Yesterday I shared some spoiler-free thoughts on The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti which, by the way, is OUT TODAY! If you missed that post you can find it here. I’m very excited to welcome author Kate Moretti to the blog today (the first day of her blog tour) to share her answer to the question “what do you think makes a propulsive read?”
Over to Kate….
Character is at the Heart of All Good Novels (Even Suspense)!
Sometimes I’ll end up at an event or a book club and the subject of “page turner” will come up. Think of the last book you read, the one that gave you a book hangover, kept you up half the night, the one you couldn’t put down and later, couldn’t wait to talk about with someone. People will ask me “what do you think makes a propulsive read?” My answer, regardless of genre is always the same: character.
People will argue with me. They’ll say, oh well I’ve read lots of great novels and I didn’t even like the main character. To that, I say, so what? You have to read about them, not invite them to brunch.
You don’t have to like a character to be drawn into their lives. You do have to relate to them. The writer’s job is to take the main character, even if they are deplorable human beings, and give them an emotional need or want that we, as readers, can identify with.
With suspense, the main characters are often completely unlikeable. They have to fit the mood and tone of the book, often they are sullen, crabby, isolated, perpetually drunk, amnesiac, you name it. Sometimes, their basic universal need is to simply stay alive. They are in awful situations and if they did things 100% correctly, (simply called the police, half the time), the book would be twenty-five pages long and boring as all get out. And yet, we flip through these books faster than any other. Why?
The need to stay alive is universal. We all want that. We can see ourselves, flung into impossible situations, trying desperately to just live another day. To outrun the bad guy, to find the missing sister, keep the lie buried. We all relate to that desperation, that moment that upends your life and deeply threatens everything you hold dear. It doesn’t matter if what the main character holds dearest is her antique spoon collection. If the author does their job, we will care about that spoon collection as much as the character.
Did you ever read The Martian? Let me ask you, did you cry when the HAB blew up and he lost all his potatoes? Like. A. Baby. I mean, it’s potatoes, but God, did we care. My husband couldn’t understand and all I kept saying was he’s going to die without these potatoes. He’s going to starve to death, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
In suspense, the page turner is determined by the character, not the plot. If the writer does their job, we are sucked in, and the plot can twist and turn, and venture completely into the unbelievable. We are along for the ride because want the same things the protagonist wants. On the other hand, think of the last book you read fifty pages of and quit. I’m willing to bet it had loads of plot. You just didn’t care enough about what happened next.
When I’m preparing to start a new novel, like I am now, all of my pre-work goes into my main character. Who is she? Where does she come from? I dream up a life that will never make it into the main story. When it comes to writing the plot, I know the beginning, the middle and the end. The rest comes to me as I write.
But if I do my job, my hope is that the reader will come along for the ride, wherever it takes us.
Thank you so much Kate! Reading this, I kept smiling and nodding, thinking how true this is. I also kept thinking about Zoe and perfectly she fits this criteria!
Be sure to check out the rest of the stops on Kate’s blog tour, including tomorrow’s host SHOTSMAG Ezine!