Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Making the reader feel

I stayed up late to finish Maggie Stiefvater's final wolves book (Forever), and because she does such a lovely job of making the reader feel for her world and characters, it made me want to analyze the whole feeeeeeling thing in books. I think many times you can have a book that has an interesting plot and you can have good prose--but still get the response from readers/agents/editors that "I don't love it enough." Obviously, some of this is subjective--I can think of well-written books that other people love that I find repellent, and vice-versa. But I do think there are elements that can help a reader feel more, and therefore love the book more. I don't think every element applies to all books simultaneously, but here are a few things I can think of:

1. Be inside the character. Like the character lets you be privy to intimate information s/he doesn't share with just anybody. (Think DJ Schwenk of Dairy Queen, who can't string two words together to anyone, yet we get to see all the depth of feeling she has inside her head.)

2. Be inside a character who is likable. A book may be interesting with an unpleasant narrator--but a book I LOVE has a character I love and want to have as a friend. Flawed, vulnerable, but with heroic potential. Obviously, what appeals to each person is slightly different.

3. Be inside a character who yearns for a basic, primal need. The thing that's at stake MATTERS. You could say that this just means high stakes (plot), but I think it's more a choice of how personal that stake is, AND how deep it is. I've been reading the screenwriting book Save the Cat! as well, and that's a point the author makes, too--what's at stake is a need on a gut level. Life. True Love. Etc.

4. One True Thing. Just knowing One True Thing might be enough for a highly literary book that kids have to read in school. But for a kid to LOVE that book, I think the character has to not just know, but GET--against impossible odds--that One True Thing. Like the notion of love and family in Harry Potter. It's not enough to see that there is life after death ("those who love us never really leave us"). What makes us feel is the fact that those dead love Harry enough to come back and protect him. The love Harry has for his friends/adopted family drive him to sacrifice everything to protect them, just as his own family did for him.

One more thought--in the midst of all this feeeeeeling, you have to vary things up a bit. You have to have plot happening. Sam and Grace have two primal problems, actually--both staying human so they can be together, and keeping the pack safe and alive from the likes of wolf hunters. So part of the story is having them on either side of a divide from each other, and the other part puts them together on the same side against a different problem. Having both of these issues going on keeps tension up, yet at the same time, gives the reader an emotional rest once they start feeling saturated. And, it's true to life. When is the last time you had one and ONLY one issue to deal with at a time? It makes the book feel more well-grounded in reality, which makes it more believable, which makes it easy to suspend disbelief and feel for your characters.

No comments: