Slow Saturday

So, I slept in a little bit this morning; Trooper assisting by sleeping on my face, which gives you some idea of how very, very asleep I was.

Spent some parts of the morning trying to locate my set of Steve’s car keys, which I lost sometime during being ill, when I needed to move the cars for the plowman.  All the pockets in the house are clean, as is the couch, my bag, Steve’s bag, the cars, the driveway, the kitchen table (my keys, which I would have used at the same time, and for the same purpose, are on the kitchen table, right where they belong), the Mencken Table, my desk, and the catch-all drawer in my office — all, all are keyless.  I’m going to have to admit defeat at this point.

After I combed Trooper and Sprite, I gave the rest of the day over to totaling/closing the 2014 accounts (I still have two that need last bits of information before I can close them), since our accountant was kind enough to make sure the accounting packet reached us on Christmas Eve.

In a moment or two, I’m going to go do the dishes, and then retire to the sofa with When Gods Die to keep me company.

Before I sign off of the interwebs for the evening, though, I’m going to revisit something, because it still. . .fascinates me.











Back a few weeks ago, when a portion of the internet went stupid because I had used a Bad Word in “The night don’t seem so lonely,” someone involved in that conversation took advantage of it to critique the story, in order to show me how (1) I could have completely avoided using Bad Words and (2) written a stronger story that they would have liked better.  (Yes, this is exactly as breathtakingly rude as it sounds, but never mind that.)

The person in question would have improved the story by throwing away the first scenes in the story-as-published, opening with Moss on the beach, alluding to his adventures on the road, and his reason for being there, in very brief one-or-two sentence flashbacks, and finishing with an epiphany of  destiny.  Which…OK, that’s a story; it’s not the story I wanted to write, but let that go, too, because there’s an even more interesting assertion in the reason for restructuring the story in this manner, which was this:

The opening scenes, sayeth the critique-person, risk losing readers who may decide that they don’t want to read about these characters.  By opening with the scene on the beach, readers *immediately know* that Moss isn’t “just some drifter” but a person they should care about.

This notion of “risking” the loss of readers fascinates me, but, then, I tend to assume that readers are reading for character, rather than plot.  In the case of Moss, I began the story where I did so that the reader could get a brief taste of what his reality had been for the last while, and to maximize the punch of relief for the reader when someone, finally, takes an honest interest, while at the same time feeding the uncertainty — is this really going to work out, then?  So much has gone wrong for this kid. . .

And back around I come to this idea that you will lose readers if you force them to interact with characters.  What a strange, strange notion.

So — what grabs you in a story, and forces you to keep reading?  Character?  Dialog?  Plot?  Setting?  Bad Words?


15 thoughts on “Slow Saturday”

  1. Character. I can forgive a multitude of “sins” if the characters are compelling enough. If the characters aren’t people I am curious about, care about, am desperate to find out what happens *next* in their lives–I put the book down and walk away.

    Moss, and the people around him, worked. While I couldn’t have said I breathed a sigh of relief when he arrived on that beach, yes, that is it exactly. Without his back story, the rest of the story would have been shallower. Moss was on a journey. I, as reader, needed to know where he began in order to appreciate where he ended up.

    I don’t cry often. I said it before and I’m saying it again. The story, as a whole, was beautiful–and I wept. Thank you.

  2. Honestly, I don’t think there’s one thing that grabs me and makes me keep reading. I can think of books I read in spite of the fact that I can predict nearly 100% of the plot of the six book series (because this author’s main characters are all substantially similar, and have pretty much the same developmental arc), because the world building is just that cool. There are also lots of books I read for the characters, but what makes a character appealing is hard to pin down. It’s a lot easier to list things that will make me put it down – the too perfect character, the one who spends too much time feeling sorry for himself/herself, the one who seems just too stupid to live, the list goes on.

    I think what really makes a book/story great for me is a combination of character and setting/situation. I’ll read for one or the other, but the ones that really stick with me nail both.

    I’m also one of those difficult readers who rarely chooses a book based on reading that supposedly all important first few pages. Instead if I’m looking at a paper book I’m thinking about buying, I tend to open it in the middle somewhere and read a page or two.

    I enjoyed the story very much, but I do have a question about it. Were you envisioning it as a nice gift to people who had read the related books already (which it was immanently successful as), or as something that new readers would enjoy in its own right, and might tempt them to try the novels?

    I ask because it seems to me if you’re showing this to someone who knows nothing about the setting, that the place you chose to start it might lose a hypothetical reader who knows nothing of your work and is looking for magic. It takes a while before you get the first clue that there is magic in the setting. Is that a question you considered? Or do you think it’s an unrealistic worry?

