Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sweet or Sour

I am reading two books right now. Lisa Gardner’s “Alone” and Peter Straub’s “Shadowland.” Both are very good books. The Gardner book I am reading for the first time, the Straub book I am reading for probably the tenth time at least.

Alone is action-packed. It starts with a sniper who may have been tricked into killing a woman’s husband and continues from there. The writing is adequate. The beginning is exciting but it slows down a little in the middle.

Shadowland is a painting in language. The main story doesn’t start until over a hundred pages into the book, but it carefully pulls you into its web. The characters are extremely deep and the setting is unbelievable. I often read it for inspiration.

Two different books that both succeed, but take completely different paths. So I thought I’d get opinions on what you prefer.

If you could only choose one or the other, would you prefer:

1 A story that immediately drops you into the action or one that slowly spins a web?

2 A story with strong characters or a fascinating plot?

3 A story that makes you laugh or one that frightens you?

4 A series or a different set of characters in every book?

5 A story with a great beginning or a great ending?

6 A setting you are familiar with or one you have never seen?

7 First person or third person?

8 One main character or several?

9 An ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that lets you guess about a few things?

10 A new book by a favorite author or discovering a new favorite?

11 A main character like you or unlike you?

12 An ordinary character thrust into extraordinary circumstances or an extraordinary person?

13 Fantasy or mystery?

14 Romance or thriller?

15 A great story or great writing?

Feel free to give examples.


7 Comments:

At 11/07/2006 3:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, this is going to be hard, because, like you, I read many different kinds of books and I find many of them to be great, even though they're completely different from each other. I'll try to base my answers on the books I read over and over again.

1. Immediate action or slow web-spinning? I'd have to say slow web, but not too slow.

2. Strong characters or fascinating plot? I'd go for strong characters. A fascinating plot is fun to read -- once. But the strong characters will bring me back again and again.

3. Laughter or fright? Laughter, I guess. I do prefer stories that make me feel something, but not necessarily those that scare me to death and keep me awake listening for things that go bump in the night.

4. Series or different characters? I look at the 21+ Anne Perry books on my shelves and would have to say, series. A new book in a series is like meeting an old friend again who has something new to tell.

5. Great beginning or great ending? Great ending. Definitely. If the beginning is great, but the story fizzles out later, it leaves me feeling incredibly dissatisfied. A weak beginning can be offset by a strong, satisfying ending.

6. Familiar setting or new setting? A new setting, provided it's described in enough detail so that I don't feel completely lost.

7. First person or third person? Ooh, that's a toughie. I like them both. Probably third person, but only by the slimmest margin.

8. One main character or several? One. I like to identify strongly with one main character and follow him or her throughout the story. Funny, though, there are several main characters in Robin Hobb's "Liveship" books, and I can not only identify with almost all of them, I can also keep them all straight in my mind (very difficult sometimes for us ADDers.) On the whole, however, I like to stick to one.

9. Neatly wrapped up ending, or some loose threads? Oooh, another toughie. I'd have to go for a neatly wrapped up ending, but again, only by the slimmest margin. Sometimes I like the dangling threads and speculating about what could happen, and sometimes I don't. If I know that there's a sequel coming where there's a possibility of answers, then I like the open-ended questions.

10. Favourite author or new favourite? Why do you have to ask so many hard questions? Probably discovering a new favourite.

11. A main character like me or unlike me. Unlike me. Definitely. I have to live with myself all day, every day, so I don't necessarily want to read about myself, too.

12. Ordinary person or extraordinary? I almost always go for the ordinary person thrust into extraordinary situations. I don't necessarily like reading about extraordinary characters unless they also have some weakness that I can identify with. Not that they should be as weak as I am, see above, but they also shouldn't be so perfect and so far removed from my reality that it would be like comparing gods to mortals.

13. Fantasy or mystery? I think I actually own more mysteries than fantasies, but it's close. I like a mixture, actually, a good mystery in a fantasy setting, and not necessarily just your basic "overcome these obstacles and gain the prize" plot. It must be the suspense that keeps me going, so I'll have to choose mystery.

14. Romance or thriller? Hmm. I like romance as a subplot, even a strong subplot, but not the main thing, so I will reluctantly have to choose thriller. This is a very reluctant vote, however. I guess I like those books the most where the hero and the heroine work together to solve the mystery and either fall in love or strengthen their love on the way. I don't read "pure" romance of the Harlequin type, and although I will read thrillers such as the Preston and Child books if I can get them at the library, I generally don't buy them for keeps.

15. Great story or great writing? Does it really have to be one or the other? It's like faith and works, isn't it, the two oars of the rowboat? Lose one, and you're dead in the water. But okay, to judge by my experience in fanfic, where there is a great display of works featuring either great stories or great writing, I'd have to say ... great stories. The most beautiful writing in the world is wasted without a good plot to back it up.

