Saturday, June 7, 2008

On characters

(Hey, Doug and CFI: You put on a great writing conference today!)

Had an interesting experience with a book that shall remain nameless, because of being a bit raunchy. I thought it was historical fiction, as in fictional characters in a realistic setting (American history). This was partly my fault, for never having heard of the main characters (I got minor characters Abraham Lincoln and William McClellan okay, though). It was partly the author’s fault for having NO historical notes.

Anyway, I ended up reading a historical novel about real people, all the while believing they were fictional. It made for a weird read. Kept wondering why everyone’s names were spelled weird, and why so many names started with J. On a larger level, the storytelling seemed “flawed,” since it seemed to proceed episodically, with no real structure. The author didn’t seem to have a clear read on the main character’s motivations, and the story ended with him fading off and just dying.

Kind of a lot like most people’s real lives.

I talked to myself about the book for a week or more. Since it was a historical novel, did it fail for not reading like a novel? I decided it was more respectful to tell a real life like a real life, without trying to pigeonhole a complex and interesting character with just a few adjectives, like “proud and ruthless” (though the author should have included those notes!)

It also made me wonder if I should be expecting more from fiction—what I read and what I write. Although I’m not likely to start enjoying or writing stories that fade off and just die, everyone—fictional and real—requires and deserves more than just a few adjectives!

1 comment:

Shirley Bahlmann said...

Interesting comments on fiction/non-fiction. It's interesting that at the writing conference, I categorized myself as being in the creative niche, yet most of my books are non-fiction. I don't like making those pesky reference notes, but now I get a better understanding of why they are so important.