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March 03, 2014


Little Willow

As Hardison on the TV show Leverage said:

"You know, my nana used to say that what's normal is whatever works for you. We all work okay."


Amelia Loken

I hadn't really thought about Neutral v. Specific characters before. But, as I go through favorite characters in my head, I realize that I am NOT very much like many of them. Yet, there was always something strong within them that made me feel like I WAS them for those hours I read, and even more hours after I put the book down.

I think sometimes we (as a culture) want to slap stereotypes on characters, but as Shakespeare taught us in the words of Shylock the Jew, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" We really are more alike than we'd like to think, or that our culture has conditioned us to think.

By the way, I was introduced to a one-handed character, Sid Halley, in Dick Francis' (adult, mystery)novels set in the British horse racing world. He is the main character in "Odds Against", "Whip Hand", "Come to Grief", "Under Orders", and "Refusal". Sid is one of my favorite characters in Francis' many books.


Wait, people only want to read books about neutral main characters?

...that seems really silly. Why are you reading a book if you don't want to learn something new?


Maisie sounds like a great character. :) And as someone who was homeschooled, I really appreciate that about her! I don't think I've ever read a book that featured a homeschooled character, but I sure would like to.

For me, it's more important that a character be likable than a character be someone who I can relate to. I'm not saying I love perfect characters, because I really don't. I like for them to be flawed. But I don't want to read books full of hateful, selfish, awful characters who never grow or change or improve in any way. When I think about my least favorite books ever, they're all filled with characters like that.

I enjoy reading about characters who are different from me. I have no desire to read hundreds of books that feature bland characters who are all exactly the same. I like this C.S. Lewis quote: "But in reading great literature, I become a thousand men and yet remain myself." That's one of the joys of reading...to get to walk in someone else's shoes for a while and see how they view life. Sometimes I'll meet a character who is different from me in the biggest ways, but we have small things in common, and that's enough for me to connect to them.


Isn't part of the reading experience meeting these new characters who are nothing like us, only to realize they are very much like us? That we are all human? ...Even the non-human ones? Ha!


I am actually MORE curious now than I was. Maybe it will be a slow build and the reputation will grow after people read it and start talking? I like that you are pushing people (both me as an adult and my 11-yr old daughter) to consider different points of view. Everyone has a story, and you show that in your books. The main character isn't the only one with value, and supporting characters don't exist just to move the plot or provide humor. I appreciate that and am looking forward to this one!


ARGH! I just checked your events page-nothing actually AT King's English for Dangerous, and the Ever After High event is during our spring break. My daughter is going to be so bummed! She loves seeing you there. I'll have to see what I can pull off for March 11...


When I was a preteen I read A Lantern in Her Hand. The main character grows up - into an old woman. It was the first time I had ever realized that old woman used to be young girls just like me. I can still remember how much of a shock it was to make this realization. At the time my mother and I had been making weekly visits to an old lady. By reading this book it made me see beyond the hunched back, quavering voice and the wrinkles. Would I have ever had that ah-ha moment without a fictional book to pull me in and teach me?

Recently (20 years later) I read another book about an old woman. It felt different somehow. After reading your post I realize it's because she was a specific character and there really aren't as many specific characters out there. My SIL is in a wheelchair and she has brought it to my attention how few books are available where the disability of a person isn't the main point of the story (which usually come with a miraculous healing). And she's right there are some but not a lot.

So hooray for another. With your thought provoking post I'm more interested to read your book than I was before.

Laree @ Ever Heard Of Euless

I guess for me it would depend on how much those adjectives turn into trials vs just an adjective. Of course being 1 armed is going to change your life in very different ways. But being a science geek or homeschooled isn't that far off "normal" for me, I know many people that have those characteristics. Other than it makes her bilingual, is being part half-Paraguayal really that much different than being red haired or grey eyed? It's part of her, but not that different either.

