Thursday, March 31, 2011

Story? Character? Writing style?

What keeps you reading?

“They say” we have to like and identify with characters. Do you agree? I’ve been told several times that my heroes come across unlikeable in my first couple of chapters. Evidently, my “readers” don’t believe in a character starting out bad--learning, growing and changing. Either they’re not exercising patience with my story or I’m not accomplishing my goal.

Writing style is a deal breaker for me. If I don’t enjoy an author’s style or voice, then I have a rough time hanging in there until the end of the book. If the story is good, I force myself, but I don't like forcing myself to finish a book.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot. Studying. Paying close attention to style, characterization, story telling skills. I’ve read several books by Laura Levine, a cozy mystery writer. I’ve read one book by Lee Child, and just finished a Mary Higgins Clark book. I stepped completely out of my comfort zone to read a fantasy—Shadow Blade by Seressia Glass. These are four very different bestselling authors with very different writing styles. I’ve learned a lot.

Laura Levine is hilarious. Her dialogue is fantastic. Of course it would be—she’s a sitcom writer. She knows comedy. I’ve read two of her books with three more waiting for me and hope to finish the series. Levine knows her character well. If you want to create a cozy mystery series, this is a fun one to study.

Lee Child knows how to yank a reader into his books. He has a real handle on pacing. I didn’t find this book—the first in his Jack Reacher series—very believable but from what I understand, thrillers don’t have to be. A lot of what I found unbelievable had to do with characterization. I’m curious to see if Reacher changes any during the series so I plan to read more.

I’ve been reading Mary Higgins Clark since her very first book. I prefer her earlier books. She always has a lot of characters that are hard to keep up with. Many of her readers say they have to jot down names with a word or two of identification to be able to keep things straight. Still, MHC is a master storyteller if you can forgive the odd way she uses introspection—and to the degree she uses it.

Seressia Glass made her fantasy extremely believable. I was yanked into the story immediately. She has a great writing style and good pacing. Her main character, Kira, was tough as nails yet sympathetic enough that the reader cares for her. Unfortunately for me, I think I got the second book in her series so I’ve missed reading Kira’s history. Because of this author’s story telling skills, when I see the name Seressia Glass on book stands, I won’t hesitate to reach for her.

Their writing styles vary. They aren’t all on equal footing when it comes to excellent writing but they do have one thing in common. They’re all excellent story tellers. What does that tell us? That story rules?

I find it interesting that two of these authors did some outrageous things in their books—things that jar most readers (writer-readers) to high heaven. Things that would get most of us rejected and booed by our critique partners. Those crazy things don’t seem to matter at all. Why?

Because … Story Rules!

What have I learned from all my reading these past few weeks?

That we should write the book we want to write—the way we want to write it. To succeed, we have to pay attention to story. To succeed, we have to pay attention to pacing. Characterization is important. We have to pay attention to characterization in the first 50 or 60 pages. That’s when the reader bonds with our main character.

If our writing style causes a reader to chunk our book across the room, then our story isn’t good enough to overcome our weaknesses and grab our readers by the throat.

Writing is an art. Story rules!


Ey Wade said...

This is too true. I've read four books this week by two different authors and the amazing thing is each author wrote in the first person. Omg,I dislike first person books, but I read through them.
The stories were good, but reading I...I...I drives me a little wild. Especially when the character has to say how beautiful, smart and so and so they are.

I don't always have to like the character (a lot of times I don't)but I kinda hope for a redeeming vein in them.
So loving your blog through rss.

Charles Gramlich said...

Story and style are the most important to me. I can read about character who are less than perfectly realized if the story moves and the style is good. I really love fine writing, though