Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Your Character Does something the reader doesn't like...


One of the interesting (sometimes scary) things about being an author is seeing how people react so differently to the same book -the same work.  So full disclosure, yes, I do see reviews. The bad and the good. Sometimes with the bad my feelings are hurt. Sometimes I want to explain myself. Sometimes a bad review hits hard because there’s grains of truth in it. And sometimes I have to shrug and know that people come to stories with their own likes, dislikes prejudices etc. and there’s nothing wrong with their personal reaction to something I’ve written.

When I do classroom presentations to students I show them different reactions to the same book. For example, these are all pulled quotes from THE TRUTH ABOUT US.

This book is wonderful and is guaranteed to make you smile at least 10 times and probably make you cry at least twice. Highly recommended.” (Hurray! I’m not a hack. I make readers smile!)
“Thankfully I'll be burning this one from my memory pretty quickly.” (Damn I suck. I knew I should have stuck to sales)

“Very gripping and well written. Loved the characters.” (Wow! I can write after all!)
“Pretty much everything was lacking in this book: the storyline was cliché and the writing was weak”
(Man. I wonder if Starbucks is hiring)

“What could be a trite tale, in Gurtler's capable hands becomes a wholly believable, sensitive story sure to please fans of contemporary YA.”
I’ll stop at a good review, because EGO but trust, there’s always going to be another indifferent or bad one after a review that makes my heart sing!

Anyhow, it’s interesting to watch the reaction of the kids when I share a bad and a good review back to back like this. The kids usually get really defensive about the bad reviews and try to stick up for me. Mainly I think it’s because I’m right there. I’m talking to them (hopefully) we’re connecting on some level so I’m a real person and they want to defend my feelings.  But I tell them my point is not to make them feel sorry for me (but of course I appreciate their support and concern) but to show them that story effects people in different ways and that’s okay. When you put yourself out there, you have to take the good with the bad.
And sometimes as an author you make decisions that you kind of suspect are going to be unpopular, but it’s the right choice for that character or that storyline.  I’m sure Veronica Roth and Stephanie Myers could attest to this much better than I can for some of the unpopular reactions to their final books in their series.

But this is about Flynn.  And a little bit of explaining myself.
And this post is for people who have already read THE TRUTH ABOUT US.  If you haven’t read it yet, you might want to wait before you read the following. I’ve tried to be non-spoilery…but just in case, you have been warned!

I want to explain that I understand why people are upset. Without spoilers, Flynn  does something in this book that makes some readers unhappy. I didn’t like what he did either but here’s my take on it.  Flynn is not a perfect guy. I hope I kind of allude to that throughout the story. I love Flynn. I see his good and his potential much like Tess does.  Tess is presented to the reader as very flawed, but we get to see her positive changes as she grows in the story because it’s told from her point of view. 

But in the end, Flynn does something that he KNOWS is wrong too. To me, he’s acting much like Tess, he’s turning to self-destructive behavior to cope. And it’s how he’s coped with life hardships in the past so it’s familiar. But he knows it’s wrong. He’s not a bad person, he regresses and he makes a mistake. And realizes he wants to change.
And that’s kind of what I think the story is about. We all make mistakes. Can we be forgiven for those?

That’s kind of what I hope the reader can think about when they hate what Flynn does.  Do mistakes always make us bad people, or do they make us good people who do bad things, and can these mistakes be something we can learn, grow and change from. 

For some people the answer might be NO.  And that’s okay. His behavior might be unforgiveable to them. And that’s okay.  People come to stories and situations with their own experience, beliefs and feelings.  Maybe it’s something I didn’t do well enough as an author to change their view, maybe it’s something else.
But I’d like explain how it worked for ME.  I forgave Flynn. I understood why he did what he did, and it was to hurt or punish himself.  Being caught made him realize that he was also hurting others. And he cared enough to realize that he was being a jerk and that he cared enough to try and work past it and to try and see if he could ask for forgiveness.

And the reader gets to decide whether or not they can forgive him.  But I hope you can think about it a little and understand it wasn’t thrown in there to disrespect girls or their trust.

I guess I do care enough about Flynn and Jess to know why you’re mad.  But I also know why he did what he did. And to me there was a reason for it. And I believed that Jess was right to forgive him, because she believed in him too.
And in my mind, he will be true to Jess from now on. ;)





  1. I'm glad you put your thoughts down here about that... I agree that sometimes the characters are going to do something that we the readers don't like. The thing is, sometimes that needs to happen. If your character is going to stay true to the personality that they have developed, then they will sometimes do things that will tick off the reader ---- if they don't then it's a pretty boring book. I may not have liked his decision, but you know what? I can totally see why he did it. People mess up - that's life - and they don't stop messing up magically and all of a sudden. I'll be interested to see what others think!

    1. I agree. The type of books I like to write are about real things and sometimes real is messy. I do appreciate that readers may not always agree and that's okay! I am a reader too so I get it. I hope it's a good thing when books cause a reaction, because it means people are invested.

  2. Reviewing is such an interesting thing... it's so subjective, and I still can't fully explain why I might or might not like a book. I mean, I know I read for character, and I know I like certain genres and tropes more than others. I can usually explain better why I don't like a book (a specific something turned me off it, etc), but to fully describe why I like something? It's hard sometimes! And it's still strange to me to see a scathing review for a book I love (or a great one for a book loathed), even though I fully understand how personal reading is... it's like "but HOW can you feel that way?!" So I can only imagine how much more personal it is when it's YOUR book, something you put out in the world.

    I think in terms of forgiving characters there are lines, and there are specifics in situations... personally I like reading about character growth and as long as you can see remorse in a character and/or a reason for why they're acting a certain way, I can usually get on board with it. I do prefer happy/hopeful endings in books, so as long as we're getting there I'm ok. Life is about change and growth, so it would be fake if books didn't have that as well. On the other hand, it goes back to that personal level of reading -- maybe something a character does triggers something in someone, maybe they're reading it at the wrong moment, reacting to something in their life -- or maybe they just can't accept it. Who knows, it's a very fine line for some people.

    ANYWAY, as this post long comment proves, this really got me thinking. :)

    1. Thinking is a good thing...unless it's the middle of the night and you can't sleep. ;)

      Yeah. I know it happens to me as a reader too but that's why I think we take our own experiences with us into a book. And I guess as an author, we know why characters do things because we know so much more about them, and our job is to try and make the reader empathize. Sometimes it's maybe not done as well as it can be and sometimes well, people do have their own biases etc.

      And that's the thing about it. It's okay for people to react differently. :)