I like to read.
I assume that most of you do as well or you wouldn’t be here. I had a great discussion with a friend of mine recently on what I like to read and why and as I was speaking without thinking, as I so often do, I realized that I was surprising myself with some of what I was saying. I spent some time thinking about it later and have come up with a few thoughts, most of which are likely full of crap.
Have you ever stopped and thought about what draws you to a story or an author? I know many of the traditional schoolbook answers, but looking at on a personal level for myself I came up with the thought that all stories have each of the qualities in a sort of continuum in the psychology sense where everything falls somewhere on the line and all of them exist to some extent in virtually every story. None are particularly ground breaking, but I am going to write up more on each of this and wanted to make sure and at least define the terms I will be using as I plan on using them. Your high school or college professor might not agree, and I am okay with that, listen to them regurgitate what you need to in order to get your “A” for the class and then think for yourself later when you are accountable to none save yourself.
In no particular order:
Character(s) – these include protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. They might be fleshed out or cardboard stand ins designed only to be used as a backdrop.
Voice – this is how the story is read. Some will argue that voice is a part of style. I will respectfully disagree.
Plot – to put it quite simply, what’s going on?
Setting – where does it happen? In some stories (or genres) the setting itself is virtually its own character. Dune is a fantastic example of this particularly as the titular novel. And yes, I used titular in a questionably appropriate manner, mostly just because it is fun to write. The setting should matter, as… wait, I am getting ahead of myself.
Theme – is there some kind of underlying “point” that the writer is trying to get across?
Style – I include this here just to round out the traditional big 5, but really it is often just a catchall for the mechanics of the story.
Now all of these elements exist to some level in 99% of all stories. I say 99% since I like to try and avoid absolutes, because someone will come in here with a random experimental novel and shove it in my face. Each of these elements is important to the overall effect the story has on the reader and each reader will prioritize these elements as a matter of preference – and I will contend that this is most often a subconscious choice. How many times have you read a book and thought, “wow, I really liked that” but can’t put your finger on just why? It has happened to me a lot and I tend to reread the book immediately with a more critical eye to try and find out why I liked it.
Remember when I said before listing those that they were in no particular order? Well, I lied. They are in the order that I personally find important when reading something for pleasure. I didn’t set out to do that, I wasn’t trying to make a particular point, I just noticed when I was looking over it that I had put them in that order, and that is roughly the order that they elements are in terms of importance to me.
For the next few blog posts I’ll be going in to a bit more detail on those elements. And I would just like to reiterate that these are not necessarily what your English/Lit teacher would say about them so you probably shouldn’t cite me. I am just setting us up with a common vocabulary for some future discussions.
So, in parting I have a couple of questions for you – first up, how would you rank the above for yourself? Next, what author do you often feel like is writing just to you? Feel free to answer either here, or on twitter to @somnicide or on my Facebook page.
Anyway, thanks for spending some time with me.