Sunday, October 31, 2010

Character, as related to plot

Henry James is credited with saying, “Character is plot.” I can see truth in this statement, because characters are integral to plots, the actions of the stories. What a character does - his thoughts and reactions, and the results of his actions – this comprises the plot of the story. Plots shouldn’t be unbelievable; the actions of characters should make sense based on who the characters are or are becoming.

If character is plot, dull characters make for dull plots. If readers don’t care about a main character, aren’t interested in what happens to the character or what events are caused by the character, why would they keep reading?

Plot is what drives the story, what keeps the reader turning pages, and sometimes readers can keep reading if the plot is fast-paced, even if the characters aren’t interesting. Personally, I’m typically not drawn to character-driven novels with little action. Sometimes these novels interest me when I’m interested in the characters, but I have to be in the right mood with the right character-based novel to fit that mood! And, if I don’t find myself caring about the character, or if I find myself losing interest in the character, I put down the novel and move on. On the other hand, novels with quick pacing can have, to a certain extent, two-dimensional characters, and I’ll keep reading.

A good tip I heard from one of my professors from my time spent in writing school: if you, the writer, gets bored reading your manuscript, you can be sure the reader will become bored, also.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Is it me, or is it my reading selections?

The last four fiction reads I've taken up, I've put down unfinished. Life is too short to read novels that don't keep you hooked.

The last fiction book I finished (and enjoyed) was Lipstick Jungle, which was a read for my neighborhood book club and one I was unsure I'd enjoy. I ended up being grabbed from the get-go, and surprised because I typically don't relish character-driven novels, or novels told by multiple characters (I usually become too attached to one character and bored with another character's storyline). Lipstick Jungle pulled off its narration and incorporated enough suspense (in part due to my attachment with all the main characters) to keep me turning pages. I thought, "Aha! So this is what the hype is about," as I understand the novel to be the precursor to Sex and the City, which I've never seen on television. Thinking the later novel would follow in Lipstick Jungle's footsteps, I picked it up. I had put it down by page 70; I was not interested in reading further!

Then I tried to read a mystery novel about a journalist wrongly accused of murder. (What can I say; the general premise sounded similar to my own, and I wanted to see where another author went with it.) I put this one down due to lack of connection with the main character and even boredom with lack of plot action, but I at least read the last 10 pages.

My last two reads were new YA fantasy releases by authors whose former works I've enjoyed--one so much so that I actually bought my own copy of the book after I read the library's book. (I'm a library book addict.) But, these new releases just didn't captivate me. Again, I either wasn't attached to the characters or the plot didn't move quickly enough, or the fantasy world or dilemma was not explained quickly enough for me and I got frustrated.

Or maybe it's just me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

River house book exchange

My favorite place to find a good read is at a river house in my parent's neighborhood. The small house, which only has one room if you don't count the bathrooms or the screened back porch, is usually deserted. It sits along a river near the Intracoastal Waterway on two sides and a small neighborhood marina at another side. The house is dark with high windows letting in sunbeams and smells wonderfully of wood. You walk in and see a stone fireplace and couch, and both side walls are lined with bookshelves filled with books neighbors have left for others to enjoy and return.

I always make a point to visit the river house when I visit my parents. The book selection is so terrifically eclectic, my heart leaps when I find a book I want to read... and usually I find many more than one. Okay, always I find many more than one. Finding books there is like going on a treasure hunt and always striking gold. Everything from mysteries to romances, thrillers to Southern lit, nonfiction and magazines and sci-fi and fantasy, even religious reads and dog care manuals can be found! Of course, I donate books to the river house, also, and part of the joy of leaving books in that magical room is knowing they will find their ways into the hands and hearts of someone who loves them as much as I do.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My mother, not the mother in my novel

When I think about why I am the way I am, or who I am, or where I am, even why I write, I think of my mother. When I think about who I want to be, much of that person resembles my mother. When I need to gripe and moan, I go to my mother for her common sense. Not only does she commiserate, but she puts me back on track. Between my girlfriends, I can't find another whose relationship with her mother is so close, so open and (sometimes shockingly) frank, so best-friendly. More, my mother is my champion, and she always has been.

That being said, she's perplexed that the mother of the protagonist in my novel is a dead-beat dud, a nonentity. I've explained that my novel is a complete work of fiction; still, my mother tries to line up the characters in the novel my life. Perhaps it's the first-person viewpoint that throws her. Believe me, some moments I wish I was my protagonist, for instance when I'm taking a break from fixing lunch to wipe snot off my 18-month-old's face and my 5-year-old asks for the third time in as many minutes why I can't make cupcakes (now) and everywhere I look is clutter, dirty dishes, work-to-be-done, and not a break in sight. Yes, moments like those, I wish I was Jonie Waters, tracking down killers and news leads, free to jog the streets of Wilmington or go surfing anytime she pleases. Of course, I don't wish I could trade mothers.

Thank you, mom, for all you do and have done for me! Thank you for being who you are!