  3. In regard to the. . .critique-person, I don’t think magic was even on his radar.

    The story was meant as a teaser for the book(s). And, since the magic is (intentionally) slow to show itself in the books, I wanted that quality also reflected in the story. It wouldn’t be fair, after all, to have a Whammo! Magic! short story to introduce Archers Beach, where the magic is so often subtle and woven in with the mundane.

  4. Hmmm… I have to admit that plot may catch me at first, but if the writer doesn’t make me care about the characters pretty darn quick, I will give up the book. If the characters are compelling and the plot pedestrian, I may very well read until the very end.

    And as for the ‘bad word’ discussion, I think you used exactly the right word. It let us know very quickly exactly what sort of a life Moss had been living, and how low his expectations were for the future. I think that is quite a lot of work for a mere seven letters to do. I will also say that that word made it clear that Moss was exactly the sort of person I should care about, if only because he so desperately needed someone to care about him.

  5. I keep reading if I care about the characters. I stop if I don’t. Plot doesn’t matter at that point, because if I don’t care about the characters, then I don’t care what happens to them, either.

    I’ve occasionally read really quite bad books, because somehow, through the bad prose and the ridiculous plot, the author made me care about the characters.

    You tugged on my heartstrings with Moss from the first sentences. That’s what I cared about.

  6. You have yet to create a character that I don’t immediately care about….seriously, even the brief cameo characters are interesting in your stories! There is always just enough revealed and juuuusstt enough mystery. IDK how you do it but don’t let anyone talk you into changing it.

  7. The first Liaden book I read (and it was the first you published and when you published it) hauled me in with the characters and their story and it never let go. I find I read for character first, will put up with a lackluster story, but if there are both, then the book becomes a read-all-night favorite.

  8. Characters I am interested in are essential. Dialog is an important part of developing characters, because how people talk helps to develop a character. Setting is helpful, but can come more slowly. I am ok with plots that develop slowly, but I need to see some progression. Bad words? I think that usually is part of dialog which, as I stated above, is an important part of character development. I tend to keep reading any book I pick up unless I am thrown out of a story. What can do that? Well, I would not expect a maiden aunt from an upper class Midwestern family to use bad words. That is a case where bad words might be a problem. I get irritated when a story set in the early 19th century refers to technology or events that occur in the early 20th century, but I might just grumble. Too little dialog can be an issue for me. Long passages (pages long) of exposition about technology or magical theory or background history have made me put down books by some best selling and very popular writers (who shall remain nameless so that I am not shunned by my fannish peers). I would much rather have such information embedded in dialog or have the writer assume that I am intelligent enough to infer it.

  9. ” if I’m looking at a paper book I’m thinking about buying, I tend to open it in the middle somewhere and read a page or two. ”

    Totally agree with this – the ‘oh-so-important’ opening scene is rarely a good predictor of a story IMO

  10. I totally go for character. The plot can be stupid but if I like the character and care about what happens to them, I will go along with it. There are certain characters I wish had more words and adventures, but I bow to the Arbiter of the Plot.

    I vehemently disagree with the critique person.

  11. That’s a surprisingly hard question to answer, but it’s some indescribable combination of writing and character. I like the one Liaden story I’ve read, and plan to read more, but your Achers Beach writing has a particular … not sure of the word here – character, flavor, tone … that I find very compelling and distinctive. And having remembered that Moss was mentioned in the books as a long-time resident, I immediately was curious, wanted to know more, and was worried about him, etc.
    Regarding “isn’t ‘just some drifter’ but a person” to care about: Wow. Last I checked, drifters are, in fact, people. The idea of not caring about that hurt child because he came from a hard background is shocking, and speaks volumes of the critique-er. Though I will admit, had you opened with a scene of Moss kicking puppies into the ocean, he might still have been in severe need of caring, but I probably would have decided that wasn’t a story for me.
    Hope that jumble is in some way helpful, and glad to hear that you both are feeling better.

  12. IMHO It would have been a much weaker story without that strong and disturbing beginning.

    I read mostly for character although a good, fast moving plot can keep me going even if the characters are kinda one-dimensional. Think old cliffhanger serials. I will not continue to read about characters I dislike. I also look for a sense of belonging. The characters have to make sense in the story setting. The people in Archers Beach fit. It’s this lack of belonging that makes a lot of historical romance just unreadably silly to me. I mean woman’s lib in the middle ages…really?

    I liked Moss. I respected his matter-of-factness about his situation. I admired how he took care of himself. I was haunted by the (implied) contrast between what his life was like (at far too young an age) versus what we would like to see for our children (cared for and protected). And I loved the happy ending.

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