Making Sure Our Novels Are Worth Reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately. It’s what I do when I am convalescing or when I feel like pampering myself, and right now I feel like I’m doing both. I haven’t read anything particularly good or particularly bad, but reading is like breathing to me, so it doesn’t really matter.

One of the books captured my interest, though, mostly because it reminded me of my novel, More Deaths Than One. It had many of the same elements as my story: both books dealt with people who’d been given false memories, both had a theme of human experimentation (in fact, this other book used some of the very same examples of past experimentation that I did), and both were, at least obliquely, about assassins. The set-up in this other book was even more elaborate than mine, and much more gruesome. I don’t understand why the experimenters had to “deglove” the victim/hero’s face to get to his brain and implant the controlling device (in other words, they pulled off his face — yuck.)

Like many such elaboriate thrillers, the end did not justify the long and convoluted way of getting there. For example, people with machinery lived in the next apartment, controlling him, which is what the implant should have done.

It turns out that the whole reason for the mind control was so that the victim/hero could — all unkowingly — turn another character into an assassin. The experimenters were killing off all the world leaders they didn’t like. Ho-hum. As I said, the end did not justify the set-up. If they wanted to kill those leaders, all they had to do was hire an assassin and then kill the assassin afterward, which is the way it’s been done for thousands of years. It’s simple, cheap, effective. (We’re not talking morality here, just story.)

I try to make sure the endings of my novels are satisfying — even if readers guess the story, there is still a pay-off that comes as a surprise. In More Deaths Than One, his reaction to what happened to him is vastly more important than the deed itself.

Oddly enough, the book I read right before this assassin one also had a similar plot to another of my novels — A Spark of Heavenly Fire. Both of these books were (loosely) about women finding happiness during an epidemic. Her disease was called the Phoenix Flu, mine was the Colorado Flu. Or at least that’s what people outside of Colorado called it. Those in Colorado called it the Red Death.

So what’s the point of this bloggery? Perhaps that we need to make sure we tell our stories with our own particular slant so that if by chance others have a similar idea, our novels are still worth reading. Perhaps that we need to make sure our endings fit the set-up. An elaborate set-up with a cliched ending could be just as ridiculous as a cliched story with an elaborate ending. (I’ve read a couple of books lately where the ending came out of nowhere without even a hint of foreshadowing.) Or perhaps the point of this bloggery is that I need to read less and write more.

11 Responses to “Making Sure Our Novels Are Worth Reading”

  1. Carol J. Garvin Says:

    I can’t stop reading, but at the same time I wouldn’t want it to keep me from writing. It’s my first love as an activity… my daily escape. Keep reading AND writing, Pat!

    It’s been said that there are no new plots, that every story you can think of has already been told, but it is in the telling that the story becomes unique. Each of us has our distinct view of a story and our own voice with which to tell it. I put a lot of faith in that statement and hope my stories will provide a good experience for readers.

  2. joylene Says:

    Great post, Pat. I have to come back to this. So far I feel as if I’m doing something right because I’m using my work to pour out my heart. But whether the reader agrees — the jury’s still out. So far so good.

  3. Rosanne Says:

    Great post. I’ll be back for more!

  4. Natasha Rogue Says:

    I think it was Stephan King that said’ when you read and think you can do better, you’re ready’. I think you’re definately ready. I’m thrilled when I find a book that satisfies me, but it ain’t easy!

    Love the post and agree with staying true to the story in your own voice even if it’s been told. It’s never been told like you can tell it and that’s where the magic starts.

  5. Jason Black Says:

    It sounds like you would quite enjoy “Beat the Reaper” by Josh Bazell. SO, so worth reading. If you imagine an “ER” / Stephen King / Christopher Moore mashup, you’ll kind of have a sense for it. Except not, because won’t have read it yet. But do.

  6. Michael LaRocca Says:

    Your post reminded me of something I wrote years ago. The world is filled with people who can do an excellent job of editing, illustrating, publishing, promoting, reviewing your book, etc. But they can’t write it. Only you can tell your story your way. Your own unique writing voice is why you have to write it.

    Moving away from the generic “you” to the specific you who writes this blog, I like your writing voice. I’ll keep reading.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you, Michael. I appreciate any support I can get.

      Voice is a hard thing for writers to master. I also had a hard time until I realized that I was my voice. Or that my voice is me — my particular slant on the world and how I write about it.

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