I read a gargantuan amount of contemporaries.
I don’t usually label them my “favourite” genre, but I think they’re the most popular to be published, aka, I end up chewing through a stack of them every month. (I’m agreeable like that.) Through all this contemporary consuming, I’ve noticed characters seem to dangle either in the I AM ORDINARY camp or I AM EXTRAORDINARY. Apparently, there is no middle ground.
There’s a definite art in combining the EXTRAORDINARY and the ORDINARY. I think a good character needs both. Too weird and wacky and there’s no way we mere mortals can connect. But to bland and plain and…why am I bothering to read about these uninteresting humanoids again?!
How much “extraordinary” to ratio of “ordinary” do you like in contemporary books?
Do you want someone who’s completely average and relatable in their problems in school and with homework and family life?
Or do you bulldoze through piles of books until you find a character with outrageous quirks and bizarre interests plopped in the mundane world of school and difficult life decisions?
WHICH DO YOU LIKE? AND WHAT’S THE BALANCE?!!
Lately I’ve been reading about seriously ordinary characters. They haven’t got ANY quirky interests. They don’t even have life goals. They’re just…ordinary beans, trying to survive teenage-dom. And you know what? I bothered me. I am ordinary (well, I’m a writer, so not that ordinary) and when I read I want to experience something I haven’t (or can’t) in real life. So heck yeah, I want to read about that kid whose got a thing for aquariums, or the cellist, or who works part time in a bakery making delicious pineapple treats.
I loved The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl because Alby a) was an insanely wicked artist, b) had a huge crush on comics, and c) loved making those delicious pineapple treats.*
When You Leave was epic because it had skate-boarding, which is something I know nothing about. In fact, the first time I tried to skate-board I was sitting down on the idiotic torture instrument, and decided to use my hands to stop myself. BAD IDEA, CAIT, BAD IDEA. Least to say, I had no skin on my hands afterwards.
Lola And the Boy Next Door is incredible because Lola loves to design and sew her own costumes. It was so visual and glittery! And also brought back memories of sewing with my sister…particularly the time she sewed a project to her skirt on accident.**
These books, where the character is normal BUT has intriguing interests, are what I live for.
* I lie. I have no idea if the word pineapple is even mentioned in that book. But I’m a writer. I GET TO LIE AND YOU CAN’T TELL ME NO.
** I died laughing, in case you were curious. I definitely wasn’t helpful.
But what about when the character has…absolutely no extraordinary tendencies?
Like, nada. Zlich. No intriguing life goals. No hobbies.
I struggled with Paper Towns because Q’s only interest in life was: Margo Roth Spielgman. When you put all your energy into being intrigued about ONE person it’s a) kind of creepy, and b) not very rewarding. Particularly when, as in Q’s case, Margo barely even ever talks to him.
Or more recently I read Me Being Me Is Exactly As Insane As You Being You and, apart from being exhausted by the title, I was 100% disappointed in Darren who was the most unremarkable ordinary bean to ever blob in the universe. He was boring.
And while the point of I Am The Messenger is that unremarkable people can do remarkable things….I was a little miffed that Ed’s only hobby was, in fact, feeding his dog things it shouldn’t eat. (Lasagna could kill dogs!)
I want the extraordinary, please and thank you.
I have enough “ordinary” in everyday life. I want to read about the DJ and the writer and the kid obsessed with the 80s. I want to trot around in someone else’s shoes for a while when I read, okay?! But I should be balance. When everyone in a book has wild and spectacular interest, it’s not intriguing: it’s overwhelming. But I’m always going to pick the book where the characters have quirks instead of the ones who are just like everybody else.