This weekend I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to the author Lee Child do an interview as part of our city’s Readers and Writers festival.
I confess I was a little concerned it was just a part of an authors promotional tour and was just going to be an unsubtle plug for Past Tense but luckily as per Child’s own admission he doesn’t need to tour to promote his work and the purpose of the tour was to say ‘thank you’ and to give back to his readers.
So what sorts of things did Child have to talk about? Well in no particular order…
He cautioned against authors falling in love with their characters. 23 books and (presumably) millions of dollars down the track one could understand if Child did develop some sort of emotional bond with his titular character Jack Reacher. Nonetheless Child was adamant that loving your characters was the path to ruination, at least for the readers’ enjoyment and the success of the series. In order to create stories about a character that satisfy, Child says you have to present them honestly “warts and all”, as much as Reacher seems to have a flawless quality in terms of his physicality and morality – Child points out that he is essentially a serial-killer.
Child believes that falling for your characters leads to ruin because you stop wanting bad things to happen to them, you want to guarantee a pleasant reception for your loved one to their audience. At first brush this doesn’t seem that bad right? But the theory makes sense, many author advice lists suggest torturing your MCs, that if ever stuck thinking of your next plot point just think of the worst thing that can possibly happen to your MC. Not to mention all the various forms of advice demanding characters have flaws, if not are totally flawed.
Put simply its hard to torture and create flaws in a character you love!
Child also put much emphasis on the interaction between author and reader. He acknowledged as an author one does ‘half the work’ and the other half is done by the reader. This is something which I have reflected on myself, that a writers job isn’t to “storyboard” their imagine for consumption for the reader, its to write words that prompt a reader’s imagination (a much harder task to be honest).
Finally the author talked about the impossibility of predicting success. Child was pretty up-front about his success, mentioning his 4th home and such, yet he was quite humble in admitting that one really just writes and hopes. His stance is you can’t choose to write a characters that’s ‘cool’ its up the readers. I was a little disappointed that he wasn’t going to look into writing something different to Reacher anytime soon, but respected his democratic approach (essentially it doesn’t look like there are many out there keen for anything else from Child but more Reacher).
Overall it was great to see Child sharing his thoughts about his writing career, it wasn’t specifically aimed at other writers, but more of a sharing of a long career but I appreciated what the mega-successful author had to say.