Daily Word Count Goal Met … check!
The END typed at the bottom of manuscript … check!
Revisions Made and completed … check!
List of literary agents and publishing houses ready for submission … check!
Yet, most successful and unsuccessful writers, whether published or not, meet a routine apex at the completion of their works: their stories are, despite ambition, not spectacular.
Even modern bestseller lists are rife with lackluster, unoriginal, bland works that only strive to retell banality and push mediocre strings of sentences without thought of voice or character depth. Some bestsellers are memorable not because of the writing, but because of the controversy, or appealing to a niche of readers. Besides the traditional published works, self-published works – in order to find a mass market to sale – are churned out by amateur writers who have not learned the craft of storytelling.
It seems that storytelling is fundamental when writing fiction. Boy meets Girl, Boy loves Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy disses Girl and meets up with A’K’Aa’Rani of the Vegan Star System and they bring an end to the evil Carmalleon Empire by destroying their … oh, all right, let’s not get off track here.
I’ve just had a reading “session” with two novels that bored me to tears. The writing in both is adequate; the syntax is solid, but the characters are pretty 2-dimensional and the stories are predictable. The first one, written about anti-whaling activists, is written by a veteran writer with many titles under his belt; the second is a Native American mystery close to the works of Tony Hillerman, and is written by a new writer. Both are different in style and approach, but both are pretty bland reading because of their straightforwardness.
Trite and hackneyed writing doesn’t need to be enlivened by action or twists and turns; the greatest and most memorable works are memorable because we care for the characters and the storytelling is rich and provides us a universe all its own. The story might teach us something, it might inspire us; yet, great writing and storytelling is done because the author weaves color into every aspect of the fabric of the story. This cannot be done by the production mill of literature to make cash; quantity is not quality as we all know.
The greatest stories are told because they mean something. They introduce to us a shadow of our emotions and not just escapism. Stephen King was truly great in his day, that is, in this reader’s opinion, because he wove deep literary content into his genre-based horror stories. His words were eloquent and his characters real. His elements could have been used in westerns, or science fiction, or even romance. King is a closet literary author; he has proven such with works like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Yet, after awhile, even King began to become a production writer in order to placate his publishers’ balance sheet for the exorbitant advances he demanded. His works began to slide backwards in quality and in order for him to grasp what he truly was, he had to reintroduce elements he’d written about years before.
That is the argument of being a successful bestselling author. The more money and fame, the more your works become mediocre.
So, what is good storytelling and how can we meager writers grasp it? I suppose I could attempt to bring a hint of what it could be by a mere number list here for perusal:
1. Reality within something outrageous. For example, your story may be far-fetched altogether and far from what everyday people might experience (like, say, Regan and her mother experience in The Exorcist, or what Drs. Grant and Malcolm experience when they agree to visit Jurassic Park), but the characters are very human in their perspective and their reactions. They would be much like anyone else. They bridge the gap between the outrageous and the mundane.
2. Contrariness within Character. Most protagonists are one way. They are feeling, caring people who are always altruistic or innocent in dealings with others until they are kicked in the head by a series of conflicts ala plot devices and turns. Memorable characters are straightforward and yet, complex. They undertake changes as they grasp the conflicts within themselves. The anti-hero, for example. What if the protagonist is conflicted but ultimately always delivers sympathy despite his/her POV? Don’t be afraid to hate your protagonist at times. Don’t be afraid to feel disappointed in how he/she deals with things because the greatest characters are those that ARE NOT us. They are not mere shadows of the author. They might have different religious, political, or even ethical differences.
3. Subplots. I was reading this new novel not long ago and was immediately disappointed in it because of its lack of reflection between plot and subplot. All subplots are not for deepening character and adding fodder to the story, nor is it meant to create a diversion from the main plot. A great subplot enhances the main plot and illuminates the climax and gives the perspective of the protagonist when he or she faces the final push and revelation. The Mirror Subplot, that is, a subplot that mirrors the main plot in theme if not specifically, has the greatest potential of deepening the main storyline. A great example of this is in the movies, especially Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in which Han Solo and company deal with a sinister galactic cavern and Luke Skywalker faces the Darkside in the cavern on Dantooine at the same time.
4. Villains with Depth. Most antagonists are meant just to cause the protagonist and his/her friends trouble, but the best villains are complex creatures who are full of contrary motives and may, at times, help the protagonist inasmuch as hinder him. In each scenario, the villain is a reflection of the hero, as with the Mirror Subplot above. Jean Valjean and Inspector Valjert orbit each other in an endless cat in mouse conflict with the actions of each causing the other as much mayhem as the other. Here, Victor Hugo in Les Miserables shows the affect of one life to another in a constant war that both builds and destroys both of these men. The antagonist may also have a better argument than the protagonist, and acts against the hero not because of spite but of necessity.
The key to a profound work lies greatly in complexity, but written simply; an author who writes well writes simply, but delivers texture, voice, and depth to his or her works without boring or confusing the reader.