Is Clay a jerk because Lara says he is?

I entered the first twenty pages of Fast Lane in a contest that offered critique. I didn’t win, but I got some helpful notes—and plenty of food for thought.

One judge said Clay lacked respect for women because he maintains his “mystique” by always having three women who act, shall we say, as his “official” consorts. “The three girl rotation is completely repulsive—to me in any case,” the critique said. “I won’t say that respect for women is mandatory in a romantic hero, but it sure helps.”

That last part sounds right.

But all we “know” about The Rotation at first comes from Lara’s description, and it raises the question, Is a character a low-down, dirty rotten skunk just because another character says so? Especially right at the beginning?

I mean, what if Lara’s wrong?

Let’s say a thriller opens with darkness. Two shots are fired. The lights go on, and all we see is Suzy Q. holding a smoking gun and Senator John D. lying dead with two holes in his chest. Case closed, right? Suzy did it in cold blood. Spark up the electric chair.

Of course not. And readers know it. They know there’s a good chance Suzy didn’t do it, or if she did, she had good reason.

Boo Radley gets some bad PR in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Is he really the monster the kids suspect he might be? Ebenezer Scrooge is quite a dick at the outset of “A Christmas Carol,” but does that make you want to close the book?

In every one of these cases, the whole point is to find out what’s really going on. And what’s really going on isn’t necessarily what we’re told up front.

Lara’s unflattering description of Clay—the one that offended the judge—comes in the first couple of pages of Fast Lane. The same judge also said, “Nice opening scene! Interesting premise,” and added that she “was open to liking (Clay),” so that’s encouraging. My takeaway is that the opening and premise are fundamentally sound, but could use a tweak or two.

At any rate, I hope this judge gets a chance to read the whole story some day. I think she’d end up pleasantly surprised.

2 thoughts on “Is Clay a jerk because Lara says he is?”

  1. I see this a lot in some of the critique groups I belong to. Everybody wants to "like" the characters right away, and if they don't–they think the work will not find an audience.

    Let me put in a plug for "unlikeable" characters. They're more interesting. And when they do change their evil ways–well, isn't that what fiction is all about?

    I'm patient–when the writing is good and the characters are well drawn. Even if I don't like them, I'll stick with it to see what happens next.

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