Thought Bubbles: Character, Style, or Conflict?
What is it that draws you into a story? Is it the way the words flow together, weaving a tapestry of imagined places and things? Is it the characters, their growth and learned altruism? Or is it the drive of the story, what keeps the scenes moving and gives the characters and story purpose?
I’ve come across this question more often than I thought I would, but it is a compelling introspective question for readers like us. It’s easy to say, “I loved the characters in this story,” but did you like the actual story? Were you drawn in by the character’s conflicts and problems? Some things stick out to us as readers more than others and they draw us back into these written worlds.
Some authors/critics actually try to argue that one is more important than the other. It’s true, you have to have conflict to have a book, but what kind of conflict does that mean? There are some books out there like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison where the main character doesn’t have to fight some big bad guy (even though there are plenty of big bad guys in that story), but it revolves around internal conflict and societal acceptance. Does this count towards conflict?
And as for characters, what if you don’t like the characters? Do they have to be likeable? Stories can be written with leading characters that have very unattractive traits, or they simply don’t connect with the reader. Can these types of protagonists actually lead a novel to success? In my (humble) opinion, you can see this in the novel The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. His main character Kvothe is widely regarded as a Mary Sue (a character whose world bends to its story line and has unrealistic traits and skills), but his novel is so beautifully written that the prose has been widely regarded as classic in taste.
Or as for prose and style, can a simply unadventurous, unassuming novel with unlikely characters be worth reading? Can an author’s mastery of the human language and his/her ability to tell stories be the only reason worth trudging through an otherwise uninspiring story? As a fan of classic authors, some have taken stories with simple premises and elaborated on this simple world and turned it into an epic. This month I’ve read The Road by Cormac McCarthy as part of the monthly challenge, and he took such a simple, sad idea and turned it into a thought provoking novel through the simple stroke of a pen. The characters were unassuming, the story simple, but the style was out of this world.
What is it that makes a novel for you? Is it so black-and-white that you can pick one but not the others?
This issue isn’t simple even though many try to make it so. Not every story can be told the same nor should they be told the same. The above novels are highly regarded for a reason and have touched many lives. I know that I’ve read novels that I didn’t enjoy that fell under a few of these categories: reading about unlikeable characters really strikes a negative cord with me, and having unrealistic conflict really sets off my bullshit alarm. If I smell a hint of weak writing, however, I immediately set the book down. I can’t read something where the author has no idea how to write dialogue or how to use a thesaurus.
If a story neglects any of these three, which one turns you off completely? Or are you able to work past the weakness and still appreciate the story for what it is?
I’m curious to hear what you all think in regards to this month’s Thought Bubble. Any books that you’ve read that particularly remind you of having one particular strength or weakness? Or all three even?
Until next time!