Thursday, July 18, 2013

Writing Novels: Storytelling vs Craft

I read a book the other day. The whole 370 some pages. On a day I had the kids by myself, had four hours of sleep and barely had time to shower. It's the second in a series, in a genre I don't particularly care for. There are things about the writing that drive me CRAZY. Like throw my Kindle across the room crazy. The writer must have repeated the same two (stupid) observations about the mental states of the two main characters half a dozen times each. I GET their inner conflicts. You don't need to keep TELLING me, especially using the EXACT same phrasing.

So. Given my very limited free time and the fact that I kind of hate this book, why did I plow through it, devouring words like I just ended a hunger strike?

The characters. Gah, the characters. I BELIEVE in them. I believe in their romance. I desperately need them to end up together and resolve all the tension. I spent days after finishing in the kind of grief haze you experience when you realize a story is finished and you can't go back to the world it pulled you into.

Novels are a strange thing. There are two (at least) very unique elements that go into writing a novel: storytelling and craft. Someone like Stefanie Meyer is a master storyteller. Whatever your feelings about the Twilight series, chances are you have feelings. The relationships she created get under your skin. I read through at an embarrassing clip, with my inner 15-year-old dying of happiness. The rational part of myself sat back in horror, questioning why I could delight in something so obviously flawed.

The reverse of that is someone who is a master at craft, but the story fails to grab me. I KNOW Moby Dick is a classic for a reason, but I loathed reading it. I relish Tolkien's writing, but I finding reading his books a slog. Mind you, it's all subjective. My mom and brother reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy a couple times a year. They'd probably hate Twilight. But the fact remains, novels can be successful even if they only have one of these two elements.

When it comes to writing, I think craft comes easier to me. It can be learned. It can be improved. But storytelling, at least on some level, is innate. While you can memorize story arcs and fit your story into a perfect beat sheet, but without that thing, that intangible quality that makes a story REAL, it's just words.

And then there are those perfect books that somehow hit both aspects and everything is wonderful and there are angelic choirs and you race to Twitter to fangirl all over the poor unsuspecting writers. Those books? Those books are magic.

So I will continue to perfect my craft and search my heart for stories in hope that one day I will write that magic book that makes my readers rush to finish then ache because it's over. Because that's what I dream of as a writer.

What about you, dear readers? Do can you forgive craft for a killer story? Or tolerate a lackluster story for flawless craft?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Falling in Love with YA All Over Again

I haven't blogged in forever. Ooops. I've been traveling, writing and READING! Oh, reading. I think I forgot how much I love reading. It's not like I ever stopped, but I'd slowed. With kids and work and writing, my habit dropped from a book a day to probably two a month. Enter my library's e-book catalog and I am DEVOURING books again.

I feel like I'm playing catch up for the greatest YA hits of the last five years, but oh, is it fun. The wonder, the self-doubt, the heady romance. I've lived a dozen lifetimes between digital pages, falling in love over and over.

And you know what? It's completely reaffirmed everything I love about YA literature. Rationally, I'd never want to be a teen again (would I?), but how I wish I could go to boarding school in Paris or fall in love with my best friend all over again. To be young and having nothing but promise.

With the rise of New Adult, I know a lot of writers that are successfully transitioning to books about college and finding oneself as a grown up (yay for my NA writer friends!). Maybe it's because college was NOT the best years of my life or that I'm not into reading about other people having sex or that actual grown up problems don't captivate me, but NA just doesn't resonate with me the way the angst and drama and intensity of YA does.

As part of my travels this summer, I visited my hometown and that always brings my adolescence (let's pretend I spelled that right the first time) into sharp focus. I never moved back after starting college (because I was silly enough to take summer classes), so all my memories of that place are seen through the hazy lens of teenage idealism. There is a lot of pain there, a lot of disappointment. Broken friendships and failed romance. But how beautiful it looks, how simple, through these grown up eyes.

When I curl up with a book, I want to escape. I want to make the problems of my grown-up, responsibility-saddled life disappear. I want the problems I read about to be real and strong and conquerable (hey! That's a real word!).

YA has a way of making the ordinary MATTER in a way I love. I remember the point in my senior year of high school when I decided I was done pretending I enjoyed reading adult books and went back to the YA section of my library with glee. Sitting in front of that small shelf, surrounded by kids 4-6 years younger than me, I knew I was home.

So give me instalove and characters that skip homework to save the world and best friends and arguments about curfew. Give me bad choices and inconsequential choices that seem like the end of the world. Give me gym class hatred and sneaking into bedrooms for sexless sleepovers. Because those are the fantasies that make this woman's inner 15-year-old swoon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I am a first kiss to write and the cute, sweet, funny boy with glasses needs to break through my main character's walls before they can get there. Yay YA!