On the flip side, I remember reading a book several years ago where every possible bad thing happened. It never ended - her hubby left her for a prostitute, she got fired, her son was killed, the new man in her life's ex started making problems . . . it was crazy and just way too much. The main character was a few steps removed from me, but it was all the insane circumstances that made it too much for me to believe, not the fact that she was 10 years older than me.


So, I have a (wonderful, beautiful and amazing) cousin who was homeschooled, is one-armed and geeky in the best of ways. I was homeschooled and totally geeky myself, so maybe I'm not the best person to answer your question--Maisie doesn't seem too different to me! :)
Although...I had to shape my reading life around accepting the neutral. It bugged me a little that I never had any books about homeschoolers to read, but I adjusted to (and loved) reading about kids in public school. I couldn't find any books about Polish-German-Irish-Swiss-English-Ukranian-French Canadian granddaughters of immigrants, but then, I wasn't really looking. I loved reading about people who appeared different from me on the surface, because the stories always proved how alike we were underneath.

Amy Kathleen Ryan

A very interesting post, and thank you for your candor. When faced with a question like this, I want to ask, "Which came first, the reading behavior of specific groups, or the assumptions of the publishing industry about those groups?" Smart People say white people won't read about black people, and then The Color Purple comes along. Smart People say boys won't read about female protagonists, and then The Hunger Games proves them wrong. Quality is always more important than those marketing assumptions. If you write a brilliant book, I have to believe it will find an audience.


On Neutrality: My brothers think person=woman. Not woman=person, person=woman. If a woman knocks on the door they'll say, "There's a person at the door." If we're in a restaurant with a waitress, "Tell the person we're ready to order." Last week they told me, "A person came to our school today to talk about reading" and my immediate answer was, "What was she like?" But with a male, they always say "a man" or "that guy". I've never asked them why they talk like this. I'm afraid if I do they'll feel like I'm calling them out.
On Relatablility: I think there's this weird paradox where
1. Stories with Neutral characters get slammed for not being diverse enough
2. Stories with Specific characters never get praised for being diverse
3. Stories with Specific characters and Neutral authors get slammed for the author not being diverse enough
Sure, Specific people crave representation. One of those brothers I mentioned is left handed. He doesn't like how all cartoon characters are right handed. But do Neutral people really have an obligation to Specific people to represent them? I mean, you can't write a book for every kind of Specific person. The best you can do is create an interesting human with interesting human emotions that they can relate to.


I read the beginning on Tor, and I am very much looking forward to the book (despite being two-armed, entirely non-Paraguayan, not a scientist, public schooled, and an adult to boot).

Sadly, though, there does seem to be a hunger for non-specific characters, perhaps so the reader can project him/herself onto them? I think that's part of the appeal of Twilight. It's my totally unscientific sense that it's infrequent readers who like unspecific characters most, though.

Jo Darton

There is a reason that cliches exist...they are often true. There is a reason that "neutrality" exists,(I personally had never heard that delineation before) and that's because it's the majority. I believe one of the reasons "Twilight" was such a success was because Bella was an average, ordinary girl. Not exceptionally beautiful, not popular, not extraordinarily gifted, but plain Bella. Likewise Elizabeth Bennett wasn't the beauty of the family, nor the most accomplished. Unfortunately, the majority of the world is just plain jane. The majority of girls in this world will relate and cheer for the average and the ordinary. If you want to write a novel about someone out of the "neutral" zone....great! As an author that's your choice, but in that choice you are choosing to resonate with the few rather than the masses.

John Barnes

I would suggest modifying a more basic hypothesis. I don't think you have been talking to Smart Person. I think you have been talking to Glib Applier of Rules Person. And the more a work fits the rules the less necessary it is to read it, until, down at the most rule-bound end, there's no reason to read at all. A book ought to be necessary to its reader, if it can be, and that means breaking rules.

Robin Ambrose

Seeing the list of Specifics, I'm MORE inclined to read it, not less. You sure you couldn't have made her colorblind, too? ;) I love unique individuals. I love that they have a slightly different vision of the world, and it's fun to get to know them. I revel in the many ways I personally depart from the norm, so I relate well to those who depart, themselves.

