You can take that Kindle and shove it up your Nook

I hate e-readers. I hate them with a fiery, socially unacceptable hatred. I hate the silent, uninspiring compliance of their screens and I hate their stupid little highlighting and page-marking functions. Given the chance, I would throw every Kindle and Nook in the world into an active volcano and then go back to my cave with my stone spear heads and my woolly mammoth friends.

This concludes this week’s Confessional Thursday.

In all honesty, I try not to rant about it too much. With all the big problems in the world, it’s just not fashionable to fight with people over their preferred reading conduit. I don’t accost e-reading strangers and demand they get their Kindle out of my sight before I actually start a fire with it. I don’t send emails to Barnes and Noble complaining about offensive Nook ads. I may have called my best friend a heathen for considering one, but I swear that was just once.

I love my books, okay? I would spend hours in bookstores if I could, but my friends get bored and the paranoia of looking like a book thief makes me all jumpy. I love bringing a new book home and losing myself for hours in the clean, crisp pages with their new-book smell. I love dog-earing a page or highlighting a line for the first time.

I went through a phase when I tried to keep my books in pristine condition. I didn’t eat or drink while I was reading. I used a bookmark religiously. I didn’t dog-ear pages or underline anything. I got all nervous if anyone else handled my books, like Bilbo Baggins and his plates.

Now that that obnoxious, obsessive phase is over, I don’t mind marking up my books a little. They’re mine, so why shouldn’t they have a little personality? Like Andy writing his name on the bottom of Woody’s boot, it shows somebody cares about them. Somebody spent some time with them.

I didn’t value books quite so much when I was young. I’ve already said I loved to read, but the book as a physical object wasn’t all that important to me. Some of the books from my childhood are missing half their covers or are wrinkled and water-stained from first page to last. Unfortunately, some of the books I man-handled weren’t even mine.

One of my most vivid early memories is my dad reading this copy of The Hobbit to me and my sister. He turned us into fellow Tolkien fans at an early age, and when I was old enough to read I tackled The Hobbit on my own. I don’t remember exactly what I did to it, but from the looks of things, I made reading a not-so-sedentary activity. I don’t know, maybe I literally tackled it? It had a glossy, illustrated dust jacket but I destroyed that beyond all hope of repair as well (I think part of the reason I dislike children so much is because I was such a wretched one myself).

I’ve offered to buy my dad a new copy several times, but he always says no. I’ve never asked why; I just assumed it had sentimental value and I felt even worse for ruining it. The more I think about it, though, the more I wonder if the split binding and broken cover is part of the value.

I feel incredibly self-centered suggesting this, but I wonder if the memory of reading to me and my sister is what makes it special to Dad. I may be way off the mark and it’s special because was a nice gift that he managed to keep in good condition until his wrecking ball of a daughter came along, but I know whenever I look at it I remember being snuggled in his lap and looking at the gorgeous illustrations while he put on a full cast of voices.

How the hell can an e-reader compare to that?

Sure, parents can still read to their kids with a Nook, but no one can tell me it’s the same. You can’t tell me having the physical proof isn’t worth something. You can’t tell me a Kindle, with all its functions and uses, can serve as a tactile, concrete memory trigger with any kind of specificity. Nobody looks at their TV screen and says, “Ah, yes. I remember watching Pocahontas and Homeward Bound on this.” The memories are in the VHS tapes with their bulky plastic covers.

Beyond that emotional appeal to parents, current or future, my reasons hating e-reader aren’t all that substantial. I just don’t understand how the reading experience can carry the same weight without the physical sensation of pages. I don’t see how downloading a 99¢ file can be as special as picking out a book and making it your own. I entertain fantasies of publishing only hard copies of my own books because damn it, I want my words to occupy their own space and exist as their own physical object with its own colors and smells and weight.

“Oh, but they’re so convenient.” WHATEVER.

And yeah, not every book is going to change your life. I own my share of cheap, forgettable stories; reading them on an e-reader probably wouldn’t make them more or less memorable. But most of the time, when I pick up a book, I’m looking for an experience rather than information alone. I’m expecting it to be significant enough to deserve its own space in my house. I really do try not to be cantankerous about it, but it gets under my skin. I don’t like to see books and the people who wrote them lose their value.

