C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Slap (on) a happy face

I just read some advice for short story writers (from The Writer’s Handbook) where a rather harsh critic slams stories where the protagonist is an unlikeable character and bad things happen to him or her.

Uh-oh. In my stories, that’s my thing. I think just about anyone will disappoint you if you get to know them well enough. That’s my worldview. To be successful by this critic’s estimation, I’m going to need a brain transplant. But I gotta be me.

When a short story of mine won an award, lots of people focussed on the torture. However, the reason it won was that in the last sentence there was a twist of transcendence. It wasn’t about torture. It was about the second chance. Read it here.

 I got a reply from another judge (different contest, same story) who was very dismissive. He seemed not to have read it very carefully, perhaps deciding early on it wasn’t something he would care for so he wrote it off quickly. For instance he said, “This doesn’t make sense. Why would a collection agency pursue dead files?” Because I made it clear the bill collector is a bad guy. If I spelled it out more, they’d call me pedantic. Sometimes you can’t win.

I’ll have to ignore that particular advice from The Writer’s Handbook I guess. I’ll keep on writing about flawed people and I’ll keep doing bad things to them. (Flawed characters make some of the best characters. Examples? Plenty, but off the top of my head, Breaking Bad, Dexter and Battlestar Galactica and Portnoy’s Complaint.)

Filed under: manuscript evaluation, short stories, writing contests, , ,

One Response

  1. It’s interesting that someone who claims to be a critic will dismiss a character, therefore a story, based on a badness scale. As you noted, villains can be memorable characters. A character with flaws exposed, good or bad, is more interesting to follow than one who can do no wrong. Even heroes are more interesting with a bit of badness in them.

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