What’s the Stanley Cup, you ask? Well, obviously you don’t live in Vancouver, BC, or Boston right now! My home team, the Canucks, is in the finals against the Bruins in the National Hockey League.
Okay, I have to say right now, I’m really impressed with myself. First, I know—for the first time in my life—that the Canucks and Bruins are hockey teams. Don’t laugh. I’m really not a sports fan (except for figure skating, which I love) and I can never remember which teams play hockey, football, basketball, baseball, or whatever. Second, I’m impressed because I now understand that the Stanley Cup is the big hockey trophy, and that the “finals” (as opposed to the semifinals or quarterfinals) are when the Eastern Conference League winners face off (hey cool, another hockey term!) against the Western Conference League winners.
Vancouver is hockey mad right now. When the Canucks win a game, the streets are filled with cheers and honking until long into the night. Blue and green are the team colors, and you see loads of jerseys on the streets. My day-job office is seriously into all this, to the extent that on game days we’re supposed to wear blue and green.
A year ago, I would have thought all this was ridiculous. I mean, hockey’s about a bunch of grown men chasing a hard rubber disk across the ice, all decked out in ugly padded costumes, wearing helmets and masks, bashing at the puck and at each other with long sticks. For which they get paid a fortune—the kind of money we writers can barely imagine.
This year, on the other hand, I’m avidly watching the playoffs on TV. Have I lost my mind, or is there a reasonable explanation?
Well, the thing that started it all off is . . . the writer’s excuse for pretty much anything—research! My muse’s twisted sense of humor told me that the hero of one of my upcoming books would be a hockey star. Yeah, great, except I knew nothing about hockey and had no particular desire to learn. But one does not argue with the muse. Fortunately, it was hockey season, so I figured I’d watch a game and that would be my research.
Then a really odd thing happened. I kind of enjoyed that game. And wanted to see the next one. And the next.
Why? Well, I got invested. I began to identify with my home team and, despite their flaws, I wanted them to win.
It’s like what happens when I read a good book. I start to care about the protagonist. I begin to identify, to root for them, to groan when they fail and cheer when they win.
The protagonist doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’s better if they’re not, because who can relate to someone who’s perfect? They need to have at least some qualities that appeal to me—like kindness, courage, a sense of humor, but it’s also good if they face some serious challenges and have some growing to do.
For me, that’s the biggest factor in whether I think a book is just okay, or whether I love it. The more I care about the protagonist, get invested in their life, root for them and cry and cheer for them, the better my reading experience and the more memorable I’ll find the book.
How about you? What makes a book memorable for you? And who are you rooting for in the Stanley Cup finals?
By the way, if you’re going to the RWA National Conference in New York City, please come say hi. I’ll be at the Literacy Signing on Tuesday, June 21, from 5:30 to 7:30, and it’s open to the public. If you’re a registrant, I’m presenting a workshop on critique groups on Thursday at 3:15. And – drum roll – Kensington is having a big give-away and signing on Friday from 12:00 to 1:00, and I’ll be there too. Hope to see you!