Now that I’ve ranted and raved and probably scared off a few readers, I have a question. Since my dad doesn’t want a new copy of The Hobbit, I would like to get the old one repaired. I want to keep the original cover so the memories can live on in the battle scars, but it needs some help. I would like it to hold together without tape, and whether that means it needs to be rebound or resewn or reincarnated, I don’t know. I’ve never had a book repaired or restored and I don’t know where to start beyond Googling “book fixers.” Do any of you have experience with book repair, either as the customer or the repairer? Any advice as to where to send it or where not to send it? I’d really appreciate any suggestions you have!

Excerpt: The Snowman

This excerpt is quite old and the larger project it belongs to languishes in a folder along with my other abandoned, unfinished works. I think I probably did an awful job conveying a male perspective but the dynamic could’ve been interesting. I may resurrect Adam for something else.

“I dunno, I guess he’s an albino or something?”

“I really don’t give a damn what color he is, Rich. What do his stats look like? Skill set? Experience? Language? Other potentially useful bits of information?”

The secretary shrugged. “I didn’t get a file.”

“Didn’t get a file? What is this, summer camp? No, actually, even the kiddies at summer camp have a file, even if it only says they’re allergic to nuts. But nothing on the guy who’s supposed to help me catch a war criminal? I’m about to lose my shit.”

“Well maybe you better lose it after you meet with Dr. Pearce. She’s been waiting.”

“Yeah, well that’s the least she can do.”

Rich only shrugged again, and Brad stormed down the hallway to the doctor’s dark, wooden door. He rapped three times, heard her lilting, sing-song, “Come in!” and twisted the door knob so hard that the metal squeaked in protest.

“Dr. Pearce, I am fully aware that you are in charge of this agency and you have the right to do whatever you want, but as a member of this team I just have to say I’m incredibly insulted at how—”

Brad very nearly bit through his tongue as the door slammed behind him and his eyes registered the figure slouched in the chair in the far corner of the room.

He was white all right, but he was not albino. He was all white. Whiter than the average line of coke. Whiter than Brad’s grandma’s porcelain tea set. Whiter than the core of a lightning bolt. From his lips to his ears to the roots of his cropped hair there was not the barest hint of color; not a single touch of human pink, not one blue vein, not a solitary dark hair. His snowy eyelashes framed eyes that were as blank as paper except for the dark, inky slits of the pupils.

Brad was aware that he had allowed a choked gasp of horror to escape him and now the sound seemed to be echoing around the room. He knew he was staring but he couldn’t stop his eyes from darting back and forth and up and down over the white face as they tried to make sense of the picture before him. He realized he was backed up against the door, his hands behind him and clutching the door knob, but he couldn’t bring himself to step away.

If the white man was offended he didn’t show it. The glance he gave Brad showed no curiosity or anger or any other discernible human emotion, and after a few seconds he looked down at his hands.  His long fingers and china-white fingernails looked absurdly bright against the deep red fabric of his shirt.

Dr. Pearce, hair as blond and lipstick as pink as ever, was scribbling something down and didn’t appear to have looked up at all. “Mr. Ortega, while I realize Mr. Varrow’s first impression is somewhat startling, I had hoped you would have the decency not to act like a schoolgirl.”

Brad opened and closed his mouth. Opened it, closed it. He saw the white man looking between Dr. Pearce and himself, only the flickering movement of the pupils betraying him. Brad sorted through the questions pin-balling through his brain and realized that, since Dr. Pearce had referred to the white man as “Mr. Varrow” and not “it” or “the robot” or “the alien ambassador,” none of them could safely be considered appropriate. He opened his mouth, closed it again. Dr. Pearce raised her head from her scribbling and gave him a look that suggested he drown himself in the nearest toilet. The white man waited.

