Friday, November 5, 2010

What Would Katniss Do - If You Wrote the Book?

Do you play the game I play? When I read a novel, I ask myself from time to time, where would I go with this story, if I were the author? What would happen next? How would it end?

Writers can never just read a book, can they?

When I read (or rather, listened to the audio of) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I spent the final third of the book trying to figure out how Katniss Everdeen should resolve the love triangle woven into her story. Should she turn to the left, or to the right?

She did neither, and I enjoyed one of those satisfying moments that begin in disappointment, and end in Of Course! It couldn't have worked out any other way.

But truly, it could have. I'd spend a good deal of time devising lots of other ways things could have gone - though none of them would have been as good. One mark of a great ending is that it seems inevitable, though unexpected.

Still, my novel, To Dance in the Desert could have ended in a wedding.

Patti's Queen of Sleepy Eye could have ended in a double wedding.

Sharon's novel, Lying on Sunday could have ended in a murder.

Debbie's Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon could have ended with the child switched at birth being sent to a foster home.

Bonnie's Talking to the Dead could have ended with Kate leaning into the winds of life, a solitary figure in the dark - aren't you glad it didn't end that way?

Latayne's Latter Day Cipher could have ended with a Bang that would have said so much less than the whimper.

Maybe there's a book you've read that you would have written another way, if you'd been the author. Please, do tell. We want details.

We love to read what you have to say.


Jan Cline said...

Sometimes I think I would end a book another way, but then, I know I haven't been the one contriving the plot, characters and vision. I know what you mean about not being able to just read a book! But we have the privilege of reading for pleasure while learning about our craft at the same time.
Have a great weekend gals.
P.S. My conference plans are coming along so well - God is good. This blog was one of the prompts that started me on this road. It's turning out to be bigger than I had hoped.

Anonymous said...

Katy, you're talking about my current favorite books. If you haven't read the entire trilogy, I highly recommend all 3 books. It's an incredible story, told incredibly well. And as for the triangle ... well, I'd best say nothing more about that.

I find that if I'm reading a really well written novel, I surrender myself to the experience, relishing as an author in the good work. But if the novel isn't so well written ... that's when I play What If. And if we're being honest here -- and we always try to be -- I can't help wonder HOW the book became published. That happens all too often.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

My neighbor has number two and three waiting for me. Do you all feel like the more authors you get to know the more your reading list exponentially increases.

Hmm. I'll be thinking of this b/c I know of several I might have ended differently.

Hope I'll have time to swing by to tell more. You all threw me with time of posting today.
~ Wendy

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Katniss Everdeen. Just the name makes me sigh. I read the entire trilogy in less than a week and lost no small amount of sleep as a result. "Suffer," was the word my husband used one morning after I'd stumbled to bed at two. He meant it in the nicest possible way, gave me a kiss, and trotted off to work.

Loved the books. And you're right. They couldn't have ended any other way.

MandyB said...

A well written book does absorb the reader in another world. You become immersed in this 'slice of life' and 'feel' for the characters. I think depending on how you feel about the main characters sways your wishes for their 'ending' or 'after the last page' life. I don't want to change another writers work but wish the book was longer if I enjoy it.

Kathleen Popa said...

Jan, so great about your conference! We wish you every success.

Sharon, I'm currently listening to the third book. I still play the game even if I like the book, unless it is especially absorbing. But if I guess too easily the nest action and the next and the final outcome, I get cranky with the author. And the publisher.

Wendy, yes! My list grows and grows. And yes! Tell us which you would have ended differently, and how.

Ariel, bad enough to stay up all night for one book, but three? Exhausting. Hooray for Ms. Collins!

Mandy, can you name some books you wish were longer?

Megan Sayer said...

I was overjoyed this morning when I read your question Kathleen - I felt I could spend hours talking about where I'd take books (or, as Sharon so rightly said, how many of them ever got published in the first place). I even started a blog of my own recently so I could do exactly that.
Then I had a shower. And God started reminding me of stuff.

