Sometimes a book is more than a book.
Sometimes a story is more real to you than your life, and the things you experience between its pages become a permanent part of your personal memories or impact your heart in ways that last long after you put it back on the shelf. The story becomes a part of you. Those are miraculous moments.
Sometimes a story doesn’t stay with you in a lasting way, but during the hours that you are in the world of that story, you are so absorbed and engaged with it, the characters are more real than the people in your life and their dilemmas fill your head even when you’re not reading it. While it lasts, you are transported.
My Changing Tastes
I used to like a long, involved, complicated epic — the longer, the better. Trilogies? Pshaw! Give me a rollicking twelve book series! I enjoyed getting to know the characters, their relationships, the culture, going to a strange new world and savoring its differences and its resonance with reality.
Not so much anymore. I make little time for “pleasure reading”. The stories I used to love I have little patience for now.
I used to read almost anything, and once I started I would NEVER give up. I had to know how it ended. I had to give the author the full length of the story to salvage it, even if I didn’t like it. I always held out hope with books I didn’t care for: maybe there would be a twist at the end that would make up for the rest of the book!
If you don’t catch me in the first couple of pages, I’m sorry. Not happening.
That’s not to say you have to start with immediate “action” or some life-or-death scenario. There just has to be something interesting. Nowadays I’m looking for an instant “click” with the characters — someone I immediately relate to or care about. Someone in a situation that promises adventure, intrigue, and ideally something out of this world (I do prefer speculative fiction — sci-fi, fantasy, etc — to the mundane stories of real life in the modern day). I love it when the writing and/or story absolutely delights me… but have a hard time anticipating or defining what prompts that delight.
And certainly, I want a story that keeps me wondering what’s next, that gets me emotionally invested in the characters, so that when I have to put it down, it demands to be picked up again — because I care.
If it doesn’t capture me that way, it’s likely to languish half-read on my bookshelf while I do the other “important things” life demands.
What Does It For You?
Help me out with some field research here, dear reader. What do you look for in a fiction book? What experience are you hoping to have? How often is your desire satisfied by what you read?
Martin LaBar · at
Although I mostly agree with what you say here (I can hang in there for more than a couple of pages) I’m writing for a different reason.
You recently commented on an old Speculative Faith post, and said “. . . Lois McMaster Bujold has referenced this phenomenon before. She makes the point that our fiction (as writers) is not our own. It will be experienced in ways we never expected or intended because of what our readers each bring to the table as they read it.”
Do you have a source for that, please?
I have mused about Bujold’s spiritual orientation, if you are interested:
Perhaps you could respond as a comment to that post. Thanks!
Teddi · at
Sure! Pretty certain it was somewhere on dendarii.com. They have a bunch of old interviews and essays by Lois.
I’ll try to find the exact page, and if I do, I’ll see about posting it to your site.
Thanks for stopping by, Martin!
Teddi · at
Martin, I commented to your post on Lois Bujold’s Spirit Ring book with what I could find. Then I looked a little further and found another reference to the reader-writer collaboration. I like this one even better:
“I’m not one of those control-freak writers who feel that everybody has to read the book precisely as I intended. I know perfectly well they’re going to take this text and turn it into something in their heads that is at most 50% my contribution. It’s kind of interesting to see the different things they’ll do with it. They startle you sometimes, like the guy who came up and informed me that his favorite authors were me and Kierkegaard!”
— From “It’s All in the Footnotes” at Locus Online
Martin LaBar · at
Thanks for the link to the interview, which I read with considerable interest.
In it, Bujold said “That said, every writer writes their world-view, as inescapably as breathing. But that’s not a choice or an agenda, that’s just a constraint.” However, she didn’t say (or get asked about) what her world-view is.
And she is right about how readers can bring away different messages from the same reading.
Teddi · at
I’ve wondered about her world-view, myself. I haven’t ever seen an interview or essay where she talks about it. Although that is a little frustrating to me as a fan, there’s something to be said for making it harder for people to judge you and your books based on your professed beliefs.
Dwight Okita · at
I’m the same way. I like speculative fiction that borders on the magical. I have books on my shelf that are half read that started strong and lost me. One recent book that kept me hooked was The Age of Miracles about a young girl in a world where time was moving slower to disastrous effect. I like books that keep me wondering what will happen next, that surprise me, that move me, that lift me.
And in my own books that I write, I aspire to do the same.
Teddi · at
Hi, Dwight! Thanks for chiming in!
I just checked out the description and reviews for Age of Miracles — sounds fascinating. Thanks for the tip.
Your story The Prospect of My Arrival also looks to be quite interesting, too. I love the concept of someone previewing life before they decide to be born, and the opportunity it gives us to look at life with eyes as fresh as an unborn child’s. Our world is so multi-faceted. I wonder how Prospect reacts, and if it’s a little like Leeloo in the movie “The Fifth Element”… despairing about the violence and war, but feeling hope in the possibility of love.
Your story’s premise has us writing the possible endings in our heads multiple times before we even start reading it. It inspires keen anticipation!
LadySaotome · at
“Sometimes a story is more real to you than your life, and the things you experience between its pages become a permanent part of your personal memories or impact your heart in ways that last long after you put it back on the shelf.”
That’s the #1 thing I have always loved about good fiction. And it’s sad that so many people never experience a story that way. When I took Creative Writing in college years ago, I tried to capture that feeling in two different poems!