Also, I doubt I'd have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out. I think we all have departures, and 4 isn't all that many (I have more). I may have noticed that she's an interesting character, I certainly would have noticed that she was missing a limb, but homeschooled science geek half-Latina? I'm not sure I'd have noticed enough to include those in a review.


Also, as a teenager, it bothers me that Smart Person assumes middle grade readers will enjoy Specific characters but we won't. Is that because little kids are naturally curious about the world beyond their backyards? Or does Smart Person think teenagers are self centered? If we enjoyed middle grade books with unique characters facing different challenges in exotic settings, won't we want more of the same now? We're still the same people, just under a different label. And if middle graders read up, won't you "get away with this" anyways?

Jaime Kirby

I didn't fall in love with Johnny Tremain's character until he hurt his hand and had to deal with a new kind of life.

Harry Potter was an orphaned, abused, myopic British wizard, and not very many complained that he was unrelatable.

In short, I think your instincts are right--bring on the interesting characters.

Christy Grigg

Your post makes me want to read it even MORE!! Different is far more intriguing to me. Maybe not comfortable, but it is interesting! And what a shame if people can't find anything to relate to in "several steps away from neutral." Also, I'd never looked at it that way, but I'm so glad you wrote about what neutral means in books, movies, etc. I've never been able to put it into words, but I am always aware of it and that I feel a bit uncomfortable when characters don't quite fit "neutral." That being said, being uncomfortable can really help a person grow and I like to learn how to relate to others who are different from me either in small or large ways. Great post, can't wait to read Dangerous (and have my girls read it too!!).


I don’t think I've ever read about a character that was exactly like me, or even very close. There are a lot of characters that I relate to, some of those connections are strong, and I love characters that I can identify with but those characters are also different from me in many glaring ways. One example is in the autobiography "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind" by William Kamkwamaba. I am not African, I don’t know a lot about the culture or geography of Malawi, I’m not male, impoverished, interested in mechanics, or a farmer; I also haven't experienced famine and the problems that come with it. Despite these differences I was able to understand and empathize with William. I do know a l, I know what it feels like to be bullied, I have my own interests, and I do understand what it's like to not have much money. If William’s account had been fictional a Smart Person might have suggested that the character was too specific or that it would only sell to a specific group. However, his story has affected people who are very, very different from him.
I have a hard time understanding why people would want to read about neutral characters or characters that are very close to neutral. It would be boring, in my opinion. Since most people can’t or don’t go out and spend time with people who are very different from them, we need to read about them. How else can we understand people who are different from us? If we didn’t try to understand others then how could a nation that is as large and diverse as the U.S. survive? It takes learning and empathy in order to get along here. I say that you ought to ignore the Smart People; Maisie is certainly awesome and she will be loved.
P.S. I’m going to try to get everyone I know to read "Dangerous." I’m excited (event though I have practically no time to read…darn you college)!


I'm home-schooled as well, and I have not read more than two books (that I can remember) in which the MC is home-schooled. IT'S ABOUT TIME!!!!!! Home-schoolers are not such a minority as people think. Also, we really ARE incredibly smart (No, I am not a genius, I don't pretend to be, we just tend to be a bit higher on the lists), something that comes from the fact that we are home-schooled. It's just one of those benefits of home-schooling, I'm not putting down public-preschoolers. One thing that really annoys me is that I saw someone complaining about how you had made Maisey a brilliant home-schooler, and that home-schoolers weren't really that smart, it's just something we (meaning us home-schoolers) make up fake polls for, but that's not at all true. About her having one arm: I like reading about folks who overcome their handicaps. Two of my favorite books, "Running Dream" and "Out of My Mind" are about two individuals who have handicaps and eventually overcome them. We all have handicaps, they're not all physical handicaps, but some of them are our bad attitudes, our inability to accept changes etc. As for Maisey being half Latina: GREAT! While I myself am White, I don't mind reading about non-White characters. Most people tend to forget that America is no longer mostly White. I forget the statistics, but I think that the majority is made up of non-Whites now. I sometimes wonder how Blacks, Latinos and Asians feel about reading all the time about Whites. So, my verdict: I think it'll be great. Thumbs up. Tell that critical person to get some perspective. ( Oh, and as for the science geekiness, my brother is TOTALLY a science geek. He's always asking for magnetic wire and cylindrical mirrors and to take apart old machines. So no, that is also not condemned in any way, shape or form in my eyes.)