He reminded me of a comment Bonnie made recently, something along the lines of maybe it's not that the book is bad, just that I'm not the target audience. Then He reminded me of the scripture He gave me at the beginning of this year: What the Lord requires of you is this, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Hmmm.

So, much as I would love to rant about how Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow ended in the wrong place and I would have sent them back to Denmark, I recognise that the ending reflects the desolation and isolation of the characters and their environment.

The Kite Runner (as I've mentioned before) needed a complete rewrite from the end of Act 1, but I've been unable to decide exactly what I would do with it - although so much of the narrative was unneccessary and overblown it served its purpose in reflecting the character arc of a passive person's shove into action, which is the whole point of the book.

See my dilemna?
Even What We Keep (sorry Sharon). I would have happily rewritten the adult Ginny to be a much stronger character. However I can also recognise that she is a product of the strange repression of the 1950s, and in that the adult Ginny's character is true to self, and true to the purpose of the book.

Phew. There you go. I'm still a passionate book reviewer, but trying now to be kinder to other people's "babies". Funny, when your thoughts become words and your words become public you suddenly realise their power, and how accountable you need to be with them.

Anonymous said...

i know only one thing ... i would have wanted second books to follow both 'to dance in the desert' and 'tuesday night at the blue moon' because both books make me fall in love with the characters and i just didn't want either book to end!!

sally said...

Well I would definitely have written Mockingjay differently. The entire book. But I love that the trilogy is being read so widely by adults. They are page-turning books built to be made in video games and adults love them as much as kids. Very cool.

As for thinking about new endings for other books...I wanted Jo to marry Laurie. Other than that, I can't think of any books I'd change. I usually am so invested in books that I can't believe the characters could act differently than the way they do act. To my mind they are real people and they make choices that I don't always agree with, but it's their life so they get to do what they want.

Here's an idea...I hate to suggest this because I hate when authors jump over to hot trends, but...your agent has probably already suggested it anyway...some of you seem to be having a hard time in this market. You all are great writers, I've heard, but I've not read you because I don't read adult books. I'd love it if you would write YA books. I'd love to read you and I'm a huge advocate for more Christians writing YA books. The YA market is hot, you are reading YA books, so why not read a few more and then write some? They really can be deep and rewarding. Have any of you read When You Reach Me? Newbery Winner this year--wonderful voice, wonderful character, wonderfully plotted.

After you read When You Reach Me, read The God Box and think about the kinds of books that are influencing our kids and think about whether God might be drying up one market to lead you to another market. Neil Gaiman is writing for both markets. Why shouldn't you?

Sorry. I'm always wanting more talented, Christian writers to jump into the YA market. Some of my favorites already working in this market are Jonathan Rogers, Kathryn Fitzmaurice, and RJ Anderson. They are great. But they could always use company.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, take a stab: How might you have re-written Te Kite Runner? What would have happened differently?

Anonymous, what a sweet thing to say! Thank you!

Sally, when I first read Little Women as a girl, I wanted Jo to marry Laurie. When I watched the film as an adult, and fell in love with Laurie all over again, and hated Jo for breaking his heart... I came to realize that he would never have taken her writing seriously and challenged her to do her best work. Jo married the right man.

As to the YA, having read The Book Thief, and now reading The Mocking Jay trilogy, I must say, I'm raising eyebrows at YA. Really good stuff, and a quality of originality and adventure you don't always fnd in adult fiction. (Adult fiction sounds like it comes from adult bookstores and gets made into adult films, doesn't it?)

Anonymous said...

Katy, I'm so with you on the Jo issue. I have a wonderful memory of that movie. My daughter Deanne, who was married with a little daughter of her own, and I went to see the movie one afternoon. A day out for her. We both loved the movie, and Deanne cried so much at times I had to go to the lobby and bring back napkins for her. We always laugh about this, because Deanne is most definitely the non-emotional one among us. Right. Anyway, we both shared our love of it until the ending. She HATED that Jo didn't marry Laurie. And she wasn't crying about it, either. She was angry -- How could it END this way? -- while I drew the same conclusion as you. Laurie may have inspired Jo, but he never would have understood her. She married the man who would handle with care that part of her. It was perfect. I loved it. And I love the memory Deanne and I generated.

