Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Monkeys Behaving Badly - Writer Versus Character Versus Audience

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Something came up at my critique that completely caught my fascination. I was writing a scene in a short story where it’s apparent to the reader that my hero’s boss was actually Jack the Ripper. The hero of the story would never even consider that a possibility. But I was told that if the hero doesn’t make the same leap as the reader, it won’t be believable.
Are you with me, so far?
So as the writer, do I write the scene for the audience? Or do I write the scene for the character?

For all of my writing career, I chose my characters over my audience. I follow the characters in my books, I let them dictate to me how they react to the story I’ve plotted. I’m a pantser, but only up to a point. I know what needs to happen, and I whip characters when I need to, but I also honor their reality.

Should I?

One of my terrible habits that I need to break is writing only for myself. I write what I think is cool, what I want to read about, what I want to experience. Audience? What audience? I am an audience of one. I got a steely-cold lesson about this when I wrote a book for my daughter, without really keeping the audience in mind. You know what? She couldn’t read it. Not a bit. And she wasn’t too shy about telling me. Ouch.
So yes, if I want to continue to publish books, I need to consider the audience. Audience definitely trumps writer, I think. But what about audience versus character?

Ideally, sure, you’d have both. Characters that react like the reader expects and that the reader likes. But aren’t people cool who don’t always do as they’re told? Being human is part Divine wisdom, part Pride and Prejudice politeness, and part monkey, throwing poop. 
Flat characters bore me. Characters who know as much as the reader bore me. What I like? Complex, conflicted characters, struggling to be good, but choosing to be bad, then living with the consequences. Who is more interesting, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?
What did I do in my Jack the Ripper story? I had the character think his boss might be a murderer, then reject the idea. I threw a bone to the reader. ‘Cause I’m a good little soldier.
But deep down, I think character trumps reader. Character and story - if you are true to those twin gods, I think the readers will tag along and be grateful for the truth.

About the Writer: YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer. When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs. His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012.  Most recently, his work appears in the steampunk anthology The Penny Dread Tales Volume III.