“Varrow?” Brad finally said. “As in, Varrow Enterprises? I wasn’t aware Mr. Arnold Varrow had a, um…a…” Dr. Pearce’s pink fingernails were tapping impatiently on her desk. “…any living relatives.”

“He hasn’t,” Dr. Pearce said, rising from her desk. “But this is his company’s project. Mr. Varrow, this is Mr. Ortega, who is far more competent than he presents himself.”

Brad felt something like panic rising in his throat as the white man stood. What did she expect them to do, shake hands?

But the white man clasped his hands behind his back and simply stood, his shirt stretching tight over his muscular shoulders and chest. He knew Brad didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to move an inch closer to him, and Brad imagined he saw pity in the impassive white face.

He marched across the room, hand outstretched like a jousting lance, and stopped a few feet from the stranger. Even at Brad’s six feet the white man had a couple inches on him, but he was close enough now to see the barely discernible looping pattern of the eyes’ colorless irises.

“Brad,” he said brusquely. “Pleasure to meet you.”

The white man took the proffered hand; Brad couldn’t stop himself from blinking when he made contact, but the white hand felt like any other human hand.

“Adam,” he said. His voice was deeper than Brad expected but otherwise unmemorable. What stuck was the flash of chalk-white tongue behind his teeth.

To write or not to write? Thoughts on the Beautiful Game

Sometimes it seems like athletes and writers were meant to be enemies. There are positive and negative stereotypes attached to both kinds of people and they all seem to work toward defining athletes and writers—maybe I should just say “creative types”—as opposites. We’re all about the reading and they’re all about the running and if we believe the clichés, there is no middle at which we can meet.

Of course, some of the clichés are true and some are not. Some writers might be even more arrogant than some athletes and some athletes may actually be better at writing than some people who call themselves writers. And of course, you’ll find different kinds of people at different levels of quality; professional athletes in Europe are different than high school players in America and Chuck Palahniuk (← spelled that right on the first try. Congratulate me.) is different than E.L. James. There isn’t time or space to talk about all these variations, so I won’t discuss my feelings about some college athletes or the NFL or the NBA (I abhor them), but rather focus on the positive (I will not make a habit of this).

My immediate family members are all football fans, and when I say football, I mean what EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD calls football and the U.S. insists on calling soccer because NO GOOD REASON. My dad has been a Liverpool F.C. supporter since 1974 and I think his happiest Christmas was when we bought him everything Liverpool since he would never buy it for himself. What my younger brother lacks in years he makes up for in enthusiasm; he could tell you the life story of every single one of the current Liverpool players and I’m fairly certain he cried after Jamie Carragher’s final game this year. My mother and sister are supporters by default and I broke the mold by being a Chelsea fan (talk about family tension).

Before anyone gets the idea that I’m trying to pass myself off as a legitimate enthusiast, let me say my piece. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t have a thorough understanding of the game; sure, I understand the rules and I can recognize when something was brilliant or awful, but rarely can I pick out what would’ve been the best pass or the best run. I don’t have the most knowledge of the players; I can keep track of my team and my favorites and the big names, but that’s about it. I obviously don’t have a “real” connection to any particular European team; I live in the middle of nowhere in New York, so there is no home team. As far as playing the game myself, I have zero skills.

But I love it. I love it with the unadulterated, awestruck kind of love that comes not from knowing the most or being the best but from appreciating something on the purest, most instinctual level and feeling it resonate with millions of other souls. It’s the best sport in the world.

Now is probably the part where some people would like to put forth a defense for American football or even baseball and that’s fine, but I’ve been on this rollercoaster a few times before, kids. The argument usually boils down to “You’re American so you should like the NFL you’re stupid and I hate you go live in Europe.” I know my readers are smarter than this and if any of you would like to offer your own sports experiences, I will read and consider them thoughtfully. I just won’t be convinced.

Because what sport has what football has? What other sport has such a deep root in so many cultures and peoples around the world? What sport better combines strength with grace, dazzling, delicate touches of skill with intense physicality? What other sport has such a long, rich, and diverse history?

