Why Should I Care?

I’ve read several manuscripts lately that have pretty good writing, a good plot, no major mistakes or problems, they’ve even been submitted perfectly.

So what’s the problem?

I just don’t care.

When you look at fiction, you basically have two types–plot driven and character driven. You need both to make a good book. What I’m seeing a lot of lately are decent plots without the character development needed to make me care. It’s really sad when the main character is about to be eaten by a shark and you find yourself mid-yawn.

Look at your characters. If you didn’t know them so well, would you like them? Would you care about them? Will others care about them? If you’re not sure, the best thing you can do is find some ruthless readers who don’t know you personally. People who know you well will color what they’re reading with your personality, they’ll “get” your jokes, they’ll “hear” your voice. People who don’t know you rely on written cues to assess your character’s personality and traits. If complete strangers care about your characters, you’re probably okay. If they don’t, do some rewriting before submitting.

Watch Out for Libel

Are you aware of any guidelines or rules of thumb for including actual people/places/events in works of fiction? I know this is commonly done in historical fiction, but what about works set in the present or recent past?

If there are no guidelines, what are your own thoughts on this practice?

Places and events aren’t too much of a problem, it’s people that can get you into trouble. The main thing you need to worry about is libel. If the person is still alive and they feel that what you’ve said about them has damaged their reputation, they can sue for libel. Public figures, celebrities, politicians, etc. are generally safe to write about, unless they can prove malice on your part. You can read more about it here and here.

Where you really get into trouble is if you fictionalize characters that you know on a personal basis (like neighbors or family members), and they are recognizable to themselves and to other readers, and they don’t like it, they can sue. Or possibly never speak to you again. This can be a problem in memoirs, where an author’s story is tied up with the stories of the people in their lives. It’s a fine line and has to be handled carefully.

If you’re going to include a historical person in your fictional piece, you should do enough research that you can portray that person accurately and fairly.

I guess my bottom line is, I wouldn’t want someone writing about me without my permission and approval of the text, so I extend that courtesy to others. If it’s a quick reference to a public figure like, “Debra had a crush on George Clooney…” or even Debra having a brief conversation with George, I’d be fine with it. But if Debra was having an ongoing relationship with George, that I wouldn’t do without George’s signed and notarized release form in my files.

Age is Relative

I recently attended the LDStorymakers Conference and received a recommendation from a couple of authors that I increase the age of my main character (it is a romance novel). At the beginning of my book, she is 19 but the bulk of the book transpires when she is about 23-24. What age range would you recommend? Is 25 still too young? Thank you.

I generally don’t like to have a character introduced at one age, then jump forward in time five years to where the story actually takes place. You can sometimes get away with this in fantasy by using a prologue, but prologues aren’t really the “in” thing right now. Maybe it’s tolerable if something happens to the character as a very young child, and for some reason it needs to be described in real time, and then you jump ahead 20 years. But even then, it usually is going to be better to start the story at her current age, then fill in the backstory at appropriate intervals.

As to what age your main character should be, it depends on the story you’re writing. Teen romance is fine, if it’s not explicit or too sensual and follows LDS dating standards and guidelines. Romance in your early 20s is fine, and generally this is when most LDS girls fall in love and get married so I don’t see a problem with it.

Not knowing anything about your story, I can’t say why the authors thought your character needed to be older or if they are correct in that advice. But if those advising you are successful published authors in your genre, I’d probably listen to what they had to say.