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Friday, August 12, 2011

Sympathy for the Hero

As I have mentioned many times before, I get a variety of RSS feeds, especially those that focus on a specific genre.  This helps me to stay on top of what the people who LOVE that genre are talking about.  I get a better understanding of the readers' interests and I can see trends as they are developing.  All of this helps me to make better book buying decisions AND to be better prepared to help actual readers when they stand in front of me and want "a good read."

A few days ago I came across this interesting discussion on my favorite Romance resource, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  Here is the opening paragraph, but click through for the entire post and to see the good comments:
Many books establish reader sympathy for the tortured hero early in the book. Reader sympathy allows a secret and somewhat omniscient understanding of what appears to other characters to be aloof, arrogant or even cruel behavior. If the reader didn’t know the hero has a tortured, miserable past, or a turning point in his life that changed his character, he’d seem more like a shit and less like a hero.
This idea, although specifically referring to the Romance hero, can be applied to many types of genre fiction. I know many readers who like to have sympathy for the hero.  In fact, they have returned books to us in disgust because of the lack of sympathy they felt for the hero, even though every other aspect of the book was enjoyable to them.  Of course, there are others who prefer to watch their hero at a distance, and still others who like unsympathetic heroes.

The point I want to make here for RA training purposes is that this level of detail exists in all readers' personal tastes, whether they know it consciously or not.  It is our job to get this information out of our patrons and then know how to match this preference to a specific title.

A great way to start understanding how to do this better is to read posts like this one,  especially because it ends with this great question:
What about you: do you like the early insight into the hero’s tortured past, or do you prefer a mystery to be revealed later? What stories of heroic hurt still haunt you?
Now, read what real readers have to say about what they like in their heroes.  This is a great way to see a variety of opinions on the most appealing hero.  Where else are you going to find so many readers willing to share their thoughts so freely, all in one place? It is treasure trove of information just waiting for you to discover it.

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