Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Make Them Obsessed and Tear Their Hearts Out

So, I got to read the sequel to THE NOCTURNIAN, the YA Sci-Fi novel Francesca's querying right now, over the past couple of weeks. 

(I know. You're seething with jealousy. And you should be. Here's why:)

I finished the book and I felt like I needed a moment to be alone, just so I could deal with it being over.

Chessie's asked me what I thought about it, and I feel bad that I can't really put it into words any better than that. But it's true. There was a sense of completion, victory and hope, underlaid with a very acute feeling of loss. Something irreparable. Something life-changing.  It felt like there was sort of an emptiness, where the book had taken a little piece of my heart that I couldn't really ever get back.

What I could say about the book was this: The last book  that made me feel that way at the end was POSSESSION by Elana Johnson. The one before that? CATCHING FIRE, the second book in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy.


Now, there have been plenty of books I've really really enjoyed that did NOT make me feel like that. Those books fall into the (much more easily definable) category of "Obsessed." That means, to me, that even when I'm not reading, I'm thinking about the story. Songs  I hear on the radio make me think of that-one-chapter-when. I see someone at a coffee shop, and think, "Oh! That looks just like Alexis." I can't hear something about Paris on the news without thinking of the fictional hi jinx that occurred there in that one book I loved so much.

So all my CPs' books fall into that category, (duh)  right along with HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT.

All these books are ones I am passionate about, for one of two reasons:

1. I'm obsessed with the world and/or the characters and/OR
2. I feel like my heart got torn out and trampled on by the end.

Of course, I want to write a story that others are passionate about. After all, a book's not going to sell too well if people pick it up, read some pages, say, "eh," and put it down again.

This is only my second project, and so I'm still not quite sure how to go about inspiring obsession.  But I think I have some idea of how to tear hearts out.

This brings me to a post my CP and writing-life coach Jean made recently about war in fiction. In the blog, she discusses her WiP,  and how even though it's about kid assassins (I know! Awesome, right?) it's really about war.

Then I commented that  reading about war is so gut-wrenching, because at the end, no one wins. And that's the worst part of the whole thing.

And then I thought, well, that's really how real life is, isn't it? There are no one hundred percent happy endings. For stories to feel real, and identifiable, and to tear the readers' hearts out and put them back in again not-quite-whole...there has to be a sense that no one really won here. Even if there was a literal win, like of a battle (oh hey HARRY POTTER) there's still going to be a lot lost.

The same sense we feel in our own lives.
The same things that build us up and tear us down.
The same things we know to be true.
The same things that make us human will make our characters and our stories human too.

Quite frankly, this is something I think is a little flawed about my first project. Sure, there's a bit of loss, and it's something that punches me in the gut every time. But I'm not sure it's something every reader would care about. In writing ONE, it was one of my hopes that, in achieving some of her goals, my MC also had to sacrifice a great deal. I think I'm getting a lot better at that with this second project.

So, what makes you crazy-in-love with a book? And what are you doing to make that happen in your own writing?


  1. I want to read that book!!! And, what an AMAZING post!

    I think that's the whole point of writing. Lacan says, "Language is not transparent." We can describe our experiences, but we don't always connect emotionally or understand the other person's meaning. Usually, we just mirror ourselves and our experiences back.

    But, I disagree with him on this one fact... there is something about writing, telling a story, creating a metaphor for the human condition, that can transcend simple language.

    Yes, the human experience is gray and muddy... but, also incredibly beautiful. That is the power in it. And, a book has the rare ability to center us as different people and in different experiences.

    I think that is what always brings me back to the page... Beautiful post, as always.

  2. Um, if you're seeing random girls in coffee shops who look like Alexis, you need to be snapping covert pictures with your phone and texting them to me.

    Thank you.

    I can honestly say UNEARTHLY and HALLOWED were the last books to make me fall madly in love. You say you want your heart torn out? Oh, just wait until you read HALLOWED. Just. Wait.