I relate to Isi, Enna, Razo, Dasha, and Rin (or any combination thereof) at any given time, even though they're different from me and each other.


in my opinion, the great thing about books it that not matter who the character is or what they look like (white, black, blond, redhead, human, fairy, alien, etc) there always seems to be a way to relate to them. because they are in a book, their appearance doesnt seem to matter. they are their name, their personality, not their looks.


Wow, after reading the beginning of your post, I realize that none of those things phased me when I read the sample of your book. Maybe, because as you pointed out, my family must be at least 3 steps away from being normal. At least we sound an awful lot like Maisie. For example: 1. My son and his friend sit around debating physics for fun. 2. A few of my kids have been homeschooled 3. My father has had a lame arm since a very young age. I don't think I even realized it until I was rather old. 4. My husband is Argentine, so I have 4 half-Argentines beings running around my house.
I know when I read, I want someone who is different than me. I know who I am and what I would do. What would someone else do? What makes them act they way they do?

J Washburn

The comments so far seem in favor of strangeness in characters. I admit, the review you cited makes the character seem a little odd, in a jarring sort of way. But I agree with what people have said above about learning new things and having new experiences. Good post!

Carol Nicolas

I enjoy reading about characters who are different. I also enjoy meeting people in real life who are completely different from me. I want to know their story, to find out what motivates them. I look forward to reading your book and getting to know your main character.


Part of reading for me is leaving my "neutral" life and getting outside myself, to escape. I don't really want to read about a carbon copy of my life. I read to experience different, to leave my worries behind and get lost the characters' worries. I love reading about royalty from other countries and time periods because their lives are so different from mine. I loved reading about Isi, Enna, and the gang from Bayern because they gave me a different experience from my own So, believe me, I am so excited to read about your geeky, home schooled, one armed, Paraguayan daughter of scientists because I'm hardly any of those things. I can't wait to be someone else and experience something else through Dangerous!


I have to say (selfish though it might make me seem), all I'm worried about is MY characters now...on a paranoid level. Characterization is not my strong suit, truth to be told.

I was worried before, but now I'm freaking out. I mean, some of my characters are kind of normal (if we don't count their freaky superpowers and serious family problems)...but the main character in the first book is homeless, an orphan (that he knows of), claustrophobic to a hysteric level, can't remember the first ten years of his life, is horribly shy, has weird powers that scare himself more than anyone, is only half human, and is currently undergoing puberty. And lots of it.

Gah. Such a horribly written sentence. *eye twitch*

But I don't know how to fix it. *sighs*

Fleur van woerkom

Isn't Esa one handed? Like, one of her arms is lame?

Jennifer N.

I always love reading stories about characters that are different from me! The characters I love the most are those who can have the guts to do something that I can't, or am too afraid to do. They become my role-models and friends, especially if they are my age. I like to think they are helping me to improve MY character. Reading about people who are "different" helps me keep an open mind about people in the "real" world. So excited for your book! Maisie definitely has potential to be my new role-model :)


I have not read this book, and yes, I am not into SiFi. But I am homeschooled. I also think that just because someone is different on the outside doesent mean you should look at them differently or anything. And I think that it also should not affect the way you think they think. Did that make sense? Well I for one am really looking forward to reading your book Shannon. This will actually be the first book I read that has a homeschooler for the main character. I really hope my library will get DANGEROUS so I can read it. You asked who I relate to. Well honestly I relate to your person who doesent really know her place. She is always "jumping" around in her opinions. She makes lots of mistakes and says things that can be taken the wrong way.
I really hope this new book is a page turner.

