I read a Robin Cook book the other day. Doesn’t matter which one — they are all similar with their cutting-edge plots and cookie-cutter characters. After more than three decades of writing, he should have learned a bit about characterization, but apparently he doesn’t need to. He is a bestselling author.
That’s right: an author. Not the practicing physician he seems to want us to think he is, but an author. Wearing the accoutrements of a physician, he smirks at us from his book jackets, which announce that he is on leave from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Can you imagine his poor patients? After thirty-five years of hanging around his waiting room, they are getting blinder and deafer as the nurse says for the ten-thousandth time, “He’s on leave. Just be patient and he’ll get to you when he can.”
One point in Cook’s favor is that, ignoring what his picture says about him and concentrating on his books, he is an unpretentious author. He doesn’t expect us to believe he is a literary genius. He is what he wanted to be: a bestselling author.
When he embarked on a writing career, he read one hundred bestsellers and dissected them, then began writing his own. He is good at being a bestselling author, but he is terrible at characterization. Not one of his characters has ever leapt off the page into my imagination. They are simply types fulfilling specific roles.
I want more than that for my books. I may never be a bestselling author. I may never even be a published author, but by gum, I can learn how to write characters that people will love or love to hate. (And so could Robin Cook, if he wanted to.)
I am starting to write a new novel, one that has languished in the back of my mind for the past year, and I need to create a hero. A reader of this blog commented, “Why not blog a character? It will help you with thinking about personality, motivation, history, yet you won’t have to worry about where the story is going, and it won’t have the pressure of having to write a whole book.”
I’m not sure I know what “blogging a character” is, but I can certainly begin creating one here.
I’ll start tomorrow.