So I had this epiphany.
It was too cold for me to work up the nerve to get our of bed to write, so I lay there, not thinking about my WIP, but thinking about a novel I'm reading for my work's book club. This isn't something I normally would have chosen for myself, but it was the first non-nonfiction book they'd chosen AND it was YA. As I lay there, analyzing it, I started to think about this one point where the main character is really just a jerk to the love interest. He doesn't intend to be--he's dealing with his own feelings about what's happening to his love--but he's being a jerk nonetheless, and he's really making me not like him.
I began thinking about why I felt so strongly against him. Here was a character that had been engineered for readers to like, and up until this point I had. Then I got it. It was because his girl needs him, and the more she needs him, the more he backs off. He can't deal with the stress--I get that--but that doesn't mean I need to like it.
Usually, when I read while I'm writing, I go through this phase of hating my own writing, a phase of insecurities so large that it backs my own manuscript into something black and deep. But then it hit me. I want my readers to think my main character is a jerk, too. I've always known this, and just yesterday I was speaking with someone about how I feel my WIP is falling short in this way. It's not as powerful as I want it to be.
So ready for the epiphany?
I could use this author's technique, tailor it to fit my novel, and make my readers feel the way I want them to. Why hadn't I thought of this before? There are a million excellent novels out there. Instead of letting them make me feel insecure, I should really focus on how they make me so invested in their characters.
I'm not talking about mimicking them or turning my novel into something tropey. The last thing I want is a pile of pages about mysterious boys and average girls. I'm talking about really discovering what these successful authors do to make their readers feel, analyzing it, and then looking for that thing in my novel, the thing that will make my readers feel, too.