Ani Brooke

Wow, looking at this list, "one-armed" is the only thing that stands out as terribly Specific to me as a reader - the rest just seems like interesting incidentals. (Though I probably am disproportionately familiar with homeschooling!) I mean, if her Paraguayan heritage or her biracial/bicultural identity are Major Parts of her life, that would be Different for me, but again, interesting.

I usually give my high school English students a cultural identity project to close out our study of American literature: they are to create a piece of performed art to represent/describe a culture that is important to their identity. I had one African-American girl give a poem on "My Black is Beautiful" (including strong themes about her church) while an African-American boy was far more concerned with giving us the details of Brony Culture in a slideshow. One geek girl did a brilliant one-woman skit about fandom combining a decidedly "boy-geeky" fandom with two decidedly girly fandoms (which I have decided not to identify, as I am not sure she has removed the backup post to YouTube and I want to protect her privacy). Another geek girl chose to perform Colombian traditional dance.

People might earn quite a few labels, but it's the ones they live by that make for an interesting story. And the more we learn to accept irrelevant labels as Neutral, the better off we are. Because then we have fewer of those sad, sad students (usually white, usually not terribly geeky, always public school, able-bodied, straight, etc) who think that they have no identity, no culture, that is interesting or Specific enough to be of note, just because they happen to be Neutral on the most popular identifiers. And they generally seem to be very sad about that.

Victoria Hyde

I will admit to being nearly 50, LDS, a geek, and mother to two grown kids and a six-year-old. Guess that makes me several steps away from neutral myself. I read the free sample of Dangerous from Amazon last Saturday and immediately ordered the book. I love Maisie! This is going to be my read-aloud next year to my freshman English classes at my 72% Hispanic school. I think we all know what it feels like to be "different" in some way, whether it shows or not.

(And cheers to the Sid Halley mention upthread--probably my first taste of a "differently abled" protagonist, too. But, with a contestant on Dancing With the Stars who has prosthetics--and not the first one, either--I begin to see what the teacher in my grad school course on special education meant when she said it's not "disabled person" but "person with a disability". It is the character and what s/he does that is important, not the particular challenge the person has.)


I was homeschooled and I'm geeky (although more math than science). Maybe creating so many specifics will end up reaching out to a bunch of different audiences, too.


I got Dangerous yesterday! I'm only a little ways into it, but already I'm relating to Maisie! Keep up the good work!


I think you're over thinking this. We relate to characters who feel real, no matter how different (or similar) they are from us. I don't care if the character is exactly like me, or a different gender, sexual orientation, race, or class...if the character seems real and complex and interesting (whether I like them or not), I relate.

It seems sort of simple, but a well-written character who feels like a real person, is what keeps me turning the pages. And I don't care how many or how few adjectives come before their name.


I feel like if you're writing a sci-fi book, then the character *should* be geeky, or at least accepting of sci-fi ideas. Because if the reader reads a sci-fi, it's probably because they want to read sci-fi, and so a non-geeky character will be extremely difficult to relate to. Plus, I think the reason people say 'girls don't like sci-fi' is because nobody is trying to make them feel welcome in sci-fi culture. They just give up.

Personally, I think that non-neutral characters are no easier or more difficult to relate to than a neutral one. It all depends on your own experiences, open-ness, and willingness to understand another person's situation. People who complain about a character being hard to relate to should probably be evaluating exactly why *they* were having a problem, not anything the writer did or didn't do.

This is an interesting discussion though, and I look forward to Dangerous very much. Keep on keeping on!


Why is it considered easy to relate to vampires and werewolves and aliens but not people we see on the street and in our lives every day? To say we can't relate to them on paper in fiction is ridiculous when we relate to each other as human beings every day in real life.


