More on writing misfits from Donald Maass’ book:
“Contemporary literary fiction is crowded with characters who are transvestite, addicted, odd, outcast or in any number of ways different. When these novels break out, the author has succeeded in making readers feel that their outcast characters are just like us…”
Although Maass is speaking on theme and morality in fiction, and how even misfit characters can be the means to a “moral victory” if they are written in a sympathetic way, I think this can also explain the appeal of the misfit and the anti-hero.
It’s more proof as to why it’s important to write the anti-hero so the reader can sympathize with him. If we the reader can sympathize with the character, we can imagine ourselves in his shoes. We get to live vicariously through the character. We feel what the character feels, follow the character in doing things we’ve always dreamed of doing but never could. We never told off that bully in school, but we fantasized about it. In the world of fiction, fantasy is real. The bully gets shut down. And we secretly get to kick ass.
A traditional hero always has limitations. He is always bound by right and wrong. We live our real lives within the confines of these same rules. So when we’re placed in the head of an anti-hero, we’re free to do whatever we want, and then we can close the book and not have to confront the repercussions.
The anti-hero is becoming more popular in modern media. I wonder what this says about our culture.
Anyone? I googled it but didn’t come up with anything right away. Will need to do better research later. I’ll post if I find anything.
I’m wondering if that’s what my novel is.
I found a definition of category romance in Barnes & Noble Meet the Authors article about Iris Johansen.
category romance: a term for short books written to conform to the length, style and subject matter guidelines for a publisher’s series
I’m assuming these are the short romance books published by Harlequin and Silhouette. So, out-of-category romance must be everything else shelved in the Romance section of the bookstore (for example, Nora Roberts).
I doubt my novel would be shelved in Romance. So I’ll still consider it commercial fiction for now.
Oh my I think I finally have it. I just revised my query letter, after receiving a VERY helpful edit from The Corporate Writer. (Thank you again!)
And I think it is The One.
I’ve read that your query is only right when you have this feeling. I have to control myself. From sending it out right now. Must put it away. Stop thinking about it. Read it in a few days, and make sure.
Over a year in the making for these 289 words. If I could bottle this feeling of relief, I would be rich.
“If you want the reader to dislike the villain, make his POV introspection all about himself. But if you are looking to create sympathy and fellow feeling, have him contemplate something else, something that matters outside of himself.”
Something I need to remember out of The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley.
It’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the Midwest today. In February, I’d expect it to be in the teens.
We humans live in such a narrow range of temperature when taking into account the entire universe. Our fragile bodies require a planet that ranges in temperature from about -100 to 130 degrees. That’s just a guess. I could google it, but it really doesn’t matter.
What is the range of temperature in the universe? How hot is the sun? How cold is deep space? Much larger range, I’m sure.
Yet, when our temperature goes up a measly 40 degrees from the norm, it’s jarring. Ice from our recent winter storm still litters the sidewalks downtown, yet I’m sweating on my brisk walk after work.
It makes me realize how sensitive to temperature we are. Just 40 degrees is the difference between me being bundled in wool coat, hat, and gloves, and me wanting to shed my light jacket.
If you’ve ever kept an aquarium, you know there’s a narrow range of temperature in which you must keep the water. It’s usually marked in green on one of those suction cup thermometers that go in the tank. We are like fish in an aquarium. Keep our environment within range, or we will perish.
If you buy her this.
And then take her to the beach.
I’ve done some research on the difference between the anti-hero and the Byronic hero. I couldn’t find a definitive article anywhere comparing the two directly, but from want I’ve read here’s my own conclusion.
A Byronic hero is a bad good guy. He does bad things, makes his own rules, operates outside of the law. But his goal is to do good. He’s tormented. He’s introspective. He hurts. He takes full responsibility. He’s Batman.
A Byronic hero will never find true success because he is so conflicted. He seems to be constantly putting out fires in his quest to do right, but due to his own sensitivity of the world he will never achieve his goal. He’s tragic. He’ll never be happy.
