Notes from a Drama Queen

Why I Write

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I do happen to have the best job in the world. I get to spend the day immersing myself in fantasy, spinning it out, shutting out all the nasty, fretful, wicked stuff that likes to beset me (such as the IRS, bills, worrying about children, aches and pains) and just lose myself. For all the hassles involved in writing for a living, and there are many, the rewards more than make up for it.

So let me tell you why I write. Because I'm a story junkie. I'm not interested in cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and I was able to give up recreational shopping fairly easily. Food is still an issue (it tastes sooo good) but what I need most is story. Preferably something with intense emotions, great sex, riveting story line, redemption, happy ever after, a hero to fall in love with, a heroine to identify with, all wrapped up in skillful writing. I don't ask much, do I?

Despite my intense love for great fictional sex (actually I'm more than a little fond of great actual sex), that's the first thing I'd give up. I can read a good book without redemption, so that goes next. Intense emotions -- well, I suppose if it's a run for your life kind of book I can even survive without the intense emotions. Besides which, it's better if those are done with a light touch.

What would I skip next? Probably a heroine to identify with. Mind you, if she's an annoying idiot who keeps getting into trouble and making a mess of things because she never learns then the book is probably a wall-banger. But if I had to choose between a powerful hero and a powerful heroine I'd go for the hero. Falling in love with a fictional hero is one of life's great pleasures, though a lot of poor women outgrow it. Nothing better than falling madly in love with someone like Jamie Fraser in Outlander and then jumping your husband, the real love of your life. Even writers aren't immune. Dorothy L. Sayers fell madly in love with her own fictional creation, Lord Peter Wimsey (and who wouldn't?).

So we're down to skillful writing, a hero to fall in love with, riveting storytelling and happy ever after. Hmmm. Ok, the hero can go next. I've read fabulous books with charming heroes who I'd never fall in love with, so adios, hero. Happy ever after? I suppose I can even let go of that.

Which brings us down to two disparate things. Riveting storytelling and skillful writing. They're not the same. I know any number of skillful writers whose stories are static and deadly dull. They know how to craft a sentence, they even know how to plot a book and come up with a competent piece of work. And I'd rather eat worms than have to read their stuff.

A book that pulls you in, tells a story you can't look away from, is what gets me every time. Even with clunky writing, annoying characters, no sex or embarrassing sex (almost worse than lack of sex), if the writer has the gift of story I'm theirs. I've read stories where the prose was so awkward I had to skim to find out what happened, and then went and bought the sequel just because I was so fascinated with the world and the characters.

Unfortunately storytelling isn't something you can learn. You absorb it from the books you read, you have it hardwired into your system a la Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey, but you can't take classes in it. There are exercises to open yourself up to story, but I still believe it's something you either have or you don't.

It ain't easy, even if I get to sit in a recliner and work on my laptop and sleep as long as I want and read read read. God knows in the end it's worth it.

So, you out there in the great internet. What do you think is the most important of these? Which would you give up first.

Of course, in the best of all possible worlds you need every one of those elements



Blogger Carla Swafford said...

Intense emotion. That's my number one.

Recently, a buddy of mine gave me a book to read. She went on and on about how the author is a great storyteller. Oookay. Story was interesting. Hero was interesting. The heroine...well, not much of one. I felt disconnected because I felt nothing for the story or the people in it.

I can read one paragraph soaked with intense emotion and the author has me for life.

Oh, the author was male. Not sure if that had anything to do with it. But just saying...

10:16 PM  
Blogger Anne Stuart said...

LOL! I think the fact that the author was male had a great deal to do with it, but I'm a sexist bitch when it comes to reading pleasure.

10:29 AM  
Blogger kt-schmid said...

I know I'm reading an Anne Stuart book when my throat simultaneously leaps to my throat then stomache.

They're the kind of book I have to put down occasionally just to catch a breath.

Keep up the amzing storytelling!

2:44 PM  
Blogger Robena Grant said...

For me, reading is all about the characters. If I don't connect, if I can't get into their heads, if I don't care about them, if I don't like the characters, then I can't read the book. If I like the characters, the author can take me anywhere.

7:16 PM  
Blogger ForestJane said...

I'm a copyeditor, and I didn't realize how important the correctly spelled words were to me until I started reading a book tonight where misspellings are rampant. I'm on page three. Bobwire for barbed wire. Egg yokes for yolks. And this is a major NY publisher, not some little independent press that can't afford copyedit.

Nothing takes me out of the story faster, when reading for pleasure. I want to hit 'track changes' and fix it! The voice is okay, but egads, I can't enjoy it.

So, for me, voice is important, characters, GMC. But I just can't get past these words that make me cringe.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Scribbling Scarlet said...

Intense emotion is my must. Not only does it connect the characters but it connects me to them. It's what helps me to identify with them. It's the intense emotion that takes me from my seat and places me into the book. Without it I don't get the depth I look for in a good book. I want to connect with a book on a level that makes me fall in love with it and calls me back to it again and again, year after year.

The one thing I could actually do without. Sex. It's strange to need intense emotion and not sex because isn't sex in a book an intense emotion? Yes, but if it's written well, a slight brush of the hand or a hand that lingers too long can be almost just as provocative.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Karen said...

I cannot truly enjoy a book without a hero to fall in love with. Does that seem shallow? Most likely. But like you said, falling in love with a fictional hero is one of life's greatest pleasures, and one I have no intention of ever outgrowing. Intense emotions, great sex, a riveting story and a HEA (a must) all seem to fall into place once the to-die-for hero has been cast. Of course I say this as I am currently ensconced in the dark, delightful world of the Rohan's and find the slightly flawed heroes to be my idea of perfect!(Susan Ericksen as narrator gives the audio version a leg up over the written version.)

I'm sure it comes as no surprise I can do without redemption.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Danielle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

I can do without sex in a book, so long as it has a compelling story and intense emotions. I prefer a book with characters that get my interest and keep it. They don't necessarily have to be likable so long as I can understand why they tick. So number one thing for me with a book is getting involved and engaged. If I am not engaged, it doesn't matter how good the writing is.

12:08 PM  

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