|No, this isn't really us|
When the weather gets cold, the hubby and I have a tradition. We throw the logs in the fireplace, snuggle up in front of the fire, and read. It got cold early this year, so we spent the last several days in book mode. I read three very different books that all had one thing in common.
They each made me want to keep reading.
What I particularly noticed, was that they each did it in different ways.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan was quiet and character driven. If I were to write a pitch for this book, I’d say it’s about two guys named Will Grayson who have a chance encounter that profoundly changes both their lives. I can’t give you a core conflict plot-driving issue because there really wasn’t one. This was character journey all the way.
But boy what characters. They were endearing. Deeply flawed, but deeply worth saving. Incredible voices. I wanted to hear their stories, share their lives. Never once did I feel “when will this get to a point?” because it was obvious from the start that the point was the story of these two guys and what happened when they accidentally meet.
Green and Levithan did two things I felt were sheer genius from a storytelling standpoint. One was to balance the two POVs with a character so utterly opposite to them. Tiny Cooper is the light to their dark, the hope to their pessimism, the over the top to their under the radar. A story that could have gone so dark and hopeless was kept bright by how this guy connects to the two Will Graysons. He’s the linchpin of the story.
The second thing is an event (a musical Tiny puts on) that provides a framework for the story. It’s not the core conflict, but it is the event that keeps the book moving forward. It’s the skeleton the story is built around, and it gives it the strength to stand.
If you’re writing a quiet, character journey novel, read this and see how two masters did it.
The second book was the complete opposite. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare was all about the plot. My pitch for this one: A girl with blocked supernatural powers gets pulled into a secret war after her mother is kidnapped, and must help find a legendary cup to save them all. There’s character stuff going on of course, but the plot and whether or not the protag gets the MacGuffin (the general term for an item that everyone in a story is trying to find for whatever reason) is what’s driving this one.
There’s a strong core conflict between the forces of good and evil, a clear bad guy with a clear plan, and lots of steps along the way to get you from “oh wow, there’s a problem and a world I never knew about” to “give me that MacGuffin you evil bad guy or else.” The hunt is the point, even though other things happen as well.
This plot and the need to know what happened next is what kept me reading. Twists and turns and reveals and secrets, all layered upon each other in interesting ways. I wanted to know how this problem was solved.
If you’re writing a plot-driven or plot-strong novel, this is great example to read.
The third book is a combination of the two. Hourglass by Myra McEntire has a plot, a core conflict, yet a strong character journey aspect. My pitch: A girl who sees “ghost” discovers her power isn’t what she thinks it is when she’s asked to use her gift to help prevent a murder than never should have happened.
What I found interesting about this one is the core conflict is trying to prevent this already-happened murder (yes, it’s a time travel story). But this part of the book doesn’t show up until way later in the story. The bulk of the tale is about the protag discovering what her visions really are, her relationship with the guy hired to help her (and who wants her to help him), and why they can’t be together even though they oh-so-want-to.
The need to know why kept me reading. Ordinarily, a book like this would have had me skimming, wanting them to get to the point about the murder. But it didn’t. What the ghosts really were and what the deal was between the two characters was compelling enough to pique my curiosity, even when McEntire quickly answered a lot of my questions. But she also dangled just enough carrots to keep me moving.
The characters have a journey, and you want to go with them on that journey. But that journey also ends with a major plot point and core conflict that has been driving the story from the start. Just in a very subtle way. The protag spends a good deal of the book getting ready emotionally to deal with the plot aspect of it. And that character growth is critical to the plot.
If you’re writing a quiet character journey that surrounds a plot event, this is a great example to check out.
There are many ways to hook your reader and keep them reading. I focus on plot a lot because, well, I write plot-heavy novels, but that isn’t the only way to do it. The most important thing is to make your reader want to turn the page. How you do that is up to you.
Are you more character driven or plot driven? Are your stories more about the journey or the problems? How often do you mix?