Monday, January 3, 2011

Exceptional Writing, Exceptional Techniques

Let’s start out this year by congratulating exceptional writing.

I read a lot of books. I have to admit, most books leave me with just one memory of what I liked about them. I may remember a single scene or a turn of phrase or perhaps a clever plot point.

But a book rises to the top of my favorites lists when it leaves me with many memories. Furthermore, I classify it as a significant book when those qualities not only impress me, but change me.

Such a book is The Passion of Mary Margaret by Lisa Samson. As a reader, I was impressed with the way she dragged me along with her protagonist into situations that demanded a moral decision and then demonstrated how courage and obedience to God can enable someone to not only survive a “hard teaching” from God but triumph in it.

This book changed how I look at romantic love. I will never be the same after reading this book.

I hope that more readers will want to buy this book. This book is good reading because of its unusual premise, the clever “frame” format, a wealth of compelling details and wry dialogue and humor and gut-wrenching scenarios.

I also hope writers buy this book to study its craftsmanship. I learned from it. For instance, it takes skill to effectively pull off a first-person narration with that many flashbacks without frustrating the reader. There are too many examples of other subtle literary proficiencies to list in a single post, but one I particularly admired.

Previously here on NM we’ve discussed how to insert the literary equivalent of what we call a “rest” in music – what would in a movie be filled with music or something else while a character stays silent in the midst of a conversation.

Samson inserted a pause by giving a description:

Halfway to the dock, Gerald took hold of my arm with his other hand. “Stop just a minute, Mary-Margaret. I’m getting a little breathless.”

We stood in front of a span of eelgrass, the ribbon leaves swirling in the gentle ebb of the water.

I’m sorry.”

He rested his hand atop his head, then rubbed. “Used to be I could drag you along.”

Did you see it? Not only is the reader snagged away from the next line of dialogue, made to wait, to count out a caesura, but the description is itself of something that is silent and filled with motion that designates time.

That’s exceptional writing, and I salute Lisa Samson. May God give her a long life and many more books to bless us.

What exceptional Christian book have you read lately?


Wendy Paine Miller said...

I read Chasing Lilacs a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Happy New Year.
~ Wendy

Jan Cline said...

Im beginning to doubt my ability to judge a book's worth. I dont read a lot of books during the year - Ive always been a slow reader. But the few works of Christian fiction I have read this year have disappointed me. Even one from a very famous author. Am I too picky? I have read a secular book that I thought was exceptional and I believe I mentioned it here before - Sarah's Key. Well written and fascinating story. I guess I need to push myself to read more. I will try the one you suggested for sure. Thanks for the tip.

Latayne C Scott said...

Thank you very much, Wendy and Jan. I will add those books to my TBR list. I did look up each on Amazon and they sound great.

Latayne C Scott said...

Jan, I too have found that some of the highly-hyped Christian novels have not been satisfying to me. I can think of two that I read last year that really left me cold. So you're not alone in your perceptions.

Nicole said...

2009 was an exceptional year for CBA reading. 2010 not so much.

I echo all your praise for The Passion of Mary-Margaret. Amazing writing, loved the story. So well done. Will remain in my Top 20, although I'm sure there are more than 20 in my Top 20. ;)

My final novel read in 2010 was Chris Fabry's latest. He's amazing. Almost Heaven manages to merge lovely prose with down home twang. One of the better ones of the year. I'll read any adult novel he writes.

Lisa said...

Thanks LaTayne. You give me too much credit! I so appreciate your post. It always encourages me when my books teach writers a part of the craft. That's how I learn, almost 100%, by reading novels that will teach me. I haven't read a writing book in so many years, and that, the only one! (Don't tell anybody I said that. I abhor writing books! I know, I know. Bad Lisa! Bad Lisa!)

Anyway, all the best to all of you on your fiction highway!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Samson does a GREAT job in every book she writes. I love her!

I read "Dogwood" by Chris Fabry last week and LOVED it!

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I read "the Master Mariner" by Monsarrat over the holidays. Not a Christian book but the character is credited with 'knowing his Bible'. I felt that the author struggled to keep what little he believed about God out of the narrative. A full, far-flung confession and release from the bonds of small minded faith might have turned a fascinating book into enduring literature.
Even so the author is to be commended for his research and wit, turn of phrase, clever descriptions and mirror allusions that tweak the brain.

Nicole said...

Yes! Good Lisa. Good Lisa! I love that you hate--er, don't like writing books. Hurray!

Latayne C Scott said...

Nicole, Kristin and Henrietta,

I always listen carefully to people like the three of you who have been such faithful conversationalists on this blog. I will take your recommendations to heart, and thank you so much. I really appreciate your input, friends.

