First off, let it be known that I am very capable of accepting feedback and criticism. I can take a note if the note is worth taking. And while I appreciate your comments, it seems as though you’re missing the point to an almost comical degree. The fact that my main character is “miserably arrogant and unlikable to the point of being unreadable” is an intentional choice on my part.
She is supposed to be a vain, narcissistic hypocrite who lacks the self-awareness to apologize to the myriad people she offends and is content on believing that she’s the only person of any worth in her entire friend group. That’s called “good writing.” And please note that I said “myriad” and not “a myriad of” since myriad is an adjective that means “many.” Not a noun. You can’t have “a many of” things. Right, Carl?
My hero, Angela Devlin, is so much more than just “a random amalgamation of character flaws in the hopes of crafting a borderline compelling character.” (Thanks for that one, Tricia. Why don’t we see that sort of thoughtfulness in your own pages?) She’s the well-rendered epitome of an entire lost generation. Maybe that’s why you stopped reading at page seven. Maybe you just don’t like being confronted with a character who reflects all of your worst qualities.
Some of you described her as, “insufferable, lazy, entitled, and delusional.” Would you levy the same criticism at Gone Girl? Sharp Objects? Fleabag? I wouldn’t, as I’m not a misogynist. Hell, I made my hero a woman, which is the exact thing that a misogynist would never do. By the by, “insufferable” is a term only lobbed at female characters, so please stop saying it, because it makes you sound hysterical.
The first time we meet Angela, she’s recording an Instagram Live diatribe about how she was late for work because the person in front of her on the offramp gave money to a homeless vet, causing her to miss the light and make an illegal left turn into a parked van. Tell me this isn’t the sort of superbly flawed, Don Draper/Walter White/Lena Dunham in real-life-esque antihero who’s destined to become a foundational piece of the zeitgeist.
Unprompted, Angela reminds you that she studied under Joyce Carol Oates when getting her MFA from Yale. She cuts people off mid-conversation to correct their grammar. When she feels criticized, she lashes out with ad hominem attacks while framing herself as the victim. I want to take these flaws and crank them up to eleven. That’s a Spinal Tap reference, FYI, for those of you who are willfully ignorant of iconic comedy.
At a playwright’s conference in Iowa, David Mamet once told me that the trick to writing compelling characters is to make them as irredeemable as possible. Any hack can write an endearing hero you can root for on page one. True artistry comes from forcing the reader to care about someone who’s not worth caring about. He then segued into a rather apt discourse on cancel culture that has stayed with me ever since.
Last month you said that my draft was too bland and that my hero, Logan Studwell, got out of jams too easily. No one called him on his perceived “bullshit.” And even though I never described his appearance, you said he had a punchable face. Despite disagreeing on all fronts, I showed tremendous literary dexterity, and this time I wrote a complex, damaged protagonist who is layered and textured, but somehow I still get hit with “unreadable.” Say what you will, but at least my writing makes you feel something. Even if it makes you want to close the book and never read it again, that’s the sign of truly great fiction.
Okay. Who wants to go next in writers group? Claudia, your short story is an absolute trainwreck, but I think I know how to salvage it. Let me grab my notepad since I have four pages of killer suggestions for you.