I keep being told that in the fast paced world of today that I need to start my stories off with a bang in order to keep the attention of my readers and make them want to read the next chapter. “Nobody wants to read fifty pages of backstory.” Is it true that we’re all about action today? Is a slow build no longer of interest? This implies that readers today are more interested in plot than character. Can a well written character caught in a mire of in-action no longer draw us in, do we need to start throwing rocks at our characters from page one? Looking back over some of my favourite books (here) I must be a freak because some of my favourite stories, many of which are considered literary classics are all character driven. They are snapshots of individuals lives where the plot is basic but the characters drive my attention and desires.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck takes us on a journey through two generations with the same basic plotline throughout, one of the oldest stories of the nature of man, that of Cain and Abel. The bible glosses over it in a couple of pages but Steinbeck manages to create a literary masterpiece than tells the same story over (pauses to google number of pages in East of Eden) a period of two generations and 640 pages.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami tells the tale of a young man pretty much just faffing about, wandering the streets of Tokyo and I love it for it’s voice and honesty.
I can’t agree that you have to ram the plot down peoples throats for them to want to read on. What do you think? What are your favourite books that that are character driven? and can you think of any recent releases that lead in slowly to the story but have still been successful?
Whether a book can actually help you become a writer is a much argued topic. In my mind you have to be able to get that first draft down on paper. The one that’s all you, the jumbled mess that rolled out of your head and straight onto the pages. Once you have that then yes I do think there are books out there that can improve that draft by making you consider sentence structure, vocabulary, the voices of your characters, how best to use your protagonists and recognising and avoiding cliche’s. Until today though I did not believe a book could help you before that point. I considered them and still do to an extent another form of procrastination designed to delay the writing process out of fear of exposing oneself so completely. Then I read ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande and it was this area that she addressed. Acknowledging the fear and neuroses that prevent you from sitting down and putting that story onto paper so that it’s out there in the world. She addresses how to get into the writing mind-set, the importance of writing every day and having a notebook on you to record those things which pop into your head but later forget no matter how fabulous they seem and how sure you are that you cannot possibly forget them. I recognised a lot about myself when reading this book and maybe I started it with a view to procrastinating further but I’ve come away from it with so much more.
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I’ve read a couple of books recently where characters were killed off only to then magically be brought back to life and I can’t decide how I feel about it. My overwhelming feeling is that it’s a cop-out but I can’t deny a sense of relief if it happens to one of my favourite characters. Thinking about whether there’s a right or wrong way to revive a character I began to consider the following questions?
What was the reason for killing them versus the reason for their revival?
The death of a main character has to be carefully dealt with and even more so if you plan on bringing them back. If the story can’t continue without them, then why kill them in the first place? Shock value alone is not sufficient. Their death should mean something, change the world around them and the people within it. Does bringing them back nullify that change making the previous chapters pointless or does the resurrection continue the anguish and change within the main and other central characters.
Does how they’re brought back matter?
There has to be some kind of foreshadowing, a believable reason for their resurrection. Yes you may have had a few random conversations with a goddess throughout your book but is she really going to step in and bring 6 people back to life just so you can wrap everything up in a nice happy ending. Is cloning preferable to bringing back the original character? The resurrection has to mean something more than the author just didn’t want them dead yet. Coming back changed in some way opens up other plot lines. what about time travel versus an alternate dimensional version of the character. Where they really dead in the first place or was it all just a dream? Dreams simply used to shock do not work. They need to be used as a device to further the story. How is the character affected by the dreams? Do they portend to a future event?
Is it more acceptable in certain genres?
Obviously fantasy is the place for magical revivals but is revival in general preferable in certain genres. Is medical revival acceptable after taking the reader through the torment of death. Is medical revival acceptable in a fantasy book or does the reader expect something more fantastic?
Does it affect how you engage with other characters in the novel?
Once you know they can be brought back to life the fear is no longer there. What is the point in routing for a protagonist and experiencing the highs and lows and ultimately death if it doesn’t mean anything?
It only works if there is a clear story arc arising from the death and subsequent revival. It must have purpose, it must be believable and the character must be changed in some key way.
A few of my favourite quotes about books and reading:-
I love it when you find the latter. One of those books where every word seems vital and must be read.