Reader reaction to the protagonist of a story will not only influence whether they like a book or not, it can also make or break the fortunes of that book; maybe not in terms of the critical response, but certainly in the commercial sense. This is an observation I was very conscious of while writing my first novel, The Exercise Of Vital Powers. I realised early on that my protagonist, Kayden Jayta, was a character who many readers would struggle to get behind. In fact, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to me if most of the people who end up disliking the book do so primarily on the basis of their dislike for Kayden.
To varying degrees, many authors, particularly those who are genuinely passionate about their craft, invariably put a lot of themselves into their writing, whether it be in terms of their personality informing their characterisation, or their life experiences influencing their plots. I’ve never been one of these writers. I have always consciously gone out of my way to avoid putting any aspect of myself into my writing. There are a couple of reasons for this: first of all, I am a very private person, so the idea of incorporating any part of myself or my life into a story is one I could never be comfortable with; opening up and sharing personal things about myself with anyone, even indirectly, is something that doesn’t come easily to me, and (with one notable exception) it never will. Secondly, I’m a boring person with a boring life which doesn’t really lend itself to writing exciting stories.
It’s been very quiet on the blogging front over the last month, even though I actually have several blog posts written and ready to be posted; I’m just waiting for the right time to post them. In the meantime, I’ve decided to kick-start things again with a post about Kayden Jayta, who is (for those of you who don’t know) the central character of my novel The Exercise Of Vital Powers. It’s an opportunity for me to provide some insights, not just into the character, but my reasons for making certain creative decisions about her and her story.
If you ask a hundred bookworms to identify the most essential ingredient for a must read book, there’s almost no chance you would get unanimous agreement. All readers have differing sentiments that affect what they want and enjoy most in a work of fiction. For many readers there will be one specific box that absolutely needs to be checked in order for a book to be essential reading. For some, pacing is the priority, for others it’s writing style, for some it’s originality, while for others it might be thought-provoking themes and ideas. I’m not going to attempt to provide a definitive answer because there isn’t one. But I will give you my thoughts on what I consider to be the most important constituent of a good story, the absence of which always detracts from my reading pleasure.