Arrogant liars and emotional ninjas

Sharon and I were discussing our taste in books earlier today (shocking, I know) and both confessed to a fondness for unreliable narrators.  Likewise I have a real soft-spot for any protagonist I love in spite of myself.  Clever, wry, horrible jerk I’d never want to know in real life?  Sign me up!  I’m the type of person who loves Lucifer in Paradise Lost more than any other main character in classic lit.  But I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—and I think it’s harder to do it well than to write a likeable protagonist well (though that’s not always an easy feat either).  I’m no fan of gimmicks, in general, but if you try something that seems like it can’t possibly work and actually win, you get my undying devotion in return.  I don’t advise authors to stack the odds against themselves, because I’m a fairly risk averse person, but the ones who do and actually pull it off are my gods.

My pet peeve: writers I can see trying to pull my heartstrings.  I described myself earlier as unmovable, which is an exaggeration, but I definitely have more of a heart of stone than the average reader.  I’m all for something that does move me, but if you try too hard to do it I am going to check out.  I need to be lulled into a false sense of security and then wham! tears out of nowhere.  Can you make me cry on the subway* when I’m tired and grumpy?  If so, I’m in.  But if I see it coming, it’s never going to happen.  The icy walls clamp down around my heart, and I start rooting against the hero or heroine.  (Told you I was naturally contrary.)  Chances are the author is trying no matter what, but I need stealth emotion, not transparent manipulation.

I’m just all about any book that can best my natural tendencies.

But we all have our things: the quirks that we look for even though we know they drive others nuts and the things we can’t stand even though everyone else is enthralled.  What draws you in, and what do you tune out?

*Making me forget I’m on the subway is inevitably going to be worked into my pitches. Three real world examples off the top of my head:

“There’s a point in the book where everything just clicks into place, and I actually yelled ‘Holy shit!’ out loud on the train when I read it.  But I was so excited I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed or see how my fellow commuters reacted, because I needed to find out how it was going to go down.”

“I was so wrapped up in what was happening that I completely lost track of time and tuned out everything else.  Even when I finally realized I had missed my stop, I got off the train and walked home while still reading, in the rain, holding my arm across the top of my e-reader so it wouldn’t get wet.”

“I didn’t even know that I was afraid of being forgotten, but the next thing I know I’m just bawling on the subway, imagining what it would be like if my family and friends couldn’t remember I had ever existed.”

One Response to Arrogant liars and emotional ninjas

  1. Bill says:

    Story-telling, regardless of the medium used (written, oral, film, etc.) only works when the audience is kept unaware of the structural underpinnings of the tale. No one wants to pay attention to the man behind the curtain!

    What I like, and what I try to create in my own writing, is a protagonist who may not be an actual hero, but whose personality and antics engage the reader to the extent that he will say, “Okay, I think you’re a loser, but I want to know what happens to you.” After all, I think that describes most people in real life, doesn’t it?

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