5 Star Review: Characters

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: characters.

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Characters

There’s so much I could write about characters, so I picked just a few things.  Characters in books I rate 5 stars are likeable, evolving, and complex.  Characters are the “who” of the story.  We typically think of them as people, but animals, and even objects can be personified and become characters.

  1. You could describe an ant as hardworking and persistent.  You could write a story about how an ant overcame seemingly impossible odds to find food and feed its colony.
  2. You could write a story about a train that wants to take a trip off of the tracks – oh, wait…that’s called The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper.

But there needs to be someone or something that is the center of the story.  Someone that we can connect to as a reader.  Someone that is likeable.  This would be your POV (point of view) character.  The reader needs to be able to “feel” and “care” for the people telling the story.  Would you go to a random person’s wedding or high school graduation?  Do you cry when you read the obituary section in the newspaper?  If you have nothing invested in these people, then no…you don’t care.  The closer you become with the people, the more you are affected by what happens in “their” life.

I love You.  I hate You.  Either way, I care enough to notice you.

Now, don’t confuse “likeable” with good.  Sometimes the villain is more likeable than the hero – like Hannibal Lector vs Will Graham in Red Dragon by Thomas Harris or Megamind vs Metroman (yes, I know…a movie!).  Sometimes the hero is horribly flawed like Sherlock Holmes – socially inept.  Humpert Humpert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – pedophile.  And if you can make both the villain and the hero likeable, that’s even more awesome.

And likeable certainly does not mean perfect.  Think about it.  Would you want your best friend to be rich beyond belief, gorgeous, athletic, brilliant, and extremely lucky?  And why don’t we also make this person have a few supernatural powers and be the Chosen One.  No, I don’t think you want to be friends with Mary Sue.  Besides the obvious jealousy, readers have trouble relating to a character like that.  You have flaws, therefore your characters should have flaws.

And CLUMSY is not a big enough game changer of a flaw to be the only flaw.  Unless…you plan on your character tripping, smacking into the villain and the villain’s extended knife, which is perfectly positioned to plunge into the heat, and the character dies.  If that happens, I can say, “Man, I’d rather be ugly than clumsy.  At least no one ever died from being too ugly.”  Then, and only then will you get full points in the character department with an otherwise completely Mary Sue character.

The Story of Evolution

There are two types of characters:  those that change over the course of the novel (dynamic) and those that stay the same (stagnant).  Most novels have both characters.  The key to having dynamic characters is to make their evolution from the starting person to the end a very believable transition.  The change in the characters need to be proportional to the situation for it to be believable.  You can either have a lot of minor events that contribute to the change or you can have one major event that triggers a change.

Character trait:  Character is a loyal wife.  Then she has an affair.

  • Believable:  Scene after scene we have the wife doing things without her husband.  He spends no time with her and she grows increasingly lonely, until she meets someone to fill the void – a neighbor.
  • Not-believable:  Husband forgot take out trash.  Wife screws her neighbor when she sees him at his trash can next door.

Character trait:  Character used to love spending all her time with animals.  Not anymore.

  • Believable:  Character quits veterinarian job after own pet dies and there was nothing she could do to save Fluffy.  Every animal she sees reminds her of her dead dog and she can’t bear it.
  • Not-believable:  Character quits veterinarian job because ants have invaded her kitchen and THIS MEANS WAR!  Every animal is a potential enemy now.

A thousand faces

Do you act the same way in front of your parents or your boss as you do your friends?  Your lover?  If the answer is yes, then please find the nearest exit and “get a life”.  teenagers especially treat different people differently.  They might be more joking around their friends.  Quieter around someone they like.  And more conservative (both in dress and speech) in front of their parents.  There might be conflicting information for the reader.

Example:  Suzy tells John that she can’t stand Bobby, but Suzy then tells Bobby that she likes hanging around him.

What does this mean?  It means that either Suzy is hiding her true feelings from John about Bobby or Suzy is hiding her true feelings from Bobby about himself.  To one of these guys, Suzy is honest.  To the other guy, Suzy is a liar.  She is still one person, but has conflicting character traits.  She is complex and that’s how I like my characters.

Readers:  What do you think makes a character likeable?

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5 Star Review: Pacing

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: pacing

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Pacing

Since we’re talking about good pacing this week, I promise that I won’t ramble on like I have with these topics before.  I’ve read quite a few books that suffer from a lack of good pacing.  I think one of the biggest amateur author mistakes is including too much non-relevant information.  There has to be a point to every scene.  Worse is when the pacing slows on the “boring” parts of the characters’ stories and speeds up when the “exciting” stuff happens.  It’s frustrating to read four or five pages about Mindy drinking her morning coffee and then two sentences about how she ran over a guy last summer.  Why couldn’t there be five pages about the hit and run instead?  Even as a flashback, it is much more entertaining than reading about someone eating or driving a car or sleeping.

So, what is the pace of a story?  It is how fast the plot advances in the story.  The plot advances much faster in action scenes than in narratives and the writing on the page should reflect this change.  Let’s start by focusing on this post.  The top section of the post is wordy and the text takes up the entire page from left to right.  It will take you, as the reader, double the amount of time to read these two paragraphs than to read the next two “sections”.

How to speed up the pace:

  1. – Shorter sentences
  2. – Less descriptions
  3. – More action
  4. – Back and forth dialogue.

How to slow down the pace:

  1. – Long, complex sentences
  2. – More descriptions
  3. – Minimal action
  4. – Monologues/narrative

Of course, there needs to be a balance.  Too much white on a page is just as tiring as too little.  I like a very fast pace “thriller” feel to the books I read.  In my mind, if the characters aren’t talking or the characters aren’t moving, then it’s not important.  Long narratives lose my interest quickly and so do long monologues, which tend to happen when the author is trying to “info-dump” through dialogue.  Other readers might enjoy the slower sections of the novel to relax their mind and “take a breather” so to speak.

