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Monday, December 13, 2010

Mystic Monday

Classic Novels, Today's Writing Style and
the Modern Novel - Part Two

Happy Monday Everyone!
*ducks as coffee cups and other miscellaneous things are tossed*
Yeah, yeah, I know it's Monday and I'm just too damned chipper for you, huh?

Well, I have a right to be. For the first time in 2 months, I have gone almost 24 whole hours without a migraine! This is an accomplishment so far as it's 4am. I've been plagued with them for so long, it's great to finally not feel in pain. However, I am realistic and I know that if I'm not careful with my health right now, I could set my recovery back, so I have remained home bound (except for Thursdays when I visit my parents) and will for at least another week. I have basketball games to go to, but attending depends upon how I feel. Not all of my symptoms have gone, just the migraines, so I know I'm still in the healing process.

Moving on...

I've been talking about how you need to read the classics and analyze them to find out what makes them great literary works, and the same can be said for almost any book or story.

While not every reader can tell you exactly why they like a book, story or author as much as they do, anyone in the book publishing author usually can. If not, he or she should be able to identify why they do or don't like a story.


Here's my answer: How can you expect to write a decent story if you don't understand what makes a good story good and bad story bad?

There's a big difference between not liking a story because something about it is poorly written, and quite another to not like a story because you don't like a storyline, a character, an ending.

What's the difference?

The difference is, if you don't like a story because of the ending, character or storyline, it isn't bad writing because it got you invested enough to read in the first place. If something's just written poorly, it won't engage you.

That being said, there's more to it than being engaged or not being engaged. This is where good analysis skills come into play. To succeed in writing your own stories well, you need to be able to identify what works and what doesn't work in a story. You need to be able to identify what engages you in a story written by someone else so you can engage others with your writing.

I don't care if you're writing historical, contemporary or futuristic - whatever genre or type - you need to build your world well, flesh out your characters, develop your storyline in an appropriate time frame, make the characters' actions believable and relative to their personalities.

How can you do all this properly if you can't pinpoint specifics about someone else's story? Truth - you can't.

There might be some of you that disagree with me, but I'm standing my ground on this. It's one of the reasons I haven't begun to publish yet. I'm busy trying to build my world, flesh out the characters, establish personalities, and determine the time frame in which things need to happen for the story itself to be believable or acceptable.

The only real way I'll accomplish this is by studying other people's writing. For example, I'm currently reading The Evil Within by Nancy Holder, book 2 in the Possessions series, and I find myself utterly transfixed with the story.

When I thought about why this story works, this is what I get:
1. The characters, setting and events are so credible that it makes the "paranormal" parts of the story believable. It's not a highly paranormal book, but there are ghosts involved. I found these two stories to more believable than The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity put together.

Why are these stories that much better?

A lot of different things - from simple things like people sitting down to play games, eat dinner and use the bathroom to grasping what the character feels as she's feeling it. That's one major point about these stories, they're from the POV of only one character and maintains that same character throughout - First Person Limited.

Holder has done such an excellent job of using realistic devices (cars, phones, material items, emotions) to put the reader into the mind of the main character. You see the story unfold through the eyes of the Lindsay Anne Cavanaugh. You experience every thought and feeling as she experiences them. It starts with the page listing her possessions versus the "them" of the Marlwood Academy clique, the clothes Lindsay wears and why she wears them, how she views the sights of Marlwood and the people she knows and culminates with how Lindsay suspects other people view her and her emotions.

The story also moves along. There is enough detail to set the scene, but not so much that it drags the story to a standstill.

Because I want to be able to do these things with my stories, I need to continue to read books and analyze what it is that makes the story a success. All of my notes are going into a database.

My notes aren't coming from just one source, but many. There are great authors that tell a great tale, but then there are other great authors whose stories tend to blend together after awhile - something I wish to avoid - but they continue to get printed because they are who they are and the stories will sell because they have loyal followers.

In fact, there is another book that I'm in the middle of reading, and I won't mention it (I haven't mentioned it either), that I had to set it aside because the characters just couldn't engage me, and the storyline felt...well...boring. I was shocked because that's just never really happened to me before with this author. I set it down and picked it up twice. So now, I've decided to give it some time before I get back to her works because I figure maybe I'm over-saturated with her work, I wasn't in the mood for the story, or I just don't like it. However, as with all authors and stories, I like to give everyone a fair shake, so I will put books down and come back to them more than once to make sure that my own personal biases of the moment are not getting in the way.

Now it's your turn!
Think of one of the best stories you've ever read - what makes it so special? What about it captured your attention? What makes it tick and succeed as a story? If it was one of the first books you ever fell in love with, have you ever gone back and reread it to figure out why you might have liked it so much? Where did it fail or fall short, if it did? 

5 Moonbeams (comments):

Gracen Miller said...

Glad you're feeling better, Carrie!!

I think you've already said it, it's character development mostly for me. If I can't connect with the characters--and that means understand their actions even if I wouldn't react the way they did--then I'm never going to get it. I just recently read a book where the writing was excellent, but the characters fell flat and not just one character but ALL the characters. There were several times I was left scratching my head thinking NO sane person would react that way and since the author didn't convince me of their actions, I just couldn't buy into the story.

I also want to feel everything the characters do from every tear they shed, the weight of their desperation and hoplessness, I want to scream inside when they scream on the page, and I want to gasp and moan in pleasure with them (not literally, but in my mind).

An author that can do these things, is one I'll keep coming back to over and over again.

Carrie said...

Thanks for sharing Gracen!

As much as I dislike being upset, I too appreciate the roller coaster of emotions I can feel while reading a book.

Gracen Miller said...

I definitely don't want to feel a lot of those emotions in a "real life" setting, but in a book, it's the only way to go for me.

Molly Daniels said...

AMEN! If I can't connect with the characters, forget it.

And kudos to being pain-free darlin'! Now get writing!

Carrie said...

Workin' on it! I've mapped out a bunch of stuff already! Now it's a matter of fleshing stuff out! :)