Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hoping/Helping Readers THINK

The kinds of books I like best are the ones that make me think. They stay with me days after I finish them, lingering like a light mist on an early spring morning.

When I drafted Keeping Stats, a slim, YA boy-book about the downsides of being a high school athlete, it was important to me that readers think about it, as I enjoyed doing with other fiction.

But how could I write a complicated novel that promoted evaluation, in less than 200 pages?

So I read Chris Lynch's Inexcusable, and David Levithan's Love is the Higher Law.

I found that first, complexity was in theme--an original, abstruse, contemporary theme--and that theme could be shown in the main character's actions, reactions, thoughts, and dialogue.

Second, the MC had to wrestle with an intricate, intrinsic conflict. Which isn't all fixed at the end. So the reader has to do the work. There would be choice. Would the reader agree? Disagree? Understand?

How would the reader feel?

There would be questions--that the MC asks, that other characters ask of him, and that don't go completely answered. The conclusion wouldn't tie everything up, but would end with an implied projection, or another question, or a scene that would lead to the reader's assumption.

Next, the MC's voice would be unreliable. The reader would have to weigh the validity of the MC's narration to find his/her own truth. Which could be done through dialogue.

And finally, it had to have irony. The trick of all tricks, right?

In drafting Keeping Stats, I came across many more questions about writing than answers.

Does length affect depth?

Do certain genres lend themselves to more critical thinking? Or can any genre provide that possibility?

Do readers want to think? Or would they rather have the writer think for them?

And, is this thing GOING TO GET PUBLISHED???


Elana Johnson said...

Ah, there's so many questions, isn't there? Yes.

I think they're all valid. But I try to remember why I started writing in the first place. And yes, I want to be published. But sometimes that's not everything. Sometimes I just write things for me. I have to, or it just becomes a job.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Ouch. My head hurts from all that thinking!! There are a lot of questions, Jennie, but you are already doing everything right - reading the work of other authors, thinking about the possibilities, aware of the reader's needs...

Right what entertains you, and it will entertain your reader. :-)

Jennie Englund said...

I know, Shannon. That was WAY too many questions for one post -- maybe even one BLOG! What was I thinking? (Well, I guess what I was thinking was obvious).

That's so true, Elana, about writing to write. I need to remember that.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

You've been tagged, sweet Jennie! Mwa-ha-ha-ha! :-)