Writing Advice From Readers

Saturday, February 17, 2018
It’s that time again! Last year I wrote about what my students wanted to read, and this year I’m back to give you an update.

I spoke with only the most eager of readers to compile this advice – readers of non-fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, paranormal – you name it, they read it. Surprisingly, many of them gave me the same items on their “want” list. Keep in mind, they may be juniors in high school, but they read widely. Some are devoted to young adult literature, but many read books geared towards adults.

So, without further ado – I give you their advice.

1. Share your experiences

This advice is from non-fiction and fiction readers alike. They want the truth – the REAL truth – and they want it in book form. When I asked if they were hoping to relate to the characters, the answers were mixed. Some wanted to get their hands on new experiences. Others were hoping to validate their own. Either way, give them the truth – the whole, ugly truth – and don't sugar-coat it.

2. Revise your villains

Readers are tired of cliché villains. You know the type: pure evil, driven by malice, with no qualms about killing everyone around them. Instead, they want antagonists who are morally gray. Make sure they are good in some ways, but bad in others. Students want to like portions of their personality, but loathe some of their decisions.  Keep the villains real – especially in fantasy.

3. Create morally ambiguous protagonists

While this may seem contrary to what a protagonist should be, that’s what the students want. They are tired of the perfect hero and heroine. Give them someone with questionable morals who we can still root for. Create believable, fallible heroes.  Again – move away from the cliché.

4. Get rid of the weak woman

My romance and fantasy readers were adamant on this one:  Bring on those strong women! They are tired of romance novels that portray women as the weak one in the relationship.  One student advised, too, that sometimes the women will start “cool and strong and interesting,” but become weak once the male takes over. So, keep those women consistently strong.

5. Cool it on the crazy names

As one student so aptly put it, “Why does every character have some weird name like Opal Windstorm? It’s okay to name your protagonist “Cathy.”’ While it can be fun to come up with a name of which no one has ever heard, the readers may be tired of it. Something to consider the next time we start making up names.

6. Every relationship doesn’t have to end in romance

“It’s like salt,” one student said. “We all like a little salt, but once you’ve had too much, you feel sick.” In short, not every relationship has to end in romance. They’d like to see men and women be friends without it crossing over into a romantic relationship. “One romance is okay,” said another student, “but leave it at that. Stop match-making all of the characters.”

There you have it!  No matter your genre, these pieces of advice are all worthy of consideration.  Hopefully their advice will inspire your writing!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Margo Dill said...

I am thinking about the show Homeland because right now I am reading 2 nonfiction books so allow me to talk about protagonist and antagonist in a TV show—I mean someone still had to write it! Anyway if you haven’t seen the show, the terrorist (antagonist) is a well written character, like you are talking about in your post. Abu Nazir has a young son who is killed; and although he was a horrible guy before this, we see a human side to him. It worked. Same with the main protagonist Carrie who is bipolar and makes all kinds of terrible decisions. She definitely keeps the story interesting. So I completely agree with what the high school students said!

Angela Mackintosh said...

This is the best list, and I can't agree more with your smart students! Especially on the crazy names and real stories and people. Thanks for this, Beth! :)

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks for this timely information, Beth! I agree on all fronts. I'm working on a YA right now and I realize now I could do more to make the villain sympathetic. He does have some hang-ups I need to play up so that he is a little more relatable.

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