Honestly until now I hadn't given this book much thought. I've pre-ordered almost all your other books, but I guess I've been Too Busy lately to actually find out what this one is about and get excited. Now that I read this I'm excited. I was homeschooled and I don't think I have ever read a book where the main character was homeschooled. That list of adjectives isn't off putting to me, it's intriguing. I've never seen a book about any of those "specific" things and now that I realize that I'm wondering why they don't seem to exist. I'm on my way to order my copy of Dangerous right now!


I agree with Emily. If the character feels real and well-developed, people will enjoy the story. I know I will. I am excited to read about Maisie because I want to experience her perspective and point of view. I like to get out of myself.


I'm a 16-year-old, public-schooled, able-bodied girl, and the list of adjectives describing Maisie made me more interested; I wasn't turned off at all!

Neutral characters are more familiar, but for me, they do get boring. I mean, the YA genre is full of neutral main characters. I find myself reading several books with the same main character, just with a different name.

I'm surprised there's this aversion to more extraordinary main characters. It seems unhealthy. Teens should be able to develop empathy by reading fiction, and that is difficult if most main characters are strikingly alike.

Just as a personal anecdote here, I once read a book where the main character was a British teenager with Asperger's syndrome. This book really broadened my view of people with Asperger's and similar conditions. I imagine that a character like Maisie, who lives with one arm but has aspirations just like anyone else, could really broaden readers' minds, too.


Heh. I guess my opinion won't add much to this list, but...

1. I've also heard the opposite theory. That the more specific you are, the EASIER it is to relate to a story, because it makes it more real.

2. I prefer unique protagonists. Makes them memorable. I think I'd just started reading The Actor and the Housewife when you posted another time about people finding Becky hard to relate to, and I was like "Whaaaa...???? I LOVE her! She's very different from me, I admit, and she would probably be exhausting to actually spend a lot of time with, but it is so much fun to READ about her!"

3. Above me, Ani Brooke said "Because then we have fewer of those sad, sad students (usually white, usually not terribly geeky, always public school, able-bodied, straight, etc) who think that they have no identity, no culture, that is interesting or Specific enough to be of note, just because they happen to be Neutral on the most popular identifiers. And they generally seem to be very sad about that." OOOO OOOO OOO! THAT WAS ME! I WAS ONE OF THOSE KIDS! I WAS geeky, but I distinctly felt lacking in the Culture department. Even though I also had an unpronounceable Eastern-European last name (BUT I didn't have grandparents who were Keeping the Old Country Alive for us through their cooking or decorating or language, so it DIDN'T COUNT), and even though I was Catholic, which I've since grown to appreciate as a unique culture of its own (but it was common in my area, and anyway, like I said, I didn't have Italian or Irish or Polish relatives being all Italian or Irish or Polish still like many of the people at my church). I even made a character up in my head who was even MORE boring culturally than me: I named her Jennifer Smith (I was born in the 70s and was named Amy-- the only way to make that worse was to be named Jennifer) and gave her brown hair and eyes as opposed to my-- still not unique, but at least recessive-- blonde and blue. I had her decide to find a culture for herself. But I don't know if she ever did. (I actually have a story brewing about a similar character who needs to learn over the course of the story that she does count).

4. Angie above said, "Why is it considered easy to relate to vampires and werewolves and aliens but not people we see on the street and in our lives every day?" THIS TOO. I was thinking this when I read about a lack of multiculturalism in fantasy and I'm like "WHY would publishers think fantasy readers would have a problem with characters of different races, etc? When people say 'race' in a High Fantasy novel, chances are they're talking about dwarves and orcs and elves, never mind skin color. I NAMED MY SON AFTER A HOBBIT; I think I can handle identifying with someone who IS of my species though different in heritage!"

So anyway. Go with your specific self.


I think part of the reason we read is to develop empathy--if we only ever read about characters like us, how is that supposed to happen?


As a half-Indian (from India), half-white girl whose father is handicapped, I didn't bat an eyelash at Maisie's description (which, by the way, is mostly to do with her physical details).


