The Tail or the Dog
The relationship between characters and plot in any novel is pivotal and tricky. A story is often plot driven but what I remember most when I finish a satisfying read are the characters. Of course, good plots make characters memorable—how they get in and out of jams, express or repress their emotions, and make sacrifices—but down deep I just like who they are above and beyond what they do. They may start out as the “tail” but they end up as the “dog".
My own characters sometimes become friends. At least conversationally. “Hey ———— — should I return my latest, ridiculous Amazon purchase?” Or, “What wine should I bring to this dinner party because my expertise is wine labels?" If they’re going to be my friends, this begs the question about what kind of characters do I like to draw from in real life. Someone different from me, as much as possible, and who strikes me as interesting in conflicted ways. Someone challenged by the limits of both their strengths and their weaknesses. In the end, I hope they are sympathetic to most readers.
Even unsympathetic characters require a lot of attention and exploration before they go on the written page. Minor characters, too, require serious thought because their place in the narrative can enhance or diminish the total effect. Every blemish—and all novels have them, if a reader looks closely enough—shows.
In Ghost With Two Hearts, there are two main characters, and I like both, but creating one, a computer coder, was easier than fabricating the other—a ghost serving an eternity in Shinto Hell. Making a realistic (at least plausible) ghost, about whom an author can’t do much research, worked out in the end. A lot of drafts were written and discarded over 18 months. I got to invent a ghost who is quite human. She is being tortured by gods (i.e., society) by denying her the right to sleep/dream, controlling her memories, and shutting her off completely from loved ones she inadvertently damaged but longs to be forgiven by and united with. How does anyone escape a fate like that?
We know the need to be loved is universal. In Ghost With Two Hearts, I began to wonder if that includes the dead.
The Awkward Art of Asking for Reviews
Dear Fellow Author,
If you’re thinking of asking for reviews from friends and acquaintances you respect and trust, and who know a few things about writing and storytelling, here are ten points you might consider:
1. If friends give you an enthusiastic "yes, of course I'll review your book," best they know the length of your book. If possible, set a soft time goal that's both comfortable for author and reviewer. .
2. Sometimes the best thing a would-be reviewer can do is be straight with the author. An upfront "I wish it were otherwise, but I can't help you" is far better than an endless protraction of good intentions,
3, Take the time to explain to someone that writing is your passion, perhaps even a career, and you would greatly appreciate their feedback. It's okay to mention another obvious thing: What writer or artist doesn't need some kudos or validation, especially in a profession where one can labor largely alone and in silence for a year or two. Once published, you find yourself in survival-of-the-fittest waters, as two or three million other authors are scrambling for reviews just like you.
4. Ask the friend you're soliciting if he or she can possibly read just ten pages. If they like the story, you hope they continue, If not, it’s all okay.
5. If the moment feels right, remind your friend a book is your investment in yourself and your talents. You want to. be taken seriously, without being considered pushy or begging.
6. Tell friends they don't need impeccable writing or grammar skills to complete a review, Two or three sentences should make you happy, as long as they're honest words.
7. You might offer your friends a topic or two that other reviews haven't
covered. Suggest they share their opinions about your main character, for example, or how your surprise ending worked or didn’t work for them.
8. If you do receive a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever, thank them. He or she took time out of their busy lives for you.
9. Be reluctant to ask anyone in your immediate family to review your book. Unless your relationship is exceeding strong and open, it can backfire.
10. I know writers who make the mistake of 'nudging" potential reviewers who haven’t had time to digest the book. Your friends usually don't need a reminder. There could be many reasons for a delay, and they may not have anything to do with your book.