Hope this helps!

Melanie Goldmund

 
At 11/07/2006 10:57 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Here are my answers, assuming I can only choose one or the other

1. Drops into the action
2. Strong characters (for example: House MD. The plots are almost identical in every episode, but the characters are fascinating enough to make it one of the best shows on TV).
3. Laugh
4. Series (although I prefer books that are stand-alone with recurring characters, like Clancy's Jack Ryan books or Hillerman's Chee/Leaphorn books)
5. Beginning (I generally won't read very far into a book until it hooks me from the start. Actually, one of my very favorite books, The Gun Seller, has a fairly lousy third act overall. But the rest is so good, particularly the beginning, that it makes up for it.)
6. A setting I've never seen
7. Third Person (odd, since I always write first person)
8. Several characters
9. An ending that lets you guess (I usually hate perfect endings)
10. A new book by a favorite author
11. Ordinary person (Someone once said, referring to the Matrix movies, that Becoming is way more interesting than Being. That's why Neo is so cool in the first movie--he's still imperfect--but in the later two movies he's harder to relate to.)
12. Fantasy (Although I like mystery elements in books, I really dislike straight mysteries. To me, there has to be something more.)
13. Thriller (because romance novels = yucky)
14. Great Story (I hate it when people make this distinction, especially when literary snobs do--as though a "great writer" could write a book with a poor story. Story is part of the writing, and no amount of flowery prose can make a weak story into a great book. Exception: Walden by Thoreau. It hardly even has a story--but then again, it's more of a philosophy book than a novel.)

 
At 11/07/2006 11:54 AM, Blogger John Ferguson said...

Holy smokes Jeff! I don't know what it is, but I think I'm more willing to write an essay for you than for my teachers in high-school and college. Here goes . . .

1 A story that immediately drops you into the action or one that slowly spins a web?

Action. Drop me into a vat of boiling oil, in the middle of a volcano, surrounded by a thousand ninjas--no a thousand ninja zombies. Or start me right off with the murder scene and all the big questions. I like to feel off-balance when I start a book.

2 A story with strong characters or a fascinating plot?

Plot. I will have to say plot. That being said, the story has to have at least one character who I can relate with, but that character can be shallow and archetypal. Years later I can still remember the plot twists of my favorite stories even if I can't remember the name of the main character or even what they look or act like.

3 A story that makes you laugh or one that frightens you?

Frightens. I like a story that does both, but if I had to choose one it would be "frightens." Not that I like to be scared, but I do like to feel fear for the main character (even if that is fear that the main character lost their chance at a better life).

4 A series or a different set of characters in every book?

No preference. I will pick up a series book before a new book if I liked the previous book(s) in the series. However, most series will disappoint me at some point and that leaves a sour residue and I'll swear off series for awhile.

5 A story with a great beginning or a great ending?

Great Beginning. If the story doesn't catch me quick I won't be around for the ending. On the other hand, if the ending isn't the best I won't buy/read another book from that author without a lot of positive critiqus.

6 A setting you are familiar with or one you have never seen?

Never seen.

7 First person or third person?

Third person. There are first-person books I like, but I prefer epic-style tales and they are very hard to pull off well in first-person.

8 One main character or several?

Several. I enjoy books that give me time to get into several character's heads and shows the struggle from the different POVs. I also like stories that let me empathize with two characters and then put those two characters into conflict and let me agonize over who to cheer for.

9 An ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that lets you guess about a few things?

Guessing. Hands down, guessing. The books I remember most are the ones that keep my mind caught up in them for days afterwards wondering "what if." I have to add that the ending needs to be satisfying and I wouldn't go so far as to like "cliff-hanger" endings. I do like the main thread to wrap up, but, as with life, a good ending to one story should be the beginning of the next (even if it is never told except in my imagination).

10 A new book by a favorite author or discovering a new favorite?

Favorite Author. I like discovering new favorites, but I usually read from my current favorites until there is nothing left to read by them. So, by my actions I have to say "new book by a favorite author."

11 A main character like you or unlike you?

Unlike me. There needs to be a healthy balance here. The character needs to be enough like me that I can empathize with them, but enough different that I can get out of my own head. If I had to choose one it would be "unlike me."

12 An ordinary character thrust into extraordinary circumstances or an extraordinary person?

Extraordinary Character. Most of the books I read involve extraordinary characters such as Sherlock Holmes or Poirot and fantasy (where they are intrinsically extraordinary) or scifi (where technology makes them extraordinary). These characters must also face extraordinary challenges.

13 Fantasy or mystery?

Yes. You have picked out my two favorite genres to read. I can't choose between them. I also like them mixed (Mystery in Fantasy: Harry Potter; Fantasy in Mystery: Dirk Gentley).

