Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Journey of the Reader

I just finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon, and it really got my brain working.  I'm a huge fan of her Outlander series.  Well, except for book two.  I won't lie - it dragged - but the ending was worth dredging through the monotony of French and Scottish politics.  If you gave up during book two, I highly recommend you finish it.  The ending is worth it, and so are the books that follow.

What I love about this series is that it opened my eyes to an entirely different reading experience.  Typically, once grabbed by a really good book, I devour it.  It took me 18 hours to finish the last Harry Potter book, and I know I missed things because I have a tendency to skip the exposition in favor of jumping from one line of dialogue to the next.  Hence why I typically listen to the audiobook afterward.  I'm forced to listen at the pace of the narrator, and I can't skip ahead.  I pick up on all sorts of great details that I missed the first time around.

If I love the story, I love the story, and I tend to enjoy listening to it over again, each time picking up on something that I missed in previous encounters.  And while I do this with Gabaldon's Outlander series, I'm interacting with the books in an entirely different way.  As gripping as her stories are, I don't feel pressured to rush to the end to get the resolution.

Her books are about the journeys of her characters.  It's not about what happens at the climax.  There are multiple small stories woven in between the covers.  There's a rhythm to her work and I can sense when the tension is ramping up or slowing down.  I will admit that I sometimes rush through certain scenes as I'm gripped by the action, needing to know what happens next, but these moments are short lived, and don't encompass the entire book.  It's digestible, and I enjoy the flavor and texture, not just the action.

It also amazes me how well she handles endings.  This particular book ends with two epilogues.  In each is a fresh piece of information, small in scope, but huge in possibility.  I feel compelled to get the next book as soon as possible so I can continue to journey with Jaime and Claire and company.  What writer doesn't want to have that effect on their readers?

With this in mind, I began to contemplate my next writing project.  I've had an idea for a middle-grade series for a while now; I've even started writing it a few times, but never really got going on it.  I've been focused on Near Mrs. and actually finished that project, polishing it to the point where I could actually submit it. (see previous post)

This latest reading experience left me comparing the writing of Near Mrs. to the writing of this next series.  Near Mrs. has a fairly linear plot.  There's not a lot of secondary story, and it carries from beginning to end.  I see it as more of a beach read - something fun, light, and easy for the summer.  Not how I would describe the as yet to be written middle-grade series.   

Near Mrs. is focused and driven, much like how I live my life in many aspects.  Yet when I'm reading the Outlander series, I tend to relax, sit back and enjoy the ride.  Each sequence carries its own weight, and I can put the book down to sleep at night, still eager to pick it up again when I have a spare moment.  It's a nice balance, and one that I imagine takes skill to achieve.

As a novice writer, I'm happy with the fact that I finished one manuscript, revised it and submitted it.  It's quite the accomplishment and I still think it deserves to be published.  But my style is necessarily different for this next project.  I've been planning.  I've got character bios that include trivial likes and dislikes, as well as values.  I know what motivates them, what drives them, and how they're going to react to conflict and obstacles.  In Near Mrs., I learned about Hannah, Marc, Olivia and Garrett as I wrote them.  As for the series, Megan, Kate and Ben are already well defined in my head.

I started putting together a synopsis for the series, (before doing any writing) and based on my feelings after reading A Breath of Snow and Ashes, I want to expand it.  I feel like I need to take my time, sit back and really develop and plan the story.  Think ahead about actions, reactions and consequences.  Plan how I want to bring things up and then let them lie, only to resurrect them at some later time to make that the key piece of information that the reader knew all along, but didn't realize they knew.  Do this in both dramatic and subtle ways throughout the story to give the reader those little exciting moments of discovery and understanding.

As I said, I started the bios and the synopsis, but then put down the keyboard, so to speak, and let them simmer.  Now, the ideas are churning again, right down to the last line of the story that will set up the sequel.  I don't want to rush this one.  I don't want to rush the characters, their arc, or the overall story arc.  I want to wind my way through the challenges and really suck the reader into Megan, Kate and Ben's world.  Let the reader get lost and hide from real life for just a bit, while they absorb themselves in the story.

A lofty goal?  I don't think so.  Just where I know this series needs to go.

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