An exploration of what makes a book readable and hooks readers, in which I alienate beer drinkers… .
Readability is not a joke. Of course, this is how I treated it a few weeks ago when I first noticed the readability of Peter V. Brett’s debut novel The Warded Man. The speed at which I read the first book of Brett’s Demon Cycle series and the way I kept going back to reading it–and actually enjoying it–left me thinking it was just really easy to read. This was funny because a book should be easy to read, and if it’s a pain to read, and you have to drag yourself into reading it, then why are you reading it? It reminded me of a billboard for Bud Light that hung over the entrance to the O’Neill Tunnel in Boston: “Superior Drinkability.” If you’re selling a drink it really ought to be drinkable, or else something is wrong. Continue reading “Superior Readability”→
The other day I went to see the film adaptation of The Dark Tower. It was 11:55 AM on a Wednesday and I was the only person in the theater, but I suspected that even if I went at 7:30 PM on Friday, I would be in a small crowd. The movie has gotten plenty of bad reviews, including my favorite kind (sarcasm), the ones who tell you that the movie is already terrible and disappointing, and it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. These were followed by at least one “so what” review, which I read, but I didn’t really care to believe either. The Dark Tower is a majestic, beautiful, grand story, written by one of my favorite authors, and so I wasn’t going to take the word of a few people who might not even care for Stephen King’s writing.
In which I alienate all of you who’ve published short stories
On Wednesday I finished the 1100-page It by Stephen King, the longest thing I’ve read since Cliver Barker’s Imajica almost two years ago. I read it in about five weeks with a one-week break during my trip to Paris when I started Deborah A. Wolf’s The Dragon’s Legacy. It was interesting to read mainly because it was at the top of my list of books by King that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I saw the ABC mini-series when I was a kid, taped it and watched it over and over, and always wanted to read the book. Twenty seven years later (no joke) I found a paperback of it for $1 at Boskone, and as is always the case with King, I couldn’t put it down.
Of all the excellent aspects of this book, one thing in particular stood out to me as a writer: every side-note, every piece of background, every seemingly insignificant fact, has a central character. There are passages throughout this book, told in an omniscient voice, as one would tell a ghost story around a campfire, where characters pop into existence only for telling the reader more about the history of Derry, or for the purpose of advancing the story, and nevertheless we learn a lot about that person even though he only lives for a few seconds. Which characters are central is very clear, never in doubt, but these characters who are not even side characters all have their own lives and histories and connections to different parts of the story. They are not functionaries, they are not useless page filler, and they are not the two-dimensional oddities of Gravity’s Rainbow. Continue reading “Long Novels, Short Stories, and The Seat of My Pants”→
In which I alienate Robert Jordan fans and Harry Potter fans in one swell foop.
The other night in our writing group at the Fairlee Public Library I read a passage from my novel-in-progress Firesage. I spent a little time building up the world for my fellows, then read the passage. I explained that the sorcerers who are the main characters live in an academy, and a little bit about the scheming that is tearing it apart. I almost forgot to mention that the main character is pregnant. That wasn’t so important for the passage I read, but it’s most of the basis of the conflict in the novel. I didn’t stop and fill in the background as I went along, because the passage was a flashback to a time before the novel begins, when the main character was “discovered” in a different setting than the one I had just explained. Continue reading “Crunchy Complexity”→