Yes, football has its sordid moments. There are cocky players and crooked presidents. There’s diving and awful dirty tackles and sometimes the refs are just the worst things ever, but these moments only add to the mystique. How could a writer not love football? Where else in real life will you find such a cast of heroes and villains, masters and underdogs, battle-scarred legends and raw, creative newcomers? Only in football have I watched a complete stranger’s excruciating fall from grace play out right before my eyes. Only in football have I seen a tall, dark, achingly handsome hunk of Portuguese slamma-jamma sex appeal considered second-best to a scampering little Argentinean with a funny haircut and questionable fashion sense. Only in football have I seen the real agony and heartbreak of defeat in the unabashed tears of grown men. Only in football have I seen absurd, arrogant brilliance juxtaposed with the quiet, steady strength of selflessness.

The irony of all this is that I’m too scared to write about it. Other than this clumsy mess of a post, I’m too intimidated by football to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

“I don’t really see the point,” I say to myself. “What can I possibly say with words? How can I possibly do more justice to the sport than those crystal-clear, extra-super-mega-high definition slo-mo shots that capture every rippling muscle and bulging tendon and bead of sweat clinging to eyelashes? What can I say that can compare to being there in that stadium and feeling 50,000 people surge up in delight or rock back in horror?”

I suppose at this point I could pretend I know the answer and come up with some bullshit that sounds, I dunno, wise. I won’t, though. Part of me thinks I need to get it out of my system, that I need to research and write and work and craft until I come up with something I would be proud to hand somebody. “That’s what football’s all about,” I could say. But part of me thinks I need to do the exact opposite, to let it go and stay undefined in my own head rather than confined by the shape of the letters and the sound of the words.

What about you? Is there something you’d like to write about but haven’t, either out of fear or respect? Is there a sport or an art or anything else that’s captured your imagination? Is there a genre you’ve wanted to tackle but is so far outside your knowledge base that the sheer amount of research you’d have to do is overwhelming? I’d love to hear about it.

Picture courtesy of 9gag.com Have you ever seen anything so wonderful?

Photo courtesy of 9gag.com.

 

The goddess needs a slang term for heroin

“When you create stories, you become gods of tiny, intricate dimensions.”             –Metatron, Supernatural

Will somebody please tell my characters I’m the god—er, goddess, whatever—of their tiny, intricate dimension? I don’t think they got the memo.

All joking aside, I do understand that when push comes to shove, I’m in control of the world I create. It may require me to step away from the project for a while, reaffirm my goal for the story, rediscover my characters, but I’m ultimately in charge. I can make characters whatever I want. They can be male, female, sane, crazy, soldiers, attorneys, candlestick makers, anything. Well, maybe in theory.

The problem is, I don’t know the first thing about being a soldier, an attorney, or a candlestick maker. In fact, I don’t know the first thing about most things in the world. My knowledge base of first-hand experience is limited. The only thing I know that most people probably don’t is how it feels to get kicked in the face by a horse. Therefore, writing characters who have done and seen things I haven’t done or seen can be problematic. Exhibit A: drugs.

Embarrassing story time! In the first draft of a short story I wrote for class, I wrote something about a character “snorting crack.” Yeah.

That wasn’t the first time Carly’s lack of drug knowledge was an issue. In my failed NaNo project, one of the first people to die was a drug dealer. My friends and I joked about Googling “street names for heroin” and how I was probably put on a federal watch list (something something NSA something something irony), but even though I got my answers, it didn’t make the scene any more convincing.

There are some things you just can’t Google, but there are some things you may not be able to experience first-hand either. For instance, how do fabulously wealthy people live? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that, and I can’t very well contact someone who lives in the Hamptons and say, “Hey, mind if I hang out with your family for a bit? Just, you know, observe how you interact with each other, what your children are like, maybe take that Aston Martin out for a spin? It’s research for my book.”

Now, if you’ve never done drugs and you’re not fabulously wealthy, my best guesstimate of how drug dealers and rich people act may not seem noticeably out of place to you. However, the guesses will be brutally obvious to someone out there. It could be the deciding factor in whether someone finishes the book or tosses it aside, whether they recommend it to a friend or give it a two-star review. Exhibit B: horses.

