Hey there my literary nerd-birds (yes, that’s a term, shut up.) I’m taking a short break from book reviews to talk about … books. Ahem. Because I have been so busy recently, my novel-consumption has dropped to near extinction levels, and while that’s sad for my brain, it also gives me an opportunity to stretch beyond writing simple reviews.
Today, for example, I’m throwing out an ever-popular listicle format post about four things that makes books fabulous. Or awesome, or worth rereading eighteen times in a row while sobbing because the author is just so good, you know, and I’ll never be that good, she’s just so talented I can’t even… etc. Anyways, strap on your list-readin’ eyeballs and journey with me through the land of fabulous words.
4. Kickass, yet flawed characters.
Case in point: say what you will about Game of Thrones, but name one character whose moral compass never wavers, whose decisions are angelic. Hell, name one character who could be shoved into the role of protagonist for longer than about ten minutes (or one incest-sex scene.) Arya Stark? Miniature psychopath with a miniature sword. Jon Snow? Too busy betraying the girl he broke his vows with to fit the protagonist bill. Tyrion Lannister? Buys his way out of every situation he can, and has his hired sword get him out of the ones he can’t.
And these are the characters people love! Arya is totally my favorite, but let’s admit it. If she were your cousin/little sister you’d send her off to see a shrink ASAP because that girl has issues. Despite this cornucopia of hedonistic, cruel, psychopathic, crazy, and backstabbing characters, the TV show is massively popular – as are the books. Why is that? People don’t love perfection in their protagonists. Give me one protagonist who can do no wrong and I guarantee it’s a self-published Mary Sue piece of shite. Flaws are what make us human, make us interesting. Take me, for example. I’m nearly perfect, but my crippling addiction to licking toads gives me that certain je ne sais quoi that people find so enchanting as they’re kicking me out of their wedding reception.
3. Multiple story arcs
Lord of the Rings is a really obvious example here. You’ve got the quest to throw the Ring into Mount Doom (if you think these are spoilers you need to get back in your time machine and go back to the past, where you came from. Seriously, the future’s not that great.) But you also have the drama happening in Rohan, and Saruman’s transformation into an evil wizard dude, Gandalf flouncing about being reborn and fighting evils from the deep, and Gollum’s internal battles.
These layers of complexity are what keep our brains interested. Without these, like layers in a cake, the story would be short and, presumably, sweet. Nothing wrong with that, but you aren’t going to remember that
cake story for long. Have, on the other hand, an impeccable 7-layer rainbow cake, and that shit’s gonna stay with you for awhile. Both physically and metaphorically.
I’m not saying that a book about space aliens and lasers and three-headed people can’t work because it’s not believable. I’m saying that whether your book is set in the year 1300 or the year 3000, people need to act like people. They need to make human decisions. If they’re using crazy high-tech geegaws, then make those geegaws have a purpose. Make them something that people would actually use for a real thing. To use a super nerdy science-fiction example, check out Stephen Baxter. His books take place in the future, and there are crazy gadgets galore, but they all make sense. I can think, yeah, I can see someone inventing that for this purpose. I can see this person behaving in this way. I can see this version of the apocalypse happening. My suspension of disbelief can only be stretched so far – and once it snaps, there’s no going back. I simply can’t take a book seriously once the characters start pulling out their explosions-for-no-reason and their portals to another dimension that happen because … science? Ooh, look, a three-breasted woman!
1. Word Love
You can tell when a writer loves words. When she loves the sound they make, their susurration and flow. And you can also tell when a writer uses words as clumsy building blocks, grabbing the nearest and handiest because they’re easy and thinking is hard guys.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some great books by writers who are better storytellers than wordsmiths. There are also great books by writers who can’t hold a plot together, but who can create some beautiful, gorgeous imagery. These latter people tend to be poets. And I love poets almost as much as I love rainbow cake and toad-licking. Plots are just a thing, you know? Sometimes imagery in words is better than the finest painting. To me. Because I love words.
A few years ago, a friend introduced this poem to me and it’s stuck with me ever since. I find it one of the most interesting, agonizingly beautiful things I’ve ever read. I can’t say exactly why, only that I love it because I do. read it out loud. Let the sounds roll together off your tongue. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?
So. Have any of your own to add to this list? Let me know. Disagree with me on anything? I don’t even know you, and you probably wear your socks twice in a row. Gross. Just disgusting, man.