June 10, 2010

Don Quixote’s Quest

On Wednesday, I cautioned that a writer’s worst sin is to bore his reader. Of course, that begs the question of what I mean by it. What one person finds interesting may be an occasion to nap for another.

My eyes glaze to hear talk of sports, for example, any sport. Games generally require that someone wins and someone loses. Competition is supposed to make watching or playing a game exciting. Not for me. I’m happy for the winners, of course; but what about the losers? Their lot is to watch the winners jump around pouring bubbly over themselves and look dejected.

I’d prefer to eliminate winners and losers. Life’s hard enough. Melina Mercouri plays a prostitute in the movie Never on Sunday. Like her character, I’d rather forget the game and scoop everybody up for a picnic at the beach. 

Tastes can vary so radically among people that it seems unfair to send a would-be author on a quest, as if he were Don Quixote, in search of the “Not Boring.”  My friend, who bought Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after I’d rejected it, e-mailed me the other day. He liked the book and for the following reasons:

  • He was happy to see the wicked industrialist, Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, get his comeuppance.
  • He admired the spunky Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the tattoo who knows her way around the mean streets of Stockholm.
  • He thought the book had a fine sense of place.

 Oddly enough I agree on all counts, except:

  • Wennerstrom has little presence in the novel. The protagonist has been defeated as the story opens.  Sure, the hero licks his wounds in the hinterlands, but Wennerstrom is no Dan Brown villain who threatens the innocent on every page.
  • Lisbeth is tough, a passive-aggressive manipulator made that way by hard knocks.  She’s a survivor, but is she a heroine? Not to me. I sympathize with her, the way I might for a rabid dog; but I can’t admire what she’s become.
  • The novel has a strong sense of place. True, but I’d rather skip the frozen fiords and head for the south of France.

So, how does one make a novel interesting in a world of varied tastes and points of view? That’s a hard one. What I do know is a writer shouldn’t pick up his pen until he has an audience in mind.