I’ve been riding horses since I was four years old. I’ve had just about every kind of trainer out there. I’ve ridden a wide variety of horses. I can clean a stall more efficiently and automatically than I can vacuum a room. Absolutely nothing can pull me out of a story faster than an inaccurate portrayal of horses, and oh boy, are they everywhere. Do not ask me to watch a “horse movie” because, from The Horse Whisperer to Hidalgo, Hollywood does it all wrong. Horses may not be central to video games, but nothing reminds me the game is all fake better than seeing reins connected to browbands. Thankfully, most people who write horse books actually know what they’re talking about, but once in a while you get someone who just wants to throw a riding scene in there and positively butchers it. The point is, the little details you don’t think are important could leave a mighty big impression.

So, if you’re writing something with horses in it, feel free to ask me questions! Since most of you probably aren’t, that’s a useless offer but it stands nonetheless. However, what to do about those things you can’t Google? What if you can’t take lessons? I think the answer is to get interviews.

So here are my questions for all of you writing gods and goddesses. Have you done interviews as research? How do you get them? How do you get attorneys and doctors to take time out of their day to talk to you? How do you ask addicts or victims of crimes questions that could be painful to them? I have yet to do any interviews as part of my research, so I’m curious as to how more experienced people manage it and how well it works.

One more question. Have you used TV shows or movies as “research” and gotten away with it? Obviously I’m not talking about borrowing the physics (or lack thereof) in the The Fast and the Furious, but what about Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of a person with autism in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Charlize Theron as a serial killer in Monster? Does Hollywood do anything right?

“Writing” time

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I'm "writing."

If you were my computer, this is what you would see 70%-80% of the time I’m “writing.”

I once said that if coffee is fuel for writing, I have the fuel efficiency of a Hummer towing a boat. By “once said” I mean “said a few months ago” and no, that hasn’t changed. I don’t know what the acceptable cups of coffee/words ratio is, but I guarantee I’m not hitting it. Every time I sit down to work on something, I say to myself, “Okay, Carly. Today you’re going to focus and be professional. You’re going to write for as long as the words are there. You’re not going to check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. You’re not going to fuss about the song that’s playing. You’re here to write.”

I almost never succeed. I do check Facebook or Twitter every 20 seconds. I drink coffee and make more and drink more and make more. I play with the dog. I get distracted nailing down minute and unimportant details about characters, places, and scenes. I waste an absurd amount of time even when I’m under pressure; I once spent all night writing a short story due the next day (yes, yes, I procrastinate, one flaw at a time) when I probably could’ve finished it in three or four hours if I hadn’t given in to distractions.

When I participated in NaNoWriMo, this was not the case. I hit those 1,667 words a day and damn, I was proud of myself. I didn’t check Facebook and I didn’t lose sleep over it. I wrote a few pages for every cup of coffee rather than a few words. “You’re almost like a real writer,” I said to myself. “Look at all these words. Look at that word count meter go up. You are successful because more words.”

As I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, my NaNoWriMo project was a mess. But that’s okay! That’s the point of NaNoWriMo! You just write and write and write and edit later! You squash that inner editor for a whole month and at the end you have something you can turn into a novel! Right?

Meh.

As I also mentioned previously, that project had more problems than I knew what to do with. I did spend several months on second and third drafts before deciding to rewrite the whole thing in first person, and even then it was hot mess of angst, plot holes, and unnecessary complexities. Sure, I discovered first hand how difficult it is to write a novel, and I’m thankful for that, but what else did I gain? There are probably a few other cutesy little things I could say about it (“it was psychologically beneficial to see it start to finish” or “it taught me about myself”), but in the end I spent months on something that will never see the light of day. And yeah, I write lots of things that will never see the light of day, but I don’t even appreciate my NaNo project. I can’t even read it and think “Well, no one may ever read this, but it’s valuable to me.”

