Pondering: October 3, 2008

I’m still pondering what makes a book work for a given reader (say, me). Part of what feeds the ongoing fascination is that every time I’ve ever said, “I don’t like books where X happens/exists”, one of two things happened; either I remembered a book I’d loved where X happened/existed, or I read a book with X and I loved it. Basically, I always make a liar out of myself.

The thing is, when I say it, I mean it, and I can think of dozens of examples of books that had X, and I’d hated X in every single one of them. X had often felt like the reason I set the book aside. So how could I love  a book that had X?

One of the tricky things in trying to give a workshop on a particular aspect of writing craft is that nothing exists in a vacuum. You can’t really separate characterization from plotting from dialogue. That also holds true when I approach a book as a reader. All the elements exist together; nothing stands alone, not even that X element that I mostly dislike.

I think part of what happens when I love a story that has X is that the rest of the story is so strong, has so many of the things I want and love, that I can live with X. At the same time, when X is a in a story I don’t love, it’s not balanced by all the want-and-love elements, and so it makes more of a negative impact.

I’m not sure I’m making sense yet, but writing this is helping to make it clear in my own mind.

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