The more I find out about Dangerous, the more I want to read it right now. It's sitting on my Kindle, and I will start it as soon as I finish Sanderson's massive Words of Radiance, which I'm reading with my husband. If only the two books hadn't been released on the same day.

I think the reluctance to read about characters that aren't like the reader is dumb (you can read about a young wizard who flies on a broom, fights dragons, and saves the world, but you can't read about a girl or a Latino?), but real. I see it in my students and in fellow readers all the time. And I have to fight the unconscious tendency in myself to gravitate toward a certain type of book.

I think a good reader can find something to relate to in almost any character. We're all people. We all experience heartbreak and joy. Even if the specifics of the experiences are different, the core is often the same. So what if I've never been a black boy growing up on the streets of the inner city involved in gangs and on trial for murder. I can relate to his feelings of guilt and worry and fear.

Thank you, Shannon, for writing the story you want to tell, even and especially when your characters are non-neutral.


After getting my husband to read Goose Girl (he loved it and would like to see that one made into a movie!) my 13 year old son decided to give it a try (guess he only trusts his dad, since I've been bugging him for 2 years to read your books). He has DEVOURED them. Both Princess Academy books and the Books of Bayern in about two weeks. I'm glad that he has gotten out of his comfort zone and related to your strong female characters and that maybe he'll trust me in the future when it comes to book recommendations!

Meredith B.

Okay. I may not be the demographic you're looking for. Because I'm the odd one out, not remotely the center of the bell curve. When I was in middle school and high school, I was in the long tail. I was a homeschooler who failed pretty spectacularly at relating to people my age. I related really well to my twin sister, adults, and babies instead. As a result I read A. Lot., studied Philosophy, Latin, and Economics before I ever went to college, and graduated from high school with 6 1/2 years' worth of English credits, an extensive and detailed knowledge of women's clothing from 1790-1860, an elementary understanding of the Sindarin language, and the ability bake bread better than anybody else I knew. I was a total nerd. I was the geekiest of geeks. I would have loved to pick up a book like Maisie's. (I had graduated from college and become a children's bookseller by the time I picked up the first of your books which I read, Princess Academy.) I think I would have related to her really well. It was the books about cheerleaders that I really just couldn't get into. So, I'm proof that the long tail is there. We definitely need books for the long tail. But I'm not sure if that answers your question about the center of the bell curve.


I think that if some people can't relate to a character because their appearance is different than their own, then they don't understand the point of reading books. I don't think you should have to change what you think your character would be like in order to make it more Specific or more Neutral. If some people can't see the value in a good character, relatable or not, it's their fault, not the authors. I've never felt exactly the same as any character, white or black or anything else. So I say- carry on! She is your character that you are allowing others to meet. Don't try and change her for other people.

Stacy Whitman

As you know, Shannon, I'm all about the specific. I even started a whole small press dedicated to it (now an imprint of Lee & Low). I have a LOT to say on the matter, but I think I'll have to ruminate on it because I need to narrow it down a bit... :)

I think readers will love DANGEROUS because they love your writing, and because you've always been great at the specific, it shouldn't be that much of a leap to another specific story. It's in the specifics that the interesting stuff happens! More on this later.


I think that people are different from the Neutral character design in many ways, but for some reason the design stays the same. In stories, the protagonist is often white and male, and if the scene is in a public place, most of the people are white. In reality, there is a far more diverse population of people when you walk through a public place. There are all types of traits that make up a character, they go on infinitely and change as a character develops (at least if its a realistic character). white, black, brown, purple; blonde, ginger, black, brunette, curly, straight, wavy, long, short; tall thin fat short pretty ugly disabled ablebodied; nice mean rude respectful quiet brave shy outgoing; and on and on and on.
But the stories don't represent that. So I find it really weird as to why stories that have "abnormal" characters in them as the protagonist aren't as popular. The term "abnormal" is relative, just like 'beauty'. Different people have different tastes. So I guess this "neutral' character being in so many stories have caused people to develop a taste for that kind of character, so we're not used to any other kind.

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