In contrast, I was happy with the short story that took four hours longer to write than it should have. I loved it. I was proud of it. I had thought about every single event and paragraph and damn near every word in that thing, and according to my professor and classmates, it showed. It certainly wasn’t perfect; in fact, in the grand scheme of written works, it may have only been halfway decent, but I turned it in without any qualms or insecurities.

Perhaps the most common writing advice I hear echoes the theme of NaNoWriMo. It’s something like “Write stuff, even if it’s utter crap and you end up throwing it out. Just write stuff. Write a lot.”

Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking NaNoWriMo or people who write 2,000 words a day, because I’m absolutely not. I love the idea of NaNoWriMo and I love the community of writers surrounding it. I respect people who have the discipline to write 2,000 words a day. But for myself, I’m not sold on the idea. If I write a mess of words in a month and take two months to edit it (more or less successfully), is it better than taking three months to write something that’s pretty good in the first place? Am I not hindering my own creative process by forcing it to be something it isn’t?

I’m also not saying my writing habits are good, even for myself. There are days when I dither away my writing time and in the end am dissatisfied with what little I accomplished. A little structure and accountability would do me good. Therefore, I’m giving this NaNoWriMo thing another shot.

If you weren’t aware, the lovely people at the Office of Letters and Light also provide writers with Camp NaNoWriMo. It has the same purpose as the original NaNoWriMo but it’s a bit more laid back and a smidgen cozier. This July, writers will be able to set their own word count goals (rather than the standard 50,000), which couldn’t be more perfect for me. I know my current project won’t end up more than 30,000 words (I’ll be surprised if it makes it to 20,000), which means I can still set goals for myself without frantically spewing any and all words that come to mind. My hope is that my creative process will be focused but not rushed; I certainly don’t want to be getting sidetracked by BuzzFeed and YouTube, but if I want time to bicker with myself over word choice, I’m going to blinking well take it.

If any of my readers are doing Camp NaNo, let me know! Maybe we can even be in a cabin together.

A barometer? A thermometer? A balladrometer?

What’s the standard for judging poetry? What are the guidelines? Is there an instrument we can use to decide the worth of a particular piece? I have answers to exactly none of these questions (well, I’m guessing there isn’t such a thing as a balladrometer). Poetry, for me, is like modern art; I can love and appreciate some of it, but some poems read like candidates for the Turner Prize. Who decided this was art? Am I just not cultured enough to understand it?

If you have a very distinct idea of what good poetry is and is not, you probably shouldn’t read any farther, because I’m sharing. Yes, I’m sharing one of my poems, mainly out of curiosity. This poem doesn’t necessarily stand out to me as being better than any of my others, but it got a good grade and some appreciative comments from a professor. If you’re daring enough to read it, I’m certainly open to critique, and I’d also love to hear some opinions on poetry in general.

Luke

His eyes are blueberries in cream

and maybe if I take a class I can uncross

the wires in his brain.

He smells like Old Spice he didn’t apply himself;

the pitch of his voice is burnt orange

and I keep expecting yellow.

Grandpa Jim wouldn’t recognize him if they passed each other on Maple Street

but then again, he doesn’t go to Maple Street.

 

I’m almost a perfect stranger to him

But you would be number one in my strafing line

If you wouldn’t take a bullet for him already.

 

He was born like this

because there was lead in the paint

because of the gluten in the bread

because God fucked up

because the clouds were too puffy on March 10, 1997.

 

“Maybe it’s a milk allergy.”

It isn’t. Glad you got your happy ending, though.

We’ll be over here, trying to navigate the smoggy maze of hopelessness,

sending up red distress balloons

and pretending this puzzle piece represents how we feel.

 

He has screamed a hole through hell’s ceiling

but heaven’s floor has maintained practiced stoicism. We all know

I’m in no position to ask God for any favors.

As if God grants favors or has favorites.

Maybe he does.

Maybe we’re just not the lucky ones.

 

He barely knows my name and I don’t know his favorite color,

but maybe it’s the thought that counts. If that’s true, I should’ve said

I love you, little boy

a long time ago.

 

The empty picture frames are giving me a round of applause

and the size 10 shoes are rating my performance three stars.