14 Romance or thriller?

Thriller. Although I do like a bit of romance thrown into the mix. I have read several books in the romance genre and have enjoyed reading them, but not as much as a good thriller.

15 A great story or great writing?

Great Writing. I heard Gene Siskel reviewing a movie and he said something like this, "The storyline was shallow and predictable, but Angela Landsbury can make me believe anything." I know this is true. Ten authors can take the same story and tell it ten different ways. Almost every great story I've read could be boiled down to a pretty blah story if told incorrectly. On the other hand, I have been kept on the edge of my seat for 10 minutes or more by a good storyteller telling a cheesy joke.

JOHNF

 
At 11/07/2006 6:00 PM, Blogger FHL said...

I'd like to ignore the main content of your blog and ask about Shadowlands instead. I vaguely remember enjoying Talisman (written with Stephen King) - can you give me a little glimpse into it? (There's no summary on wikipedia.) I checked out Black House once, but it was too big. (To fit on the exercise bike stand. Same with The Stand - waaaaaay too big.)

Oh, ok, I will make just one comment on the rest - I love series. You begin to feel like characters in some books are real people. You know about their histories, their dreams, their secret guilt and could probably tell stories about them yourself. Alex Cross and Myron Bolitar, two very different fictional characters, and yet they feel real to me. (Maybe even Dirk Pitt. Perhaps a little less real.) Shandra Covington and Samantha Shade? We'll see. =)

 
At 11/07/2006 8:36 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Shadowland huh? First of all it’s one of those books that people either love or hate. I have yet to meet one person who has read the book that could take it or leave it. The writing itself is nothing short of incredible. The ending leaves many strings hanging. The storyline starts slowly but does a great job of setting up the second half of the book which is abso-freaking-lutely incredible. And the timeline jumps back and forth between preset and past tense.

That said, it is one of my all time favorite books. I’ll try and give you a brief synopsis of the storyline.

The first half of the book takes place in an affluent Arizona boy’s school. The protagonists are two fourteen-year-old boys, Del and Tom, who love magic. As the school year goes on, strange things begin to happen to all of the boys in the school, but especially to the two protagonists and a scary senior named Skeleton Ridpath. The strange happenings seem to tie into Del’s uncle—a reclusive magician—who might be dangerous, and maybe even crazy.

The second half of the book takes place at Shadowland, the Uncle’s house—a mansion that once was an exclusive retreat. There the world goes almost inexplicably crazy. Days last a week and weeks disappear in the flash of an eye. Strange people who may or may not be real play parts in a fantastical fairytale of a summer. Does the Uncle want to help the boys or destroy them? Temptation comes in the form of power, jealousy, love, hate, desperation, lies, and honesty. Shadowland makes Hogwarts look like Club Med.

Think of Shadowland as a modern-day Grimm fairytale.

Does that help at all.

 
At 11/08/2006 2:08 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Wow. I'm going from here to Amazon to order Shadowland. Thanks!

Also, Mindi just continued your discussion over on the reader's line. Anyone can (and may) subscribe by going to Yahoo groups. The group is LDS-Fiction-Readers. Hope I got that right. Anyway, fun stuff.

As for my answers, well, you've really made me think. Especially that last one. I thought I preferred a great story to great writing until I remembered that I very nearly savored Saving Fish From Drowning. Talk about a story that starts a little slow and goes practically nowhere. But goodness! If you want a glorious treatment of "boring" Amy Tan is the one to give it to you. :-)

 
At 11/08/2006 9:14 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

1 A story that immediately drops you into the action or one that slowly spins a web? One that drops me into the action.

2 A story with strong characters or a fascinating plot? I like strong plots.

3 A story that makes you laugh or one that frightens you? Neither, I prefer one that piques my curiosity.

4 A series or a different set of characters in every book? Different characters, though I like some series with ongoing characters.

5 A story with a great beginning or a great ending? If it doesn't have a great beginning, I'll never know whether it has a great ending or not because I won't finish it. But if it doesn't have a great ending, I won't read anything by that author again.

6 A setting you are familiar with or one you have never seen? Either is fine with me. The story is more important than the place.

7 First person or third person? Third person

8 One main character or several? One to four. More than that is just confusing.

9 An ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that lets you guess about a few things? The main plot better be wrapped up, but other questions don't all have to be solved or they may be resolved but not in a positive way.

10 A new book by a favorite author or discovering a new favorite? Both

11 A main character like you or unlike you? The character doesn't have to be just like me, but I need to be able to identify with the character and share many of the same values.

12 An ordinary character thrust into extraordinary circumstances or an extraordinary person? Ordinary character thrust into extraordinary circumstances

13 Fantasy or mystery? Mystery

14 Romance or thriller? Depends on my mood, but usually thriller

15 A great story or great writing? A story isn't great if it isn't told well, neither does a lot of lovely chatter constitute a story

 

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