  3. Urghhh I love this post so much. Because I feel like, lately, I haven't found very many published books that do this for me. My CPs, obviously, had books that I love. Hell, I was sitting at lunch the other day thinking about Stellan. (Mmmm. Maggie get that book published so I can start a fanpage.)

    It's the stories that tear my heart out that make me want to write, because I've always wanted to elicit those reactions in someone else. (And I guess I succeeded. ^_^)

    The way I figure it, some stories are there to entertain. Some are there to get a point across. And some are there to do both of these things and then rip your heart out of your chest and stomp on it with a pair of crampons.

    I like the third one.

  4. There are many published books that do this for me, and I'm thankful for authors that write them.

    I think a book should bring some sort of reaction from you. If it is yelling at the pages because the character did something stupid. Or your tears are bleeding into the ink because a character died or was hurt emotionally.

    That is the beauty of writing.

  5. Ladies!!!

    @Jean - "center us as different people" - THAT's the powerful thing. When your heart aches just as much as if you actually WERE that person - YES that's what I want!

    @G - Haven't we been over this? I work on a college campus! I see, like two a day!
    Oh! And I wouldn't be waiting to read HALLOWED if you sent it to me. *taps foot* :)

    @Chess - Yeah. You did it. *dies*
    Seriously, though, I want to feel INJURED when I read something. I want to have to stare into space when it's over, just to get my bearings. That was TBP.

    @Ladonna - "Thankful for the authors" is a beautiful way to say it. I am, too, in so many ways. <3

    Thank you, everyone! Your comments make my day. :)

  6. This is a great description of that feeling when you finish a book and just can't go back to the real world quite yet--you just have to sit. And stare. And think or not think, just let it sink in. I'm trying to remember the last book that made me feel this way. I can think of some that fall into the "obsessed" category, Now YOU've made me think. Awesome post.

  7. @Maggie - Hey lady! Isn't it amazing how FEW books make us feel that way? Luckily, we have Chessie.

  8. Too true. I was thinking the other day about a series that failed to make tough choices (I won't name names) and how even though everything wraps up nice and neat at the end and everyone is happy, it was actually unsatisfying in the long run. The characters didn't lose anything. Their sacrifices were temporary. The author didn't kill her darlings per se. And that is the easy way out because we like our characters and killing them is so antithetical to the paternal role we adopt when writing them, even just putting them difficult situations can be hard because we don't want it to seem like too much. But if we take a step back, they need to be challenged to grow and we need the challenge as writers to grow as well. So I agree - rip their hearts out.

  9. What an awesome post! I want to read that sci-fi. This post really got me thinking. When you love or hate a character enough to get a strong emotional response is something I always look for. And when I cry? Oh, man. That book is going right on my Legends list. One book that made ME feel that way: The Kite Runner. And How I Live Now. After that... they're all books in the "obsession" category.

    Raindrop Reflections

  10. Great analysis. I've never really thought deeply about why some books leave me feeling like that at the end and others don't. But I think you're right on spot with this. I took a look at my own MS and its two planned sequels... and I don't think the first book will do that, but I do think book three could (certainly it sort of leaves me feeling that way just from the synopsis). And I think it's because of what you said, that sense that no one comes out completely a winner, and some people lose altogether.

    I'm not sure of the last published book I read that left me feeling this way. Maybe The Hunger Games trilogy. Quite a number try. There aren't many that succeed, though. I think it's not enough just for there to be loss and no happily-ever-afters; you have to care deeply about the characters who suffer the loss, too, and that's the hard part to achieve, as a writer.

  11. I could take like an hour to address this whole topic and how I feel about it SO I'm just going to say that all I can do is hope someday someone'll like my characters and my story as much as I do :P

  12. @Jessica Silva

    Yeah, I know, it's a doozy! :) And I love that it's really all about FEELINGS because that's the goal, right?

    (I'm sure I will absolutely lurrrrve your characters. <3)

  13. @Seabrooke

    Sounds like you're on a great track to punching your readers in the gut! *applause*

    Isn't it amazing that, with all the books out there, so few actually tug at our heartstrings? I suppose that's why the ones we love are so very dear to us. :)