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Friday, December 19, 2014

Novel Characters

I realize many authors avoid reading reviews, because mixed in with legitimate readers skulk the dreaded ‘Book Killers’, well documented non-readers there for one purpose – knock down sales of a novel gaining popularity. I’ve done blogs explaining who does this and why with news articles, and even admissions from publishing house interns. I would rather discuss the readers who find something disenchanting about an author’s wares.

Every now and then I will get either a review or e-mail claiming my characters from series to series are the same. It would be silly for me to defend the different main characters’ personalities in John Harding’s Hard Case series, Nick McCarty’s Cold Blooded series, Mike Rawlins' new adult Demon series, or Rick Cantelli’s P.I. series - or for that matter the main characters in my many stand alone novels. They all have distinguishing features, but they do also have many similar ones, especially in parts of their belief systems. They are loyal to a fault, violent, and love America. They many times fight similar enemies, because the world around them at this time is fighting a common enemy, Islamists – but they also battle common street thugs, serial killers, child predators, and other assorted bad people.

Let me defend the similarities this way. I grew up reading Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mickey Spillane, Donald Hamilton, John D MacDonald, Ian Fleming, and a host of other writers in a similar vein. The ones who wrote a number of series like Howard and Burroughs, naturally built them around larger than life, pulp fiction heroes. A reader finishing Burroughs’ Tarzan series, Mars series, and Pellucidar series for example would find very similar characteristics amongst his main characters, as indeed the reader would in Howard’s Conan, Solomon Kane, and El Borak to name only a few. I looked forward to those heroic pulp fiction characteristics whenever I started one of their works.

Real reviews make me think and question, but they won’t make me change. I have no intention of ever creating a mentally tortured main character like many of Hemingway’s characters or Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure – again, just to name a couple. Hemingway and Burroughs wrote in nearly the same time period, as did Howard, although Robert E Howard unfortunately took his own life at an early age. They chose to write in different genres, and while I liked some of Hemingway’s works (The Old Man and the Sea was my favorite) I loved everything Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E Howard wrote. If Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure in this day and age for the Amazon marketplace, I would know within minutes of perusing the ‘Look Inside’ feature that ‘Jude’ was not for me.

To my writer friends, don’t avoid the reviews because a few book killing trolls appear. It means you’ve gained popularity. Also don’t change what you love to write because avid readers make criticisms of what you do. There will always be readers who didn’t sample your wares in the ‘Look Inside’ feature, and decide to take a few legitimate shots at you based on their legitimate outlook. Enjoy them all. It means people read what you wrote, and even if they didn’t like it, the content prompted them to make time for writing a review. We write to above all else please ourselves. Otherwise the editing would drive us to the brink of insanity.  :)


Charles Gramlich said...

Many have commented on Howard's "sameness" of heroes to me but if you read closely they are different. Same is true of the Bernard batch of heroes. I can imagine most of them would like each other if they met, but the differences of their personalities is clear.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I think the 'sameness' tag seems to only apply to certain genres, Charles. No one discusses the 'sameness' in the sacred 'literary fiction' category. In college, many literary authors' works were mandatory, and many I read because I ran out of 'pulp' on board the Ranger. I'm probably getting too old to remember, but I've been trying to think of a single upbeat character or actual happy ending in any of the 'literary works' I read of depression era 'literary authors'. The older classics created for instance by Charles Dickens did combine upbeat heroic characters with tragedy. I had to read many Thomas Hardy novels. The man's stories made me want to go out and shoot myself in the head. :) Thanks, my friend. I still want you to write a paranormal novel starring a professor with ESP, crime solving type abilities, combined with your many humorous classroom student interactions. :)

Vesper said...

I've seen so many reviews where it was pretty obvious that the reviewer hadn't read the book properly. There are people who read a lot of books for reviewing but to read so quickly means only that they will be probably missing details.
At the same time, I remember this from a book of writing advice: you should not expect that the reader will read everything and catch all the details that you've put in your story... Food for thought...

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I never expect a reader to see everything that was going on inside my head, Cora. In fact, I'm pleasantly surprised when readers do pick up on many of the things I intended, Cora. I don't think there's a proper or improper way to read a book. There are skimmers, line edit grammar nuts, folks who read the endings first, and other readers who pour over a book two or three times if they've enjoyed it. The ones who actually read the novels come up with points, good and bad. I enjoy them all, and I don't mind interacting with them, even the 'Book Killers'. It's a rough business. To survive in it we have to have Rhino hide. :)