Megan Sayer said...

Kathleen - you asked. Here's my 10 minute Kite Runner rewrite:

After the inciting incident, and after the victim confides to the mentor, mentor confronts protagonist, and challenges him to make amends. Protag is forced to go and confront villain, taking his father’s gun with him. It all goes horribly wrong, and he is beaten up, his father’s prized gun stolen.

The stuff with the war and the evacuation to America still happens, although it is within a few months, not four years, protag is 13.

In America, as in the original, the father and son have a market stall, although there is a marked tension between them because of the loss of the gun, and the son continually wonders whether the mentor told the father. He goes out of his way to prove his manhood and worth to his father, and ends up joining a gang of young Afghanis, he is 17. He gets in trouble with the law, and spends time serving community service (do they have that in the States?) with an older Afghani man who tells him stories of old Afghanistan, reminding protag of what it means to be an Afghani, remembering a buried pride in his country and in himself. He decides to go back and confront the past.

Finally, after a gap of some more years (just so we don’t have to change the category from adult to YA!), Protag returns to Afghanistan to seek out the victim and confront the villain, who once again threatens him with the father’s stolen gun. Protag is victorious, country is ruined, victim is married and has a child, and the whole Kite Running ending happens as per original.

I think it ticks the boxes of causal plot, characters working at maximum capacity, and dramatic tension. Sorry, I've forgotten all the names.

What do you reckon, would it sell?

Megan Sayer said...

C'mon guys, is nobody going to shoot me down? Am I just the most overly-opinionated reader in the history of books?

sally said...

I was happy for Jo when she found her man. She was a strong girl and she needed a man who was older and stronger, I think. One who could challenge her, as you put it. It takes a certain maturity to challenge someone you love. If Jo had married Laurie they would have had an unhappy marriage.

I was just so sorry for Laurie.

So I am pretty sure I would have made Laurie stronger, if I had written the book. I would have tried to make him the kind of man that would have been good for Jo.

Katy if you would write YA books I'd love it. I've heard tell that you're one of the best writers around. I bought your first book, because I heard raves about it, but never read it simply because I have such a huge stack of YA/MG books that I need to read. My TBR pile never shrinks enough for me to move on to books for adults.

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, The Kite Runner was a hard book to read, and I think your version might have been easier. I DID NOT want Hassan to be dead, did not want that debt left unpayable. But then, it wasn't unpayable, was it?

You would have written a compelling story, though. Thanks so much for joining in.

Sally, I adored Laurie the way he was, weakness and all. I really think not getting what we want in a story, but getting the right thing instead, makes the unforgettable. It's the difference between, "Oh, how nice," and "Oh, oh, I see now..."

Thanks for the complement, Sally. Maybe I'll write a YA book someday. One of my heroes, Madeleine L'engle, wrote some great ones.

By the way, I have finished Mockingjay. Cried and cried. Wonderful stories, all three of them.

Megan Sayer said...

Thanks Kathleen. I didn't want Hassan dead either (probably why I left him alive in my rewrite!). In more considered thoughts though he it was right that he was (like Patti's editor and the classic HE MUST DIE). It sent the right shock waves through the reader, and well illustrated the horror of war and the death of the innocent. If I was doing a real rewrite I'd need to kill him off too (ouch).

What really made me angry about the book was what the author put Hassan's child through after his father's death. It felt contrived and unnecessary - horror for the sake of it, especially when the story already felt rounded and complete. The only purpose it served was to kick the protagonist's butt into gear, which should have happened in America. Anyone who takes that much effort to get his butt into gear isn't a worthy protagonist in my opinion. The strength of the first third is his struggle with his weakness and guilt, but that struggle doesn't continue and the story feels weak and unsatisfying all through the middle.

Thanks for listening: ) I think my reaction against it was so strong because of the difficult subject matter - a lesser story I probably just wouldn't have finished. Worst thing though was how nobody around me had a clue what I was talking about...