Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rough Around the Edges

My friend has some books coming out this year from a division of Harlequin. She writes erotica. I have read her work. She's a talented writer with a lot of skill, but I can't stand her work. More accurately, I can't stand her characters.

Her characters are all fabulously rich. They are stunningly attractive (normal for erotica, I suppose). They are all highly educated and well-read. Most of all, they are masters of snappy dialogue. To me, what they are saying is drowned in their terribly witty exchanges.

I'm not saying these are bad characters. But I doubt anyone actually appreciates them for who they are. I suspect most readers who like books with characters like these want to be these rich, beautiful, smart, witty people. That's why they'll read them, and like them. There's nothing wrong with this, nothing wrong with liking these sorts of characters.

But I prefer characters that are more realistic. People who stutter and misspeak and get frustrated when others don't understand. People who can't quote Shakespeare, or who didn't even graduate high school. People with scars, weirdly-shaped noses, bad acne, dry hair. The poor, the broken, the angry, the sullen.

Case in point: Annie Proulx's long-form story Brokeback Mountain. Generally considered an amazing story and a heartbreaking tale of love lost. The two main characters in Brokeback Mountain are uneducated. They're not gorgeous. They're inarticulate. All-around rough sorts.

Writers, especially writers who are just starting out, tend to write characters that are similar to themselves ( in my college creative writing classes, there were zillions of stories about young, educated, terribly intelligent people having to work crappy jobs, and feeling contempt for everyone else in the mediocre rat race) . But we have to remember, stories don't just belong to people like us. They belong to everyone. So reach out and explore all those others and learn their stories as well.

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