Characters are only human…

One possible visualization of Walt and Danielle

The characters in our books may not actually be human, but the goal is to make the reader believe they are. That being said, I always find it amusing when a review has an issue with something one of the characters says or does. 

In my opinion, a reviewer has the right to take issue with any book—providing the issue exists. For example, I had a reviewer once slam one of my books because of all the things I pushed about Mormons in the story. There was NO mention of Mormons in that book.

When it comes to critiquing characters, it makes sense for a reviewer to note when a character says or does something completely foreign to the character the author has created—without any feasible explanation. For example, if Danielle shot and killed Lily in the first chapter of book 30, my readers would assume it must be some nightmare scene, or that wasn’t really Lily or Danielle. But if by the end of the book the readers realize it was in fact Lily and Danielle, and Danielle decided to kill Lily because Lily said something annoying, that would not only alienate readers, it would justifiably bring on the one-star reviews.

But aside from a character behaving out of character—I always shake my head when I get a negative review where the reviewer says something like, “The author said Portland was the capital of Oregon. Can’t the author use Google?” (This is purely an example, and not something from one of my books.)

My question to the reviewer, “Did the ‘author’ say that, or did a character?”  Nothing a fictional character says in a book should ever be taken as ‘fact’. After all, a character is only human, right? And humans make mistakes all the time.

The same is true for grammar issues. When a reviewer leaves comments about the poor grammar in the book, sometimes they are talking about the grammar in the dialogue, which is not a legitimate issue. Unless the character was an educated person and unlikely to speak in that manner.

I had one writer friend who had an English teacher edit his first books. It didn’t work out, because she was always trying to clean up the dialog and remove contractions. Her version was not how people really talk.

As for the grammar comments in reviews–as a reader of reviews, you need to take those with a hefty grain of salt and weigh the other reviews. If an overwhelming number of reviewers slam the grammar in a book, the author may have a problem. Yet if it is only a couple, maybe not. There have been times someone has pointed out a ‘mistake’ to me, only to discover they were wrong. (This was after I double checked with several professional editors.)

When reading a book, readers often get frustrated at how the characters behave and then slam the book in a review. They sometimes slam the author if a character behaves inappropriately, which I find amusing.

If a character in a book is a flaming misogynist, it doesn’t necessarily mean the author condones that behavior. After all, many of my characters murder people, and I don’t condone murder.

Personally, I strive to craft three-dimensional characters, those who have both negative and positive traits—like real people. I also believe a character should be realistically shaped by his or her past.

I remember a couple of reviews that slammed Walt; they felt he was creepy and too forward with Danielle. They failed to consider he was a man of his era. While it is nice to aspire to raising our current sons to treat women as equals and to respect boundaries, it’s not realistic to imagine a man from the 1920s suddenly appearing and immediately behaving according to today’s standards—or the standards we aspire to.