Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Every book teaches me something

In my ongoing journey through the land of fiction (both as a writer and a reader), I recently read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephanie Meyer. Both books were fast reads, although the Twilight novella redefined the term as I read it in half a day. Still, considering I read Breaking Dawn in a weekend, I guess Meyer writes fast reads no matter how many pages it takes to tell her story. That is a true compliment to her. I've said it before, she is a much better storyteller than a writer, but what an important thing to be.

I must admit Bree Tanner was especially weak on character development. I understand it was a novella, but wasn't the point to dive into the character of Bree. Otherwise, did I really need that story to be told in any further detail than the glimpse of her in Eclipse? Lack of character development will get me every time. I hated Wicked (although I later thoroughly enjoyed the play), because I wanted to find out what motivated the Wicked Witch. He wrote a cool and provoking story, but to me never truly gave me a reason for her madness. I felt the author deemed her a bad seed. Not enough.

I, too, wanted so much more of Bree Tanner. Why did Stephanie Meyer single her out to write about? What kind of human was she? Why would a vampire turn such a young girl as part of an effort to raise a vampire army? It just never answered any questions, so the story fell flat to me. Even more so, Meyer introduced new characters with no back story at all. I was supposed to care about them because Bree did, but I didn't care about Bree.

Sarah's Key, on the other hand, was mesmorizing at times. I not only cared about Sarah, a character defined by flashbacks and third-person narratives, I cared about every person she came in contact with no matter how fleeting. The novel really told Sarah's story (a young Jewish girl in France who escaped Hitler's extermination), but I became just as enthralled with Julia. The two lives inevitably became twisted into each other in such a way I never missed a bit in the beginning even as the author switched chapters to tell one story and then the other.

I read every book now as a reader who had now written her own novel. I want to learn by everything an author does right to pull me in and everything they do to turn me off. Bree Tanner was hard to accurately find redeeming, because in all fairness I was invested before I even began the book. That's the beauty of a series. If you can pull me in the first time, you've probably got me.
Sarah's Key pulled me in quickly. I cared within twenty pages. That's a gift. A gift the author gave me wrapped in a beautiful package. My only issue with Sarah's key is the author did not maintain momentum. I worry about this in my own writing. Remember . . . it took my mom and I ten years to write our novel. Did we stray from our original purpose? Lose our momentum? There was also some confusion to me on "who" was telling Sarah's story and why that story stopped mid-way through the book. The ghost narrator was never truly defined. Once we met Sarah's son, I thought he would be revealed as the storyteller but it ended up he never even knew his mother was Jewish. Crazy. SPOILER ALERT . . . I couldn't quite get past the idea that Sarah, after all she had survived and been through, would have killed herself. But, even more against her character, why would she do that and leave behind a son after her parents were so tragically taken from her? In the end, the author had made me care enough to stay with her even through weaknesses and holes in the later part of the story.

More than anything, I'm thankful for every point of view and gift in stories. There's something to be learned from all of it . . . the good, the bad and the ugly.


sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I couldn't get past the writing in TWILIGHT, nor the bad acting in the movies. But I'm not into teenage romances, old men liking young girls, nor veiled preaching from a certain religious context. That's my bent. I accept I'm different from at least 50% of women that way.

But I too learn something from every single book I read. It's the curse of the writer. We can't just sit back and enjoy anymore.

Have you and mom thought about joining Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and coming to the conference in September? Good people and they're all right here in CO. I'm happy to introduce you around if you like...