a bit about the process of writing a broken main character–and stay tuned for a giveaway. Take it away, Jim!
First of all, thanks for having me here on your blog today, Jess. I greatly appreciate the opportunity. A little about myself here before I start. I’m a 40′ish, father of four (eight if you count pets), an aspiring teacher, a fantasy gamer geek, lover of astronomy, most anything paranormal, and I’m married to another writer, romance author Tracy Madison. I’ve been writing since I was 14, but only seriously for the past six years or so. Deadworld is my second completed novel (first was a fantasy I hope to do something with eventually). It’s a dark, urban fantasy (think paranormal thriller), about a struggling FBI agent who gets mixed up in a decades-long vendetta between two vampires.
When I initially approached Jess for this post, I had in mind to talk about writing a character that can be difficult to love or at least feel sympathetic toward. They’re a challenge to write well in my opinion, and likely to read as well. A few days ago, this got pointed out to me in a rather stark fashion, when two reviews, one positive and one negative, wrote their reactions based on either loving or hating my heroine, Jackie. I’m generalizing a bit on the reviews here for the sake of making my point. It got me thinking that I may have a book that people are either going to love or hate based on this singular element.
Strong reactions are good, mind you, but I always hope they’ll tend toward the positive. Why these reactions? Well, Jackie is, at least in the beginning of my story, is a fairly hard person to love. She’s pretty hard-nosed and gruff, and has a bit of an attitude. This is all a thick coat of paint though, that’s covering a cracked shell. Emotionally, Jackie is not a very healthy person. She’s a binge drinker and tends to sleep with guys when she does. Not an endearing quality in a person. However, there’s a reason for it, and the trick, I think as a writer, is to play off these flaws with the motus operandi, such that the reader will end up rooting for them to figure things out before it wrecks their life completely.
This balance will work for some readers, and not for others, as was apparent in the reviews. Broken characters are fun to write. It’s a wonderful source of conflict with which to work, and generates some great roadblocks for the character to have to overcome. Jackie is one of those characters that is her own worst enemy. She’s afraid to deal with her issues, and like any issue, the cover-up is worse than the actual problem.
So, where do you draw the line? At what point does a character’s flaws overcome reader sympathy? That line is fluid for every reader, so honestly, as a writer, you can only draw your own line, and hope that most readers won’t find you’ve crossed it. Fellow urban fantasy author, Stacia Kane has a series with a heroine who is a functioning drug addict. She got some flak for that. How can a drug addict be a hero of the story? How can you like a character like that? The thing is though, her heart is in the right place. She’s a good person, who wants to do the right thing. She may falter along the way, do stupid things, but you want her to succeed, to overcome her faults and become a better person in the end.
This is what is key for the broken character. You don’t love them for the problems they have, but you see what’s underneath and hope they make through them and out to some kind of happily ever after in the end.
Writing characters like this is a challenge, especially I think, in a series, when the development extends over the course of more than one story. Jackie is like this. She’s nowhere near whole again by the end of Deadworld. Did I bring out enough of her good side to offset her issues? That’ll be the key for readers. For some, unfortunately, the answer may be “no”. I’m hoping for most that the answer is yes. I think her issues, as they become known, will be relatable, and thus her outward character more understandable. I get to take it to a place I don’t believe many books go (can’t say much on that without getting spoilery, but it’s in book three, and I’m pumped to write that part). I was a psych major in college, and so delving into emotional issues is a very intriguing part of writing for me. Even though my series is driven by a pretty heavy, external plot, it has, what I hope will be an equally significant emotional storyline of taking this rough and tumble, fractured woman, and seeing her become whole again.
Okay, I’ve rambled on enough here. I’m curious what other reader’s opinions are here on difficult characters and just how bad off they can be before that sympathy line gets crossed and you put the book back on the shelf. Thanks for having me here today, and I hope I’ve peaked folk’s interest in the possibilities of Deadworld.
You can contact me and see more at www.jnduncan.com. Happy reading/writing everyone!
Visit Jim on the web:
Website / Blog / Twitter
Win a copy of DEADWORLD! Just answer Jim’s question in the comments to enter–what are your opinions on difficult characters, and at what point is the sympathy line crossed, making you put the book back on the shelf?
Contest is open to US/Canada until midnight, PST, Monday, April 11th.
(See Ze Full Rulez & Regulashuns here.)