Friday, July 22, 2016

What Makes a Novel Memorable?

There are books we remember and books we forget. Sometimes we may forget most of the book but remember a character or a setting we found particularly appealing. Every writer hopes her novel or short story will be memorable. What, then, makes a reader always remember a book?
 Great characters. Atticus? Scout? They live in our memory long after the story has faded. Madam Bovary? Han Solo? Hannibal Lecter?  Memorable characters don’t always have to be good, but they have to capture our imagination. Every writer would like to know how to create characters so memorable they can’t be forgotten. I am thinking of Lolita and Humbert Humbert.  The reader won’t forget those two. It helps if a character is somehow unique. Think of Natasha and Pierre in War and Peace. Pierre is not your everyday hero.  War and Peace
I hope I have set you to thinking.

What else makes a book memorable? An intriguing setting will do that, be it Middle Earth or Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico. Empty spaces in the barren desert, but oh, how he makes us remember them. We remember Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, too. Do you remember each story? Maybe not so much, but you recall the characters and the setting.  Tony Hillerman

My friend and fellow writer Ray Daniel has a mystery series set in Boston. Ray is a native and he knows the area well and his descriptions are spot on. Be brings you to Boston. His character, Tucker is also memorable because he’s a little odd. He’s a techy, but sometimes he’s not very smart and he is likely to break into tears in the course of a book. The combination of Tucker and Boston are pretty much irresistible. Ray Daniel

 Which brings me to Voice. Tucker has a memorable voice, and we do remember voices in books. Think of Scarlet O’Hara. She had it in spades. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone does, too. If someone ripped the cover off these books, you could still recognize the voices. The thing about voice is, it’s hard to teach.  You either have it or you don’t.

The last thing that makes a novel memorable is, of course, the story, and many writing teachers will tell you a good story trumps everything, but I disagree. Naturally there has to be a story, and we hope it will be good, but the best plot won’t be memorable with cardboard characters, generic settings and a blah voice. 

Writers work hard to bring you their best efforts. What books do you particularly remember? One of my favorites is the Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Each book is narrated by a different character, all unique.  The city, Alexandria, comes alive. You can see it, feel it, small it, and immerse yourself into it. The stories have intrigue and politics and love affairs with quite a few surprises, but it is the characters and the setting and the characters’ voices that last in memory.

 The Alexandria Quartet

Here are some great bloggers with good ideas about what makes a memorable novel. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Confrontation: The Heart of Conflict


Confrontation:  the heart of conflict

noun: confrontation; plural noun: confrontations
  1. a hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties.
"a confrontation with the legislature"
hostilities, fighting;
"I've been trying to avoid a confrontation with his new girlfriend"

Every writer of fiction needs conflict. Conflict moves your story. The three main types of conflict are: 
1)    Individuals or groups against one another
2)    Inner conflict  (within the individual)
3)    Conflict with nature or society 
How do we as writers show (remember, show, don’t tell) conflict? By far the best way is through confrontation. 
With nature or society, we could show our character(s) fighting a forest fire, or caught in a flood. We could show them in a heated election campaign debate. Always confrontation.

Inner conflict is also at the heart of every great story. The character at war with herself, confronting her worst nature, worst fears, worst deeds.  A character confronting mental illness.  Think of the possibilities.

Conflict between individuals drives nearly all writing. Adam and Eve vs. God, Cain vs. Abel. King Hrothgar vs. Grendel. Agamemnon vs. Achilles.  We could go on forever, and at the heart of every conflict is a confrontation. 

Confrontation can be subtle, such as a woman brushing off a man hitting on her, or loud and ugly in a scene of domestic violence. The writer can use body language and emotion to depict these confrontations. 

Here are two brief scenes from my WIP, Promiscuous Mode. (A computer term).    
Early in the book, the main character, Laura, meets a man who will be her nemesis throughout the story.

Outside, the atmosphere felt close, like the oxygen had been sucked out the air, and the strata of cloud layered the sky in metal shades from pale gray to graphite.
 A scrawny guy in dirty coveralls emerged from a pickup parked next to mine.
“Honey bunch, don’t think of leavin’ when I’m coming.” He smirked, running his hand through his lank blondish hair. “Name’s Darrell.”
I gave him a curt nod and unlocked the Datsun’s door.
“Hey, I’m talking to you!” The smirk morphed into a scowl. He took a step toward me, and I smelled his boozy breath and got up close and personal to his bloodshot eyes and whiskery face.
“I’m in kind of a hurry.”
 He pushed my car door shut and looked me up and down, then focused his full attention on my chest. “Ah, just have one beer. I’m buyin’.”
“Sorry, Darrell, but I don’t drink and drive.” How lame did that sound?
 “Well, excuse me all to hell, Miss Prissy Pants!”
I looked him in the eye, shifted my weight and grasped the car key. He sensed some change in the power dynamics, glowered at me and stepped back. The heavens opened and giant raindrops splattered us.  
“Woman, just stand there in the rain like a damn stupid turkey.” He headed toward the tavern.

And here’s a scene toward the end of the book. It’s a lot of fun to write confrontation.

A rupture in the rhythm of the dancers as a rock fractures the surface of a pond gave the first hint of disturbance. The ripples widened and in one pocket of the dance floor movement ceased. The song ended, and the pony-tailed DJ stood up and stared over the crowd.
 A furious female voice yelled, “Who are you to be calling anyone a slut?” 
The answer was a shriek. Tom looked with horror in the direction of the commotion. I heard Red shout, “Hey, wait a minute!” 
Tom said, “Oh my god,” and pushed through the crowd. I followed him. Down on the dance floor Phyllis and Heather thrashed around. Phyllis, with her yellow dirndl pushed up around her thighs grabbed a fistful of Heather’s long hair and yanked it for all she was worth. Heather, screaming and crying, bit Phyllis’s arm, and now Phyllis screeched. Tom dived into the melee and tried to wrest Phyllis away, but in the strength of her rage she held fast to Heather’s hair. Red and Al tried to remove Heather, kicking and flailing, but she clawed at them like an angry cat. It took five men to subdue them. Tom, white-faced and shaken, led a sobbing Phyllis into the house. Heather held her hand to her head as Kelly and another woman helped her down the driveway, past the row of Japanese lanterns toward the street.

Confrontation!  The writer’s bread and butter. 

Here are some other bloggers with their own unique views of confrontation. Take a gander.