Books that I thought had awesome pacing:

Books that I thought had problems with pacing

Reader:  Do you like fast paced books, leisurely paced books, or something in between?  Or does it depend on the genre?

5 Star Review: Content Rating

So what is 5 star review?  Well, this is where, as a reviewer, I let you know what makes me rate your book 5 stars – or not.  This week’s topic: content rating

Please note that some things that turn me off to your book as a reader/reviewer turn others on and vice versa.


Content rating – What is appropriate for each age group?

At the moment, books don’t have content ratings like movies or video games on the cover.  The debate as to whether they should is split evenly according to this poll on Hellum.  So how do readers know whether or not there is offensive material within a book without these ratings?  Are there sex scenes?  Graphic deaths?  Make outs or just kissing?  Lesbian/Gay relationships (which I don’t find offensive, but some people do)?  Animal cruelty?  Drugs?

Books don’t have content ratings. Or do they?  Bookstores separate books by more than genre.  In fact, genres are a subcategory when searching for the book you want.  The primary division in a bookstore is age.

There is a section for children’s books, middle grade, young adult, adult, and erotica.  Although there are some books that bend the “rules” of an age group like Go the F*** to sleep, most adhere to what is and what isn’t appropriate for a particular age.  As a reviewer, I mention in my reviews whether I feel like a book is geared towards a particular age group or if it would fit better somewhere else.  I think practically any topic can be in any age group, but I do think that it needs to be handled very differently for each age group.  Please note that what I think is appropriate might be different that what you think is appropriate.  This topic, however, has impacted what I rate a book in the past.  So, let’s break this down, shall we?

Picture/Children’s Books:

Although I don’t typically review picture books on this blog, I will rate them on Amazon.  Picture books are meant for children under five and usually read out loud.  Sensitive topics like death, abuse, divorce, and sex need to be handled with care.  You shouldn’t have a character “die”.  Children don’t understand the concept of someone never coming back.  If they see someone die, then they think that the person is sleeping and not waking up.  Children want to be reunited someday with this person, so probably the best way to handle death is to say that the person went to Heaven, on vacation, or a special place.

As far as sex goes, I really don’t think that any parent wants to explain the physics of sex and making babies to a child.  Kissing is about as hardcore as you can get with this age group without having your book thrown into a fireplace or on the banned books list.  Abuse is a difficult topic but one that I’ve seen handled very well for this age group.  I don’t think that you should ever have the abuse “on screen”.  This is better told and not shown.  The most important thing when handling this topic is to emphasis that abuse is WRONG and the victim (whether a child or adult) is never to be BLAMED.  Like abuse, the important thing to remember when talking about divorce is BLAME.  It is not the child’s fault and parents shouldn’t badmouth each other “on screen”.

Middle Grade:

There isn’t much difference between what is appropriate for picture books and what is appropriate for middle grade books, except when dealing with death.  By this age, children understand that the deceased won’t be coming back.  Children this age still see the world in black/white, so convincing them that a murderer is the good guy or that a parent is evil is a hard sell.  They understand the simple equation that guy + girl = baby and even the parts required to make babies, but keep everything off screen but the kissing.  No naked people.  No touching the nether regions.  Sometimes there are four letter words in this age bracket, but the person who speaks these obscenities is always casted in a negative light or punished for speaking like that.  Likewise with drugs and alcohol.  Don’t glamorize these vices in middle grade books.

Young Adult:  

I’m a real advocate for anything goes in this age bracket.  Well, except hard porn.  Soft porn is okay.  Nipples.  Crotch.  Naked people.  The major difference between young adult sex scenes and adult/erotica is the focus on the scene.  In young adult the focus is on the emotion.  The characters are in love and awkward.  They worry.  They think.  There is more narrating about what the character is thinking than what the character is doing.  In adult/erotica the focus is about performance and orgasms.  The details are in the positions and not what the characters are thinking.

Violence and gore is something that I don’t have much of a problem reading, but many teens and adult fans of this genre don’t enjoy reading.  So, I would say that it’s okay to have someone get shot in the head.  It probably wouldn’t be okay to have the gray brain matter splatter all over someones else’s face and then start describing what it tastes like.  (I do wonder how authors know what things like this taste like.)  Also, animals and children are off limits.  You can kill them, but no torture at all.

Adult/Erotica:

I’ve downrated books in this age bracket for being too safe. When writing a book for children and teens, you should be concerned about what topics to tread carefully with.  When writing a book for adults, you should be concerned about telling the story and not about offending people.  Fade to black during fight or sex scenes makes me feel like you were too lazy to write it.  Sex is exciting.  It is way more exciting that reading about your character’s morning routine after having sex.  I also expect that the characters advance past first base – please don’t make the climax his tongue is her mouth unless this is chick lit.  Obviously, if I were to read an erotica novel that didn’t have graphic sex scenes, the book would be rated poorly.  A book about soldiers in battle should have detailed battle scenes.  Show.  Show.  Show!

TL;DR?

If the book is for people under 18, be careful how you write certain topics.

If the book is for people 18 and older, always show not tell.

Readers:  What rating would you give a book that had teenage characters but detailed sex scenes?  Would it be YA or Adult?  Would you let your kid read Go the F*** to sleep?

100 Follower Giveaway

I’ve only been open since April and already Lizzy’s Dark Fiction has 100 followers.  To say thank you, I’d like to give one of my followers a $10 Gift card from Amazon.com.  This gift card is to the US version of Amazon only.  I will send the giftcard through email.  To enter, simply click the Rafflecopter link.  Goodluck!

Click to use the Rafflecopter.