I've been thinking a lot about writing lately. Thinking about it, not actually doing it... but hey, you can't have everything.
What makes a book good?
Plot? Character development? Diction? Lyricism? Proper grammar? (Please, for the love of sweet baby Jesus, don't end a sentence with "at.")
I've read a lot over the past year about the craft of writing -- you know, to put off actually doing it -- and while the theories about what makes words worthwhile are all over the map, they all seem fairly decided on one point: plot drives popular bestsellers, while characters defines more literary works.
When I consider my favorite books, the ones I return to again and again, it becomes pretty clear that my tastes do not run toward the highbrow.
Harry Potter. Anne of Green Gables. Mirror, Mirror. The Book of Lost Things. The Other Boleyn Girl. The Hunger Games.
-- can we talk for a minute about The Hunger Games? I'm about five hours late to this party, but I just read it this weekend for the first time, and this book was insane. In the best way possible. I could not put it down. I did notice some flaws (didn't particularly care for what I thought was a weak love triangle subplot), but they didn't impact my enjoyment of the book in a genre that is typically not my style. Anyway --
Most (all?) of these books are, in fact, young adult fiction. Or even children's books.
It's also clear in these novels, basically all bestsellers that were critically well-received too, that plot is the driving force. Which isn't to say they don't include great character development, lyricism, etc. etc. But first and foremost, they are entertaining, dynamic stories. I like that. I read for pleasure, period.
Which I'm realizing is maybe unusual for an English major, because I spent a lot of time in college reading and analyzing literary works like To the Lighthouse, even taking a stab at Ulysses, and my reaction to these books has mostly been "...the hell?" These days, when I talk with other graduates or very literary types, I'm a little embarrassed to admit what I've been reading lately.
You mean Phillipa Gregory isn't your idea of this generation's Virginia Woolf?!
I realize this is quite a rambly post, and you might even be thinking "... the hell?" while reading it.
Once I do start writing again (approximately my 238,743 attempt at a work of fiction), I think I need to think less and write more. Just let things flow naturally. Not worry over deeper messages that my words could convey, or what social issues I should be tackling, or whether or not what I'm creating would be critically well-reviewed. These worries are BANANAS. How about trying to finish a book, or even get halfway through, before starting to think about critical reception? If I ever even manage to find a publisher, a feat in itself.
As I'm made abundantly clear, there is sometimes a disconnect between my brain and reality.
Anyway, I think my favorite authors have very distinct voices. This time around, I plan to focus on plot, plot, plot... and let my voice dictate the story, rather than the imaginary reactions of other readers.
Or, I could just continue coming up with pointless blog posts, and leave the novel writing to real professionals ;)
In an effort to tie up this hot mess of a post, I'll share excerpts from my favorite books...
"He closed his eyes and turned the stone over in his hand three times. He knew it happened, because he heard slight movements around him that suggested frail bodies shifting their footing on the earthy, twig-strewn ground that marked the outer edge of the forest. He opened his eyes and looked around." [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]
"The lighthouse star was gleaming northward. The little garden, where only marigolds still bloomed, was already hooding itself in shadow. Anne knelt down and kissed the worn old step which she had crossed as a bride. 'Goodbye, dear little house of dreams,' she said." [Anne's House of Dreams]
"The thing about a mirror is this: The one who stares into it is condemned to consider the world from her own perspective... she who centers herself in its surface is unlikely to notice anyone in the background who lacks a certain status, distinction. Or height. Like a dwarf, for instance. Or a young child." [Mirror, Mirror]
Above their heads, the clouds briefly parted, and the moon was revealed. It was very red, like a great hole in the skin of the night. The Woodsman picked up the pace, his long steps eating up the forest floor. 'We must hurry,' he said. 'They'll be coming soon.' And as he spoke, a great howling arose from the north, and the Woodsman began to run." [The Book of Lost Things]
"I looked at both of them, at the absolute desperation of their ambition, still riding them as hard as when they were the children of a small lord on the rise. I looked at them and knew the relief of my escape." [The Other Boleyn Girl]
"I know what to do. I move into range and give myself three arrows to get the job done... I can see the first apple teetering when I let the third arrow go, catching the torn flap of burlap and ripping it from the bag. For a moment, everything seems frozen in time. Then the apples spill to the ground and I'm blown backward into the air." [The Hunger Games]