Around this time of year I typically reread the Harry Potter books. I stopped counting at seven, so don’t ask me how many times I’ve read them. They are the only books I own that don’t look brand new (aside from a book I bought off Amazon that was supposed to be in much better condition than it was, but we won’t go there). There are stains of food, tears (particularly books five, six, and seven, fans will know why), I can take out a whole chunk of pages from the Goblet of Fire and it’s missing its jacket. The first book is the only one in paperback, which greatly irritates me, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. I got it in third grade during a book exchange in class. Technically I got Godzilla, but I asked to trade.
I’ve left a piece of myself in each of those books, because I carried them with me from third grade to now. And every year around this time I take a week off from life, lock myself away, and read by candlelight or a really terrible lamp. You just can’t read them any other way and get the same effect.
They’re the only books I’ve read and found them to be believable from beginning to end. That’s my beef with most books these days. Characters will act out-of-character. And for an avid reader who can spot b.s. from a mile away, it’s incredibly disappointing. I enjoy knowing characters and even having an idea of what they would say or do before they even do it. And when a character does something unbelievable, I can’t help but want to stop reading.
I used to subscribe to the lie that writer’s could write anything and get away with it. That because it’s my book and my characters, the reader won’t know what’s really supposed to happen.
This is false. Very, very false.
The book is not supposed to be predictable. That’s annoying when books are predictable. What I’m talking about is that moment when you, as the reader, doesn’t believe in the actions that are taken or the words that are spoken. And this doesn’t just come from creating a story with distinct characters, it also comes from crafting believable circumstances. Forcing a conversation to happen, real is that conversation may be, is still missing the point.
Believable flow. That’s the key, and I’ve just made it up. If you have to force it to happen, it’s probably not right. And I guarantee you, you’ll feel a small tug in your gut telling you that something is off. I beg you not to ignore it.
I recently read a few books about how mapping out the story is crucial, etc. etc. And it is, it really is. Sorry for all you folks who write by the seat of your pants. I’ve tried it and it’s gotten me nothing but some interested agents who rejected my manuscript. It’s not enough to have a concept, you need to have believable flow.
I’ll have to break this down further another day, because I’m already bouncing around a couple heavy topics. But my point in this particular post, is to know your characters. If you need some help figuring out what this looks like, I suggest you go lock yourself in a room with Harry Potter books one through seven, and don’t come out until you’ve finished them all. Or, you know, if you have to use the bathroom.