Friday, May 7, 2010

Larger Than Life

The other day, I read this in a blurb for a novel from a small press: "She was finally able to pursue her dream of becoming a librarian." After I stopped laughing, I started thinking about why I found this so funny and what makes a good character.

In real life, there is nothing funny about someone wanting to become a librarian. I know several people who work in a library. I have a friend that just got a master's in library science so she could get a promotion to research librarian. None of these people fit the stereotype of librarian: quiet, shy, geeky, wears hornrimmed glasses, mild-mannered, etc.

If you read a story and all that the author told you about a character was that they were a librarian, then you would probably imagine someone who was not very exciting.

Then there's the part about it being her dream to become a librarian and that she hadn't been able to pursue it until now which I have trouble believing. This is not a career that requires a high degree of intelligence or a special talent. A person of average intelligence and abilities can become a librarian if that is what they really want to do in life. And as it is not a real popular career choice, my guess is that it would be very easy to find a job. At least one person that I know, fell into his job at the library. He didn't need a special degree to get his job.

Reading a story about a person pursuing their dream of becoming a librarian is not very interesting. The hurdles they face to achieve their dream are minimal and easily overcome by the average person. If one is going to write a story about someone pursuing their dream, make it a big dream, make it questionable whether they would succeed or not.

Some of the most interesting athletes in the past two Olympics were the ones who had to overcome a huge obstacle to get to the Olympics. There was a Uzbekistan gymnast who competed for Germany as a thank you to those who had helped her with her son who had cancer. She won a silver medal in the vault. Then there was the swimmer Dara Torres who has competed in five olympic games and at the age of 41 should have been too old to even get into the Olympics; she came away with a silver medal in the 50m freestyle.

In team sports, it doesn't matter whether it is football, soccer, or water polo, the most interesting games to watch are the ones where the score is almost even. Where you have to watch to the end of the game to see who wins.

So, your main character wants to be a librarian, make their dream to be the head of the New York Public Library. That story would be interesting to read.


  1. Actually, according to my friend who is a librarian, due to over-recruitment in previous decades, it's a much harder field to find a job in now ... but I still agree with the underlying point here. Dramatic stakes ahoy!

  2. It probably depends on the area one lives in. Gainesville is a college town and the University does have many different libraries. The competition for jobs is probably not as stiff as in the larger cities.

    But yes, the point is raise the stakes. Make it harder for the person to achieve their goal, though not impossible. Impossible can be just as boring to read as easily achieved.