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I JUST CAN’T RELATE TO YOUR CHARACTER

September 5, 2017

As many of you know, and I’ve often repeated, I’ve been rejected 689 times, so far. Though I hope to not add too many more to that number, I’m well-used to it, so if it continues to happen, oh well, move on.

The other day, I was thinking about one of the myriad of excuses to the fewer than 50% of responses I got to those 689 rejections. Even fewer of that 50% that responded at all actually supplied any meaningful feedback besides “no thanks” or “not for me.” While I appreciated any slender tidbit (except the really nasty and snarky, hurtful ones), there was one in particular that stood out.

“I just can’t relate to your character.”

Given that this “excuse” was given for different novels, different genres, I came to realize that it was just as likely a polite way of saying the agent (yes, they were all agents and in these cases, NOT publishers directly) just didn’t like my writing.

While I would’ve preferred more constructive feedback than something this generic, at least it wasn’t a simple “no.” At the same time, though it did get me to look back at each character, I still came away with nothing useful because in each case, it didn’t specify what was wrong with the characters as in why the agent couldn’t relate to the characters.

HOW DO WE RELATE TO A CHARACTER?

Let’s face it. At least when it comes to fiction, we’re usually reading exaggerated reality. Not only that, but we’re more than likely reading about someone who is doing something we’ve never or are never likely to EVER do in our lifetime.

We’re supposed to relate to that?

I qualify that by stating that it depends on the genre you’re reading. I also qualify that by stating anecdotal evidence from many readers I’ve talked to that the last thing they want to read is about something they do. They want to read about something they don’t do. Why? A lot of people don’t really like what they do, they just do it because they have to. So why self-torture by reading about it for pleasure?

On the other hand, there are the little things. Personal likes and dislikes. Quirks, like musical tastes, foods, habits, things that happened in the past. All this, as we call it, “color,” we add in so we can make something relatable to people. This is things people like to read about in characters whether these characters do what they do or not.

As an author, how are we supposed to either predict or guess what millions of people that might read are book are going to relate to?

ME AS A READER – AN EXAMPLE

I read mostly thrillers, icky bug (when I can get it), mystery, cop/detective stories and rarely science fiction and fantasy.

In all of those cases, in no way, shape or form can I relate to ANY of those characters!

Why? I was a maintenance puke for most of my adult life. I was a supervisor, an instructor, a technical writer, a medical biller. Do any of those choices fit with the above? No way!

I mean, come on now! Not only that, how many of those characters grew up in Southern California to a happy family, went in the Air Force as an electrical mechanic maintenance puke, lived in Spain and Turkey, was a failed musician that took up writing, likes psychedelic to heavy metal music and is into astronomy.

Well, I’ll tell you. Exactly zero!

I have read exactly zero books with characters that either worked at what I did, liked the music I did, had any of the same experiences I did, lived where I did or had anything I could relate to except spoke a common language.

I’ve on the other hand, “related” to characters that were all completely different from me because they were interesting, they had their own cocoon of exaggerated reality that was completely different from me. I would never EVER want to do or be like them.

I always know this ahead of time before I even open to page one. I don’t care.

WHAT’S THE REAL TERM WE’RE LOOKING FOR?

It isn’t about relating to the characters at all.

It’s about connecting with them.

When you bury yourself in the world created by that author, you have to like the character or characters enough to buy off on them. You have to accept all their quirks and habits, their likes and dislikes, their personalities. If what they are is too alien to you, that’s a disconnect.

How tolerant are you with that?

That’s the question.

I’ll bet you’re pretty tolerant. I’ll bet you’ve read lots of books and have liked lots of characters that are vastly different from you, yet you liked or loved them.

Why?

The author made them interesting.

They weren’t relatable to you because they were completely different from you. They might be a different race, sex, have different likes and dislikes. However, they were put together in a way you like. Period.

They were interesting.

In my case, I was rejected because the agents didn’t find my characters interesting. Or, they didn’t find the story interesting. Or, they didn’t like the grammar or syntax. Or they didn’t like the plot from the synopsis. Whatever the case, I wish they would’ve just said it outright instead of giving me such a vague response as “I just can’t relate to your character” especially with just a few chapters which didn’t give enough time to even develop the character.

True, a story has to grab you right away and those early versions certainly had their flaws, since corrected. Now, THAT feedback would’ve been more useful than the reference to the characters.

Then again, I wouldn’t have had the inspiration for this article!

SUMMARY

There have been very few books I’ve EVER read where I could really relate to a character and they’ve all be autobiographies.

As for fiction, I go into a different world. In there, I connect with characters, rather than relate to them because frankly, none of them are like me.

I suppose our goal as authors is to connect our readers with our characters in some way.

Happy writing!

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2017 2:43 am

    Hello Sir,

    I found you after searching Air Force topics. I love what you have going on over here and I admire you for your persistence in collecting rejection letters. Good for you because you haven’t quit!

    I would also like to thank you for your service to the nation and because of what you and about a million other veterans did in 1990, I wanted to be a small part of the team. Thank you for helping to kick Saddam’s backside in 1990 and I wish the first President Bush would have let you guys finish the job. It would be a different world today.

    Congratulations on getting your book published and I wish you all the best moving forward. With your permission, I would like to become a follower.

    rob

    • September 9, 2017 1:31 am

      Robakers,

      Thanks so much for the kind words! I really appreciate it. I was in Spain in 1990 and we supported the effort from there. My wife and kids worked the transient hangar for the troops that passed through. Several people in my shop went over to the theater to support the effort.

      I’m glad I stuck to my guns and never self-published. I don’t knock self-publishing it’s just not for me. Yeah, it DID take a while!

      Glad to have you aboard!

      All the best,

      Fred

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