A World Painted by Words

I’m about 620 pages into an 858 page novel I checked out of the library on Thursday.

Though I’ve been studying and practicing the craft of story for years now, and though the principles of good story telling remain universal, the genres and forms have different conventions.  In writing my own novel, I felt questions bubbling up.  It was with those questions in mind that I picked up this particular novel at the library.

The book was written by a best selling author.  Didn’t bother reading the plot summary.  I’ve seen movies that were made from his novels, and I have a good idea for what to expect.

My novel is a sci-fi comedy.  His genre is military political thriller.  Very different, but I felt I would learn more from reading him, rather than from someone in my same genre.  Of course, I could always read a second book after completing this first one, but I’m feeling the clock ticking.  I want to get writing!

The novel has introduced more that three-dozen characters – all of them virtually identical to each other.   All of them are action heroes or villains who dive fearlessly into conflict.  They’re all CIA, foreign intelligence and/or Special Forces types with superior combat training.  Diving into conflict is what they do.  They care deeply for what is right or wrong, and though these are admirable traits, NONE of these characters are really ever tested.  They never have to choose between the better of two evils, or the better of two goods.  This makes them all rather one-dimensional.

While most movies (screenplays) feature two or three main stories, this novel has over ten.  As individual stand-alone stories they would be completely cliched and uninteresting.  Many of the scenes are pure exposition without conflict.  There are so many threads intertwined, that the inciting incident of the primary plot doesn’t occur until page 400 or so.

The exactness of the world created in this novel is incredible.  At times I felt like I was reading Discovery Channel.  Military equipment and weaponry are described in great detail.  Same goes for the intelligence gathering as it relates to global conflict.  This is the saving grace of this otherwise terrible book.  It also happens to be where I have the most to learn.

In my own work, I often rush passed the details in order to get the story structure, conflict, and character choices down.  There are other artists and technicians involved in the creation of a movie, TV show, or play, so unless something is significant to the story, I am happy to defer to others for those choices.

A novel is a very different experience for a reader than a play or movie is for an audience.  Plays and movies are meant to be seen.  Details of the set or wardrobe in the script are intended for those who would be part of a production.  Audiences never ‘read’ details of the set.

Novels are worlds unto themselves, and these worlds are painted with words.  The voice of the author is the vessel by which a reader travels through the story.  Words are meant to stand alone as words, and not simply as a means to an end.

This distinction is taking some getting used to, but I’m on board.  One more day and I should be done the book.  After that, I’m back to my own novel.  Exciting!

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