An anti-hero is unpredictable. He’s good when he wants to be. He’s bad when he wants to be. And sometimes he’s bad just to piss you off. Because he knows he can, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t know the meaning of responsibility. He has no regard for right and wrong, he only knows what he wants to do in the moment. His actions will be completely different on another day.
An anti-hero finds success in everything he does. He is happy in his own world because it is all he sees.
In a nutshell, a Byronic hero does bad things for the greater good. An anti-hero does whatever the hell he wants.
I just came across a great article on Writer’s Digest: Defining and Developing Your Anti-Hero.
Although I didn’t purposely fashion one of my MCs into an anti-hero, I believe that’s what he is. He fits every one of these characteristics from the article.
- are not role models, although we secretly would like to kick ass like they do.
- can be selfish and essentially bad people who occasionally are good.
- are sometimes unglamorous and unattractive in character as well as in appearance.
- can be motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, but there is usually a line anti-heroes won’t cross, which sets them apart from villains.
- often have motives that are complicated and range from revenge to honor.
- forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier.
- can play both sides with good guys and bad guys, profiting from both.
- can sometimes be coerced to help underdogs, children, or weaker characters, and they sometimes do so voluntarily.
- can embody unattractive traits and behaviors, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged.
- can show little or no remorse for bad behaviors.
- are usually a mess of contradictions.
Since this wasn’t intentional, I remember feeling uneasy when writing some of his thoughts early on, before I knew him well. I wanted to like my MC. I don’t want him to have these thoughts. In my first edit, I paused on a particular sexist remark he makes about my heroine, and I almost cut it out. I didn’t want him to be a bad guy! But he is, and he’s so much better because of it.
Now I feel the need to make him even worse.
Another interesting concept is the Byronic hero. Characteristics of a Byronic hero (according to Wikipedia):
- a strong sense of arrogance
- high level of intelligence and perception
- cunning and able to adapt
- suffering from an unnamed crime
- a troubled past
- sophisticated and educated
- self-critical and introspective
- mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
- struggling with integrity
- power of seduction and sexual attraction
- social and sexual dominance
- emotional conflicts, bipolar tendencies, or moodiness
- a distaste for social institutions and norms
- being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
- disrespect of rank and privilege
- jaded, world-weary
- self-destructive behavior
My MC possesses most of these – he’s definitely not self-critical, introspective, or charismatic (the latter maybe to my heroine, but she has a good excuse).
So, what is the difference between an anti-hero and a Byronic hero?
I just read the Dark Protagonist section in Maass’ book. I’m very pleased to say that I think I nailed it way back in draft one. Without even trying! Yes!
A dark protag is a depressed, angry, or miserable character. Being inside this kind of mind can be grueling for most readers. The key is to show the dark protag’s humanity. Give him or her a weakness they strive to fix. Something they can live for.
I also read somewhere else (I can’t remember where) another way to build sympathy for an otherwise dark or unlikable character: show them in a relationship. If there’s another character who cares for them or is involved with them in some way, it proves to the reader this character is worth the sympathy.
Although I didn’t know any of this when I typed out draft one, I did genuinely like my dark protagonist. And I think it just came through the writing. Nice when it works out that way.
Dumped exposition versus disguised exposition. No reader wants to be dumped upon.
I just realized a part of my MS that has a dump – info being served to the reader for no purpose but to relay necessary information. The narrator would not naturally be thinking it at the moment, but it is necessary to the story. To fix it, I must disguise it by making it relevant to the present action or the present thoughts of the character. This is pretty easy for me to do, so I’m not worried. I just hope there aren’t too many more of these dumps in the MS.
So this makes Edit #8: Fix exposition dumps
I’m still on Edit #5
Edit #5: Remove unnecessary dialogue tags
Edit #6: Remove unnecessary “that”s, change “stand up” to “stand” and “sit down” to “sit”
Edit #7: Add in some scene setting for scenes that need setting (say that five times fast)
Edit #8: Fix exposition dumps