Friday, May 16, 2008

Just Give Me A Great Story

I once had someone say to me, "Truth is stranger than fiction because it can be. But fiction has to make sense. It can be as fantastic as you care to make it, but it must have an inherent logic to it at all times."

My question to that is – logic to whom? What is logical to me is not logical to someone else and vice versa. What is plausibility? To whom must it be plausible? This whole issue with logic and plausibility, I believe, lies in the lap of the reader.

My best friend, Tina, is part of a large book club in Ohio. Like a litter of starved puppies, they devour one story after the other. Their opinions vary -- widely. Each member takes a turn and chooses their "book of the month." But in the meantime, my Tina will read an average of three or four novels in addition to the book-club pick. She's got more books in her library than Congress.

A voracious reader, Tina is any writer's best friend. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books. Has been helplessly addicted all her life. Would rather read than eat. She's been known to go without a shower for days and days while her nose is stuck in a book. I remember when she read the Outlander series, her speech turned Scottish for a while. If she loves the book, Tina will immerse herself in the story. She allows herself to be transported into the midst of the action. And she's not all about one genre. She'll read anything that appeals to her. She's my best critic, by far.

She should've been part of the industry, gone to New York, worked for a major house. She knows every major and mid-list writer. Tina is a great reference for me. But I have to laugh when I get the call after a bad book. Her comment usually goes like this. "... oh my God, Pam ... how did this book get published? It was awful! Just awful. I could barely get through it! And then there's your book, a page-turner, a book just waiting for a publisher!"

Well, of course, she loves me. She knows how hard I've worked to get Televenge into the light of day. Her advice and edits were critical on this book. But we don't always agree. Some of the books she's read and not liked, other readers absolutely love. And yet, certain scenes, characters, and whole books that make sense to her and are totally logical, have made no sense to me or a few of the readers in her group.

My whole point here, is that logic and plausibility and backstory and even, yes, the craft of writing itself (to a degree) ... is subjective. (I can hear the boo and hiss from the creative writing teachers now.) I agree, you need to know the rules before you break them. But I'm finding that most experts believe unless it's written a certain way, unless you follow their formula for story arc, character development, and conflict enhancement, then you can kiss your chances of publication good-bye. Unless a book grabs them by the balls in the first two pages, they (or their 22 year old assistant) fast-pitch it into the slush pile. How sad for them.

I believe many of the finest and best stories ever written, will go unread. All because writers are at the mercy of opinion. These unknown writers don't even get the chance to market their work, because some industry professional who has been in the business since God was a boy, believes they know best.

I say, just give me a great story. As much as I believe every writer should study the craft and write well, I want a story that moves, inspires, and makes me cry. Or laugh. Or cleverly holds my interest until the writer's skill sneaks up behind me and shocks me with a powerful punch to the gut. Break the rules and give me an unnamed lead character, as with Elizabeth Kostova's, The Historian.

Of course, not every book is good. Not every story can be published. But don't force your formula, your opinions, your "doesn't fit my list" on the rest of us. The Internet has been instrumental in bringing readers and writers together, bypassing major book publishers altogether. I believe the face of publishing will change in the future. The rules will change. Opinions will change.

Because in the end, all we really want is just a great story to read.

Blessings to you and yours.

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