Monday, May 20, 2013

If This Is What I Want As A Reader. . . A Novel Matters Roundtable

I'm trying to catch up on my TBR pile. I don't read long fiction while I'm writing a  novel because, inevitably, the novel I'm reading gets tangled up in the one I'm writing making for messy re-writes. This readathon happening at my house has made me realize that I've been living a double life. One as a reader, the other as a writer. What I look for in a novel and what I write (particularly in that lousy first draft) suffer disconnect. It's time to bridge the thinking gap and bring the reader and writer in me together!

If this is what I want as a reader: A story that introduces me to can't-look-away characters I fall in love with the moment I meet them,

 How come as a writer I: Piddle around with the opening of the story, adding all kinds of backstory, moody and unnecessary details about the weather, or long narratives from a god's-eye-view that don't bring the characters close?

Here's another one. If this is what I want as a reader: Complex novels that deal with human struggle on several levels at once.

How come as I writer I: Try to make myself think that a single problem should have a single answer? It's good for a novel to have a central question (theme), but it's yawnsville if I write as if the question has only one good answer.

Alright, ladies, 'fess up with your reader/writer disconnects. I'm not alone in this, am I?

Oh boy, Bonnie, I'm right there with you, but I'm asking the question a bit differently. As a reader, I don't pick up genre fiction. Yes, I read historical fiction, although I prefer near-history, but not historical romance. I'm most interested in a good story historical or not with complexity, like you, that challenges me to look at what I thought I knew differently. I do try to write those stories but never as well as I want to.

I'm ready to start my next project. All through the marketing of my present release, I've been frustrated with having to pigeonhole the story into a genre of two categories and seven keywords, so readers can find it. What I write doesn't fit the prescribed vocabulary of marketing. I'm so tempted to chuck it all and embrace a genre. But which one? Shouldn't I write what I read, even if I don't do it as well as I want to?

So, Bonnie, I'm definitely conflicted, and I'm at a crossroads. Please send chocolate.

Wow, this is more difficult than it sounds, but I'll give it a try.

If this is what I want as a reader:  Complex plots that are interwoven between compelling characters,

How come as a writer I: write novels with simpler plots, focusing on the problem of one major character? Answer: because complex plots are dang hard to pull off! I don't take the time to develop all, or most, of my characters to the same level. But when you think about it, each one has his or her own drama going on, his or her own catastrophe, his or her own long-fought-for success. Each character should have the potential of The Main Character, and yet I narrow the scope of my stories when it comes to the supporting cast. I know that about myself, but the problem is that I'm not good at juggling. Maybe with my new WIP I'll be more mindful of what's going on in the lives of my other characters and see how good I can become at weaving.

I love this exercise, Bonnie - thanks for bringing it up. So my question is: If what I want as a reader is characters who take my breath away (think Corrigan in Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann) - well, I do start with the character, and with practice, may yet write a Corrigan one day.

I'll start over, and better this time: If what I love best is a high wire act*, a lavish risk that achieves the spectacular when it succeeds (think The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak) then why do I take so few risks when I write? I'm working on becoming fearless.

Pray for me.

Okay, so I want exotic, mysterious, suspenseful, rich, multilayered characters and settings. I want people with secrets and secrets with landscape. I want the rug pulled out from underneath me at least twice and as I sit rubbing my bum, I want to tell myself I should have seen it coming. And then step on another rug without looking at it.

That's what I want. That's what I try to write. But I certainly don't do it up to my own expectations of the writings of others-- or of myself.


V. Gingerich said...

Every time I came to one of your "what I want as a reader" lines, I said, "Yes, that's what I want as a reader."

And I think you give us those things.

Last night I encountered two "can't-look-away characters" on Bonnie's blog, while reading the opening chapters of her latest book.

In Unravled, Sharon gives us the stories of Anya, Andy and Patti, (all with the potential to be The Main Character, I might add) interwoven in the story of Aria, who is complex enough to make me roll my eyes at her, blush for her, love her, and cheer for her.

And Patti/all of you, please don't try to squish into genres. I do find myself groping for a way to describe your books in a word or two, but that's exactly what I like about them.

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” ― Toni Morrison

Susie Finkbeiner said...

As a reader, I want to read something that isn't held back. A novel where the writer breaks the rules in an artful way.

Then why, as a writer, am I so afraid of these 3 little letters: CBA?


Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, yes, I'm with you.

Wanderer, you have encouraged me greatly. Thank you.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Wanderer, you've given me quite a boost this morning. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

If what I want as a reader is a character who grows as a result of and through crisis and who unravel and face secrets from the past head-on...

...why do I write with such shallow character arcs? Scared to let bad things happen to my beloved character? Hate to think bad about my character? Yeah. both, probably.

By the way, I, too, like stories that can't necessarily be categorized/summarized easily. More of a marketing problem than a writing problem, I'd say.


Patti Hill said...

Yes, thanks Wanderer! You've encouraged me.

And Susie, you've nailed it. The CBA. Let's all strive to be pirates.

Cherry Odelberg said...

What an excellent round table discussion.
The good news is; I have come far enough as a discerning reader to know exactly what my brain and heart wants to read.
The hard to bear acknowledgement is that my writing does not match that criteria.
But here's the rub, many many authors, further along on the writing journey than I am, having churned out novel after novel and inked contract after contract with known publishers, are not yet writing what I want to read.
I feel frustrated as a two year old who has an urgent message to deliver and is hampered by syntax and conventions. Even more agonizing to the two year old is that older siblings with vocabulary and influence have the ear of the adults, but they are not proponents of the message I want to deliver.
Hooray for risk taking (though I was always told to be careful). Cheers for things that cannot be categorized and for authors who won't be made to conform. God grant us the discernment to know the difference between criticism that points to a need for more excellent creative workmanship and tyranny that forces us into independence.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Cherry, what a great analogy. You really nailed it.

Jennifer Major said...

Susie-CBA? AHHHHH! It SCARES me with "we want different, but here is the box you can shove your'different' into".

I want to fall over stunned as a reader. So, I TRY to write "holy cow, did you JUST do THAT?"
We'll see how well that works out.
Cherry? Well done!

Kathleen Popa said...

Cherry, Bravo!!

Jennifer, Here's to Holy Cow!