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.