Okay I want you to think of that ‘one’ true book.
You know the one. The one book that had liquid gold for words at each turn of the page. The one that left you breathless, and when you finished it you noticed the sunrise and you realized you should have been doing something healthy like sleep 8 hours ago after you promised yourself just one more chapter. The one who made you realized your calling in life was to be a dedication in writing to be tribute to the wondrous blow of emotions you felt, so that you too will once again experience the same visceral immensity. Have you remembered that book yet?
Good, because I got bad news.
You could be the next Margaret Atwood but whatever you write, no matter how many people tearfully confessed to you it was their ‘one’ book, it will never feel like your ‘one’ book. It may be your favourite book that you’ve written, but it’s not going to be your favourite book.
Creating a maze is not the same as playing the maze. Someone who tries to solve it is going to get lost in the intrigue, layers of meaning, subtlety, and premise. You on the other hand already know how to solve it, because you created it. Just like a magician, you don’t feel the magic, because you already know where the rabbit is.
And that’s a good thing.
As writers, actually good writers, every sentence, every phrase, the POV is created to serve the focus of the book. You can’t do that if you have no idea what the book is about. And for those of you who would whine how you write first and edit and outline later, this is all fine and dandy but you better make sure after your umpteenth re-write you know exactly what the story is about and how you will carry your readers in your emotional roller-coaster. They will have the rush; you will have paint in your eyes, sore thumbs, watching them enjoy your roller-coaster.
The easiest example I can make is mystery novels. With mystery novels, there is a mystery that the detective (and readers) needs to solve. Stuff will happen that will shock and thrust the reader deeper into the mystery. Why did the hot dog man attack him with a pail of grease water? How did the victim die from drowning after he fell off the plane? The writer would already know that the hot dog man was hired by the killer to unnerve the detective and that the victim died by drowning, because he was pushed off the plane right over a storm.
If you try to sit with our audience and watch the story run it will rupture and fall apart because no one is running the show to make sure it works. You’re the only one pulling the strings behind the curtains and you won’t even have the same joy of re-reading the story again with the solution in mind. All we have is the satisfaction of our efforts and the surprise that your fans could appreciate such a flawed thing that was your best effort to the world.
Needed: Your favourite book
Take your favourite book and read it again. But don’t read it as you first read it, or the umpteenth time you read it, basking in the richness of the story. No read it detached as if your watching other people bask in the words. Read it as if you were the author, trying to make it good. Learn from it.
Here are some things to look for
– Exposition: Try to understand how the author handles exposition, does he push it in thick chunks like meatballs in spaghetti, or does he weave it in gradually like meat sauce in spaghetti.
– Showing/Telling: See what the author decides to show and what he decides to tell in his story.
– Description: underline those juicy pieces of description that made you feel high. Then ask why they were so good.
– Premise: Especially for mystery novels or Science-fiction novels, read with the solution/science-fiction premise in hand and see if it contradicts itself in anyway
-By a North York writer