I have read some great stories that I was unable to finish because the characters never came alive. I have read some great stories that I was unable to finish because the characters and the narrative were strangled in endless, introspective, self-congratulatory prose. Apparently, the author wanted me to gaze in awe at the pretty writing rather than finish the damn book.
The best story in the world won’t survive a cast of one dimensional stick figure characters. If a writer wants to turn his characters into real people he needs to deliver the sizzle. I’m talking about writing with emotional intensity. I want characters that leap off the page and grab me by the throat. If they can’t reach my throat they should kick me in the nuts.
Real people are flawed. I want characters that are real. When my inner voice is shouting for the good guy to rip off Dr. Evil’s head and parade it around on a pike, I want to see him do it, or at least set the guy’s testicles on fire. I want to hear some four letter words come out of the pretty girl’s mouth. I want the ridiculed homely girl to dump a bucket of goat’s blood on the homecoming queen.
All right, I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. A good writer listens to his own emotions, he inhabits his characters and then brings them to life, warts and all. Good guys aren’t always good. Bad guys are sometimes a victim of circumstances. Nuance is good, but don’t overdo it. If a character needs to be hit in the face with a hammer, hit him in the fucking face with the hammer.
A writer can’t deliver sizzle by playing it safe. Nobody wants to read plain vanilla. Some people will love the sizzle. That’s good. Some will hate it. That’s almost as good because it means the writer elicited a strong, visceral response from the reader.
I would rather have a reader hate my work than be bored by it. Nothing’s worse than that.