Sometimes I forget him, and the more I forget I realize

finally, finally realize, when it’s too late and the ruts are too deep,

that it’s my wires that were crossed after all.

Love stinks

I’m not really a romantic. Maybe I was, some time ago when I was young and naïve. Back in high school, I thought I had a pretty good grip on what “love” was (laugh with me) and it seemed solid and immutable. Now that I’m a jaded old hag, love is a tenuous and often distasteful concept. In real life, romance is an awkward, trial-and-error affair and in the movies it’s predictable and ridiculous. I don’t like characters who give up “everything” for love. I don’t like those “boy meets girl” stories. I don’t sympathize with Romeo and Juliet or Jack and Rose and I can’t stand the people from that blasted epitome of chick flicks, The Notebook. I don’t mind when characters are married, dating, sleeping together, or whatever (a lot of my characters are doing at least one of those things), but I can’t stand romantic ideals. I don’t believe people actually fall in love or “just know” or that anyone completes anyone. And now that I’ve said all this, I’m going to contradict myself.

If I’m going to write a story, I have to fall in the love with the characters.

Male, female, young, old, beautiful, ugly, villains, heroes, whatever. I absolutely have to love my main characters. Since my idea of love is sort of unstable/cynical/different from most people’s, maybe I should just say I have to want to spend time with them. I must want to spend hours and days and maybe years of my life writing their stories down. I have to get to know them, appreciate their flaws, let their emotional ups and downs affect me, and patiently try to figure out what they want and why. That seems similar to how real relationships are supposed to work.

That probably doesn’t sound like a bad thing. If I care about the characters, readers probably will too, right?

Wrong.

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s wrong. After all, I’ve read a lot of stories that didn’t draw me in. I’ve read books that people—sometimes even people I know—have spent years writing and I’ve remained unaffected. Someone cared about those characters and I didn’t give a damn about them, so I can only assume the same holds true for my own characters. So if loving your characters doesn’t guarantee other people will love them, what does it do?

In my case, it’s limiting. Since I love them all, they all have something in common. A lot of people have a “type,” right? We’re drawn toward different external and internal characteristics: blonde or brunette, optimistic or pessimistic, idealistic or realistic, Superman or Batman. And if you’re a hardcore Batman fan, how often can you bring yourself to care about Superman? If you love the Dark Knight’s moral ambiguity, will you appreciate the Big Blue Boy Scout’s sense of righteous justice?

As readers, watchers, and consumers, it’s natural that we have a type. We have favorite genres and subjects and as long as we’re not too stuck in a rut, that’s perfectly okay. However, even though no one has said this to me explicitly, it seems like we’re not supposed to have favorites as writers, makers, and producers.

Maybe the adage “kill your darlings” gave me this impression. Writers are constantly told to edit, chop, cut out anything that doesn’t belong in the story, even if we love it, and to keep or add things that do belong. Sometimes it’s a matter of cutting a paragraph you spent three hours crafting. Sometimes you end up killing a character you wish could’ve lived. Everyone hopes, I assume, that the story they love is also a good story. But can you write a good story you don’t love?

I couldn’t. When I don’t love my characters, it shows. One of the biggest challenges of my current project is disguising my disinterest in certain people, which is an especially daunting task given that the story depends so much on how readers feel about the characters. Sure, I love my main characters, but the antagonists? The minor characters? Can I evoke sympathy, hatred, or admiration for a character I don’t sympathize with, hate, or admire? If I can, I think I’ll have a damn good story. If I can’t, it’ll be an amateurish waste of space on my hard drive. No pressure.

My uncertainty extends beyond this project. Can I make my characters in different stories sufficiently distinct? Am I doomed to write the same characters over and over, just with different names and eye colors? Will their motivations and philosophies always be the same even if their genders or ethnicities are different? Or will I allow the events of the story to organically shape the characters into unique people?

Do you have to love your characters? Does writing a good book require some amount of distance and detachment? Can you break away from your favorite themes for the sake of story? Is that something I should be working toward? Am I way off the mark with this entire theory?