Latayne C Scott said...


Thanks for helping me feel less guilty for not reading more writing "craft" books. On the one hand, I realize how much I need help with structure and plotting, so I not only read books on that subject, I also outline books to see how authors handle structure. (I did that with Silence of the Lambs, for example-- not because I liked the subject matter, but really appreciated the artful plotting and viewpoint issues.)

On the other hand, if I want to muster up the courage to write with creative abandon, I read authors like you. Much as a roaring fire puts off sparks that can travel up a chimney, out, and into the air, fine writing ignites me, too.

May God bless you, and thank you.

Unknown said...

Re: Writing books, I've read stacks. Ok, I thumbed through stacks of them at the library.
I have come across exactly two that are worth their weight in gold. I purchased both with real money.


And that's all.

Susie said...

Oh...thank you so much for giving me permission to stop reading all the trade books! I just want to get to the writing when I read a book that tells me I don't "do it" correctly. Pooh, pooh.

And, Lisa is a fantastic writer. I'd nearly given up hope of writing fiction in the Christian market until I chanced upon "Embrace Me". Ah. So nice...and not an Amish person in sight (not that I don't like the Amish...but, you know what I mean).

Megan Sayer said...

Hi Latayne,

This sounds weird, but I had an epiphany this Christmas (the logical time for them, I guess). I read a book that not only challenged me but left me changed, and, after a big repent time, helped me form a whole new set of writing goals.

I've had to repent from a whole lotta prejudices. Sure, some have had a validity, but I can't let them colour my perceptions of future books I read. Some books force me to grow as a reader, stretch my shape to accommodate their intended audience. This can only cause me to grow as a writer, as elements of those new shapes find a home within me. I've been too narrow. At times I've been too negative (and I'm truly sorry).

I'm learning. Much of it has stemmed from Novel Matters. Thank you. Can't say that enough.

Oh book, the one that gave me the big epiphany...Sharon K Souza's Lying On Sunday.

Latayne C Scott said...

Bonnie, I like how you think. You survey the offerings and then you BUY books. My goodness, this industry won't survive unless people are willing to show their support for fine writing by actually giving the writers a monetary indication of their appreciation for their hundreds (sometimes thousands) of hours of work on a project!

Susie, you are a wonderful representative of "the other" Christian reader-- one who isn't stirred by a bonnet romance. On the one hand, our yearnings for a simpler and more dedicated life are reflected in such genres as Amish lit. But other yearnings bubble up from inside us, too.....

Ah, Megan. May God bless you for your repentance and your sensitivity to Him. And we at NovelMatters are so proud of our Sharon. I had the same reaction when I read Lying on Sunday -- it was calling me to something higher. On a personal level, I struggled with myself -- could I put my spiritual money where my mouth is, in a situation such as Abbie faced? That book has become an exemplar for me in my life. And of course, the quality of writing in Lying on Sunday is superlative and exemplary, too.

Bonnie Grove said...

Well, I'm going to go re-read Lying on Sunday! Megan's inspiration has me craving the company of Abbie and her girls.

Sharon is a rarely gifted writer - and her eye for detail and depth is terrifyingly clear. She's exactly the sort of author I'm talking about when I beg readers to put down the fluffy books, and take up novels with substance.

Anonymous said...

Well, you girls have given me just the boost I need today. Thank you, Megan, for your very kind words, and Latayne, and Bonnie . . . I'm amazed that I find myself in such incredible company. I so appreciate you all, so love the community we are becoming.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

LaTonye, I hope I didn't offend anyone! I think that there is certainly a place for the Amish novels...they are encouraging many. It is simply nice to have a few more options.

I'm really sorry if I came off in an offensive way. That was not my intent at all.

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie, I certainly didn't take your comment as being offensive at all. My fellow NovelMatters authors would tell you that there are a number of reasons why I in particular would not see it that way!

We grouse a bit around here about romantic fiction and "bonnet fiction," but we are happy that people buy and read Christian fiction. We'd just like to provide alternatives for those who don't read romances and Amish fiction!

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Whew! I feel better now! Thank you! I'm very glad to have found this community!

Latayne C Scott said...

Well, welcome Susie! We're glad you're here! And thank you for putting a "NovelMatters" blog post on your site. We are honored.

beka said...

Ah, I loved that book!
Goodness. Lisa's one of my absolute favorites.
Hmm. Chateau of Echoes by Siri Mitchell is a wonderful one I read a while ago...

Latayne C Scott said...

Beka, thank you for recommending Siri's book. I'll have to check that out!