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New Voices! Kate Hart: Everybody Hates Bella

To celebrate the holiday season, (well, besides giving away tons of books) we're sharing our

230 (and counting!) followers with some fantastic guest bloggers. Next up in our New Voices series is Kate Hart, writing about the YA heroine we love to hate.

A little about Kate:

Kate Hart is a former teacher who now works from home for a non-profit while corralling two little boys. She's working on my first novel, tentatively titled Refuge. Kate's blog, My Sphere of Domesticity, is always hilarious.

Everybody Hates Bella
Ways Your Book Really Is Like Your Baby

So apparently there's this really popular YA book out right now...Twilight, I think it's called? You might have heard of it? Anyway, it tends to galvanize readers, who fall along the lines of "ZOMG Twilight is the greatest book of all time EVAR" to "Twilight heralds the coming apocalypse." A chosen few of us manage to find a middle ground. But almost everyone, fans and haters alike, agree on one thing.

They hate Bella.


I'm not here to debate poor Bella's flaws and attributes, because there are roughly 27,000 other places on the internet where you can discuss her. But the reaction to her interests me. Why? Because when my second beta reader wrote about my main character, "I ::heart:: Aubrey," my heart grew three sizes and almost exploded from my chest. Not unlike the feeling I sometimes get about my two children.

*alarm bells ring*

Uh oh.

If you allude to your book as your "baby" on writing forums, expect to be roundly chastised. "Writing is a business! You have to be professional! There's no crying in writing! In Communist Russia, book writes you!" (I may have made up that last one.) I don't disagree. If you can't maintain an emotional distance from your work, how can you ever objectively judge if it's ready for the real world?

But the same is true for children. No mother can objectively gauge the attractiveness or brilliance of her child-- and both child and character suffer from smothering guardians who assume their offspring are perfect and have no faults. Even worse: You might be a stage mother, forcing your offspring to dedicate massive amounts of time and energy to only one side of their personality, or a helicopter parent who solves every problem before the offspring even knows it's there. How is any kid, real or fictional, expected to fare in the real world with this upbringing?

If I have one piece of parenting wisdom for the masses, it is this: You can't make a child do anything it doesn't want to do. Sleeping, eating, using a toilet, shutting up-- none of these are things you can force, at least by humane and legal means. Once those children are out in the world, interacting with others and finding their own way, there isn't much you can do besides cross your fingers and hope that you did enough in their formative years to lead them in the right direction.

You can't control the reaction that people "out there" will have to your biological, adopted or literary darlings. People will be mean and call them stupid, vapid, ugly, ridiculous. They will sneer at them and exclude them from birthday parties and laugh when they fall down. Any attempts on your part to defend them will only make matters worse.

But if you've put in enough effort, they'll fend for themselves. By interacting with others, they will reveal depths even you weren't aware of. They'll answer critics with arguments that you never saw coming. Yes, some people will hate for no reason. Others will find that your characters simply "aren't their thing." And that's okay. Your kids won't be friends with everyone in their class, either. But if you've helped develop more than just one side of their personality, if you've prepared them for the real world, they'll make the friends they need to make their momma writer proud.

~Kate Hart
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Yay Kate! Great post, and just what I needed right now. :)

  2. Thanks for the opportunity ladies!

  3. bella is a constipated stick in the mud that would have gotten killed in my first two chapters of any of my books.

  4. "In Communist Russia, book writes you!"

    Still laughing at that line. Really great post.

  5. Terrific post, Kate. You make me so proud! *sniffle*

  6. I'd argue that one difference between our character children and our real children is that our characters (being fake and all) get off so much easier than our kids. Their flaws can be seen as good things and people love characters for their flaws. Not true for real people.

    Example: Monk - I loved the show, and rooted for his character, but I'd probably have zero patience for him in real life.

  7. I'm having this problem right now. Revising my wip, I'm debating doing something really awful to my mc. I'm waffling, asking myself "Is it necessary?"

    So I'm trying to distance myself emotionally in order to truthfully answer the question.

