Saturday, March 30, 2013


For the past few months, I’ve been doing workshops at Writopia Lab. As a published author, I’m supposed to be the leader. But I learn as much as I teach.
One young writer wrote a piece in which a woman fell in love with a passionate composer. The woman was supposed to marry another man who was more practical. I assumed the young writer wouldn’t care much about the boring guy. I was wrong. The young writer said that she actually liked that character. She could see the good in him. I was the one who had succumbed to a preconceived notion.
Any piece of writing is much more interesting if the characters are a mix of likeable and disagreeable traits. Then something surprising can happen. Those unexpected twists are what readers crave.
In my first novel, Nature Girl, I wrote about a girl who was mad at her family. That provided a lot of the humor, but some readers wondered if she had to be quite so angry. Maybe she didn't have to fight with her family all the time?
When I started writing my new book, The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, I fell into a similar trap. My amazing editor Liz Szabla helped me find ways to enrich the relationships. The novel is much stronger because there's real affection between Dr. Agard and his parrot Zeno, even though Zeno still believes his owner is his servant.
I can’t help but think that I need to apply this lesson to people I meet. I live in New York City--I’m going to get annoyed. (Don’t get me started on the people who throw trash on the subway tracks!) But wouldn’t we all be better off, as writers and readers and children and parents, if we treated everybody as well-rounded characters?