I’m in the middle of reading a novel that has all the elements to make it a potentially intriguing read: a unique story line, characters that have interesting backgrounds, complex relationships between characters, and an exotic setting. Also, the writer has a great command of language. And you would think with all of the correct ingredients it would be a book that I just can’t put down, but in fact I can and I do– quite often.
I’ve been mulling over what is missing because I am rooting for this book and the author in such a big way. As I was driving home the other day it hit me in dizzying revelation: the author doesn’t take you there. Let me explain.
Friday night is movie night for the family. Last Friday we gathered with a two-hour supply of popcorn, candy and drinks and settled ourselves to be somewhat entertained. You see my daughter is allowed to choose the movie. Sometimes…O.K., oftentimes she picks a dud because she is at that particular age where kiddie movies are…well for kiddies and teen movies spawn too many questions, many of which, I… she is not quite ready to handle.
With such a small range of choices, some of her pics are crammed with actors well who are… we’ll simply say, the casting director pulled them out of acting school a few credits too soon. But this particular movie was different. I was drawn in from the beginning; the musical score was brilliant and the colors were live and vivid. Every character that walked onto the scene was believable and even funny. I was drawn into this world of make believe and the movie kept me there until the end.
It was not one thing that did it for this movie, but a combination of many things; it was the color, the characters and the storyline. It was the smell, the air and atmosphere. Ooops… did I just include elements that can only be experienced live? Yep. That’s what a good story does; it pulls at all of your senses. You can smell the steaks on the grill, or the decaying flesh of the corpse; you can feel the bitter cold, or the unbearable heat choking the breath from you; you despise this character or absolutely fall in love with that one. A compelling read creates many dimensions; it awakens and stimulates you in the way that ‘being there’ would. As you turn the pages, you are walking through the scenes, alongside the characters.
The poet, Maya Angelou said something about people that I also think applies to fiction and novel writing:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Let’s face it, aren’t stories really just about…people?