    It's heartening in these tumultuous times to hear how much mutual hate brings us together. ;)

  8. I don't have kids, so I can't really speak to the parenting thing, but I think we all go around perpetually tolerating our own flaws and the flaws of the people around us. The flaws sometimes look like charm and eccentricity, but one's woman's idiosyncrasy is another woman's unbelievably obnoxious hat collection. Ultimately we love each other despite (or because of!) our flaws.

    I mean, Bella haters may hate Bella, but something about the books resonated with them powerfully enough that they're hating all over the internet, right? Since it's impossible to fully disconnect the MC from the other aspects of the book, something about Bella must resonate (on some level) with the haters. As much as they hate Bella, there she is, getting loved up by supernatural hotties. Is that jealousy I feel?* Or a tinge of relief? If she sucks that much, there's totally hope for me.

    *Full disclosure: I've only read about 60 pages of the first book, but I think the concept is pretty universal.

    Interesting post, Kate!

  9. Awesome post and something I really needed. You are very right. Thanks again.

  10. Great post, Kate!
    It's definitely hard to distance yourself from your little piece of blood, sweat, and tears, but it's also definitely necessary.

  11. Great Post!!
    I don't have kids, but I totally understand you when you're talking about characters. We always love them and want to make them perfect, but will readers like them??

  12. Cat,
    I liked the hat collection reference :)

    That's definitely true, and you made me think of one advantage that real people may have.

    Forced, continual aquaintance. If I don't like a character in a book, I can put it down and walk away from them. With real people, you don't always have that luxury. So some people (co-workers, relatives, neighbors) may grow in your affection and tolerance over time because you've got no other choice :)

  13. Great post, and thanks for introducing me to an awesome new blog!

  14. I really resonated with this post. When a beta reader told me she disliked the main character in my first book, it felt like someone punched me int he face. What? You don't like her? You think she's stupid? Well you know what I think.... hehe But in the end it helped me distance myself from my stupid unlikeable MC (it took much time and whining first) and realize that though her reactions to think may be very real to the type of person she was, they also made her someone difficult to root for...

  15. You know what's kinda funny about this post? I expect some people not to like my main character because she's kind of a bitch. I mean, I tried to write her as the bitch you hate to love, but I can see people disliking her. Hmm, this really has me thinking...

  16. Thank you for all the comments and compliments!

    Laurie, that's something I've been thinking about too-- characters that are unlikeable by nature-- and I think it touches on Holen's comment. If the reader isn't rooting for the MC, then there needs to be some other element holding them in "forced continual acquaintance." Courtney Summers' Cracked Up To Be s a great example of that, IMO.

    For the record, I don't actually hate Bella. She's not my favorite character, but I think she's better developed than a lot of critics give her credit for. A discussion for another day! :)

  17. My MC is truly my baby. Or, uhh, since she's my age, she's more like one of my close friends. Except she'd probably hate me if she met me. ...I feel really close to her. :)

  18. Really interesting thoughts, Kate! I haven't read Twilight either, but you're right - now that I think about it, I've never heard anyone gushing on about Bella. I always just chalked it up to the Edward/Jake hormonal fits that accompany any mention of the books.

    I would argue that writers would almost have to love characters. Not love them as people, but as characters. Stephen King said Dolores Umbridge was "the greatest villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter", LOL. I'd love to have a character people hated that much!

    Of course, I know you're mostly talking about when folks hate main characters who are supposed to be likeable. But even then, (IMO), a strong, memorable character is preferable to a nice but boring one.

    This was a great great great post! Thanks!!

  19. I actually don't view my characters as children; I view them as siblings! I am hyper-aware of their flaws, but because I have been around them so long, I'm either too tolerant of them or forget they're even there. Also, I'll mock/torture my characters without abandon, but the moment someone else tries to do the same, I'm ready to put up a fight.

    So, even though I don't consider my characters to be my "babies," I more or less have the same reaction as those who do. Thanks for such a fascinating post! It's making me think a lot about how I view my characters.

  20. Awesome post, Kate! And it all comes back to Twilight, lol....It's like 6 degrees of Bella Swan. :)

  21. WHOA. I just realized that I'm with Heather - I see my characters more as siblings or best friends than children, lol.

  22. agreed. little sisters. I am SO not old enough to be mom to a teenager.


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Item Reviewed: New Voices! Kate Hart: Everybody Hates Bella Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard