What do your readers feel?

I have a policy. No bad reviews.

Why? Because I would no more tell a writer their book is flawed, than a new mother her baby is ugly.

And I do not plan to give a bad review today. However, I learned something very important this weekend and I wanted to share it with y’all.

I’m sure, you like myself you have an arsenal of “how to” books on writing. Books on the plotting or writing by the seat of your pants. I’ve been reading a lot about structure and plotting but this weekend I figured out something.

I figured out why some books with no structure, less than perfect grammar, without a plot to play in, is often times loved by readers.

After spending the entire weekend reading a long  fiction book, with a lot of 5 star review from Amazon readers. I discovered why some books make it when they are about as structurally sound as a beach house after a hurricane.

This book did not live up to the 5 star hype. About 70% through the book I stopped and wondered why I didn’t care for the book.

  • Story? Nope, I’ve read about abuse and survival before. Subject didn’t bother me.
  • Missing plot? No good plot thread, could see the reflector stripes leading the way.
  • Editing? No problem I could find. Well written.
  • Characters? No, they were 3D easy to picture,  but…

Then it hit me, it was the characters. The characters were not likable! They were sweet, handsome, loving, scary, nasty pick an adjective but I could not root for either of them much less the MC. I even found it hard to hate the nasty, bad guy. By the time I finished the book I was relieved to reach the end. I had no satisfied feeling, no ah ha moment, no happiness for the MC, just glad the ordeal was over.

So my take-away from all of this is the most important thing in a book or story is:

A character the reader can love or hate!

If we love a character we will forgive a bunch of faults. Just like that crazy on Aunt who ruins the holidays, but God life would be boring as hell without her.

It’s important to give our readers someone to love, or hate. But never, For the Love of God, never give the reader someone to feel ambivalent about.

Make the villain so nasty the reader needs to take a shower, the lover so hot the reader is frustrated, the damsel in distress that the reader cries for her. Tough job. Here are some links to help.

I love comments, almost as much as I love clicks, so after you pass this on to your Facebook and Twitter pals remember to tell me what you think.
If you’re not already, please follow me @jeancogdell on Twitter or jean.cogdell on Facebook!

23 thoughts on “What do your readers feel?

  1. Hi Jean, I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m enjoying browsing. This post struck a chord because I’ve always felt that no matter how formally excellent a book was, I just couldn’t like it if I didn’t like the characters. One example that springs to mind is The Great Gatsby, though I was too young when I read it! Anyway interesting post and it got me thinking about why characters engage us more than other elements of a story—does it speak to some shallow human chauvinism that only allows us to connect with things we think are like us?! A moral problem but perhaps an aesthetic necessity… Anyway thanks for making me think, Daniel

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Or connect with things we hate and abhor, grateful to watch or read from a distance. That would explain the success of works like Hannibal and The Shinning. Thanks so much for taking time from your busy life and leaving a comment. Much obliged.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great links. For me, if a book doesn’t have great characters, whether I love them or hate them, it’s a done deal – I won’t finish the book.I read so much about the importance of plot, of hook, flow. All are important, but it has always been about the characters for me.


  3. These are great links. Extreme paraphrasing here but Stephen King has said if you make the characters real enough you can add anything to the story-a haunted car, ghost, alien, anything-and the reader will believe.


  4. Great article Jean. It almost makes me want to try out fiction. I love your “no negative comments” policy too. Writing takes a ton of effort and it’s all too easy to be critical of others. However, I’d much rather be known for cheering others on then for dragging them down 🙂


    1. Me too. Bad mouthing someone else almost always comes back to bite the one doing the talking. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Give a shout out when you write that first fiction story. LOL Hope to see you again soon.


  5. I love Chuck Wendig’s stuff. Thanks for sharing it! Even if it was “just about him,” I couldn’t help going down the list and thinking, okay, I’m okay on that, and on that. . . . Great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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