While I was searching for inspiration I read another author waxing poetic about the virtues of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy novels. They’re very early YA books-- first published starting in the 1940s.
Now, I admit to loving Ann of Green Gables and thought these would be right up my totally uncool alley. Unfortunately, I found myself unable to read them without copious amounts of skimming. Betsy, Tacy and all the women in these books are so saccharine sweet, even when they are supposedly not being sweet-- I just couldn’t take it. Without a little edge to give their personalities some depth, I just end up wanting to smack um. I really missed Elizabeth Bennett slamming the hypocrites every other page. I was longing for a zombie or something and I don’t even like zombies.
What I did appreciate though was how she captured daily life in a very realistic way--the easy banter of people who hang around together regularly. The male characters especially were drawn with the sarcasm, humor and rhythm with which people truly interact. I need to get myself some of that.
Takeaway: Make your novel’s universe a real, living place instead of cardboard scenery--a place where the reader can get lost and forget it’s just make believe. And the peripheral characters play an essential role in creating that universe. And—when things get slow for gosh sakes, throw in a zombie or something!