The Next Level

Comparing books is often unfair, particularly if they are from different genres. Forgive the sports metaphor, but can you say quarterback Tom Brady is a better athlete than forward LeBron James? It’s a safe bet Brady throws a football better than James, and James dunks a basketball better than Brady. As for the overall athlete, we could look at commonalities such as strength, speed, BMI, etc. and come to a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps then the same can be said for stories as most all tend to follow the typical plot line of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion, not to mention character development, be they hobbits, mice or regular people such as you and me.

Recently I read two very different books, one a fantasy and the other a mystery-suspense. The fantasy was a wonderful journey that knitted together a rich plot for over four hundred pages. The suspense was a novella that got right to the point and hammered it home in about a hundred and fifty pages. I admit to liking the fantasy more, but then I enjoy thick books with well-developed characters and settings. Now that’s not to say I didn’t like the suspense. I did. And it was never meant to be a long and drawn-out story. However, I still think it missed the chance to be a really great read.

The suspense novella was well written and had lively characters. The author also created an interesting situation. In a nutshell, a young girl goes to work at an assisted living facility that used to be a sanitarium. The mystery surrounds a resident who hasn’t shown his face in years. For some reason the girl becomes obsessed with the reported hermit. Not a bad set-up. Yet instead of exploring the obsession and tying it into the girl’s past or present situation, the writer ushers the reader right on through to the end.

My point is that too many good ideas go underdeveloped. Had I a psychological reason the girl in the suspense became fanatical about the reclusive man it would’ve been a more satisfying experience. And this has nothing to do with writing style. Robert B. Parker also wrote lean prose. I read every book in the Spenser series, and in the later novels I think a Robert Frost poem had more words than some of Parker’s chapters. Yet he was a master at character motivation and conveying the psychological aspects to the reader.

All plots have been told and retold, but not all stories. It’s the writer’s voice and his or her characters that make the story new. Take your narrative to the next level by giving your characters their due. They deserve it, and so do your readers.

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