Query: The Theater in Your Mind

What makes a novel, a short story good for you?

Any fiction genre, excepting screenwriting, movies, etc. I want to know about the movies that your brain puts on when you read.

I just read something that grabbed me. Dunno why, except that it clearly conjured a sense of anger and up-to-heredness.

Person A: You OK, man?
Person B: Oh, you know. Nothing that a 2-week border drunk wouldn’t fix.

9 thoughts on “Query: The Theater in Your Mind

  1. Smart, believable characters.
    Coherent, internally consistent environment.
    Evocative scenes & situations.

    I like it when things are described in moderation – leave plenty of canvas for my imagination to work with. This is particularly true of people, but also places. Specific objects, however, often require clear detail, if they’re important to the plot, but not common.

    While tension is fine, constant bickering among characters just makes me tired.

    There’s a bunch of other stuff, but it starts to be a blogpost. 🙂

  2. I’ve been thinking about this lately myself. I’ve been reading a lot of different things in the 5+ years between George RR Martin novels. Some popular stuff (Eat Pray Love) some pseudo-historical fiction (Stonehenge, a novel) and other Fantasy (Sword of Truth AKA Legend of the Seeker) to name a few.

    1. Flow is most important. If the writer’s style doesn’t flow in my head, the movie doesn’t even begin. Sometimes I have trouble after I’ve read several books by a single author, back to back. My brain really gears into a particular style and starts predicting sentence structure, dialog structure, etc while hardly reading the words. When I switch authors, I have to slow down and actually READ (and sometimes ReREAD) the words and punctuation. Its like my movie player gets set on a particular format, then I need to change the format for the next author. I can spend the first 100 pages of a book just adapting to a new writing style if it is a big departure.

    2. I have to care about the character/story/etc. If I don’t care, then my imagination won’t expend the energy to create the scene in my mind. Some level of tension is really important. Plot twists are awfully gripping. I hear novels are supposed to have at least two of these.

    3. The right level of description and ratio of description to dialog. Tolkien had too much description in some areas, namely the parts that were stripped from the movies. Victor Hugo had too much description in Les Mis… I skimmed a few extraneous chapters when reading the unabridged version. Dialog really keeps things flowing for me. My eyes will start to glaze over if large blocks of text dominate several pages without a break.

    4. Last but not least, and under no control of the author… my reading environment. A crying child, a burning meal, falling asleep, etc. are killers of pleasure reading. My ideal environment is a quiet house, a rainy day, and a to-do list that can be put off until the next day, or at least for an hour. 30 minutes will do in a pinch.

    I lost the last chapter of my nano novel, its really kept me from picking it up again. 😦

    1. I agree with getting set to a writer’s style. Sometimes, after reading something, I have to transition to a similar author, and fade over to something else.

  3. The main drive for my brain: something that makes me wonder ‘what’s going to happen next?’

    A well-written character with motive and purpose, about to discover something that develops the character further.

    A thriller/hunt where a mastermind is hiding something, and a number of people are using their unique talents (sometimes unknowingly) to find it.

    A sci-fi mystery where something catastrophic is about to change everything, and no one can do anything to stop it. Again, the response of well-written characters will make or break the story for me.

    A surprise twist at the end – O’Henry style.

  4. I love any story that has an ending that wasn’t what I expected. In short, take any book or movie for the past zillion years (at least as Americans write them…) and The Good Guy Always Wins, and The Bad Guy Always Loses, and things pander out to ensure the audience gets what they want shoved down their throat or they call it bad.

    Well, give me the way the story *should* end. Kill the good guy, or at least give him what he’s got coming. Let the bad guy win or get away. But not in a way that would inspire a sequel that was even worse only for the money.

    I love an ending that is unfinished. Again, not for “we’ll write a sequel and make millions!” but because the writer deliberately left you hanging and wants your mind to torment over those loose ends and jump out of the limited box it has fallen into.

    I want a story to provoke my emotions. Happiness, sadness, outrage, frustration. Make me feel it. Don’t let me figure halfway through how it’s going to end all happy and predictable. Mess with me.

  5. a hook..pith, wit, and vividness.

    they dont have to HAVE me on the first page.. but it page one has to make me want to read page two… if you can get me to page five you’re mostly ok.. but if Somewhere in the first four pages I think ‘why should I care?’ or ‘are they going anywhere with this?’ I’m usually done unless the book has some outside recommendation.. like friends telling me its great or knowing already that I like this author. they dont have to even START the main plot there.. but they do have to give me something i want to read more of. (and later on it had best connect)

    Pithy.. thats probably the wrong word.. but they have to move the story along at a reasonable pace. If I’m 100 pages in and I feel they are still just introducing characters and situations to resolve later without having gotten STARTED on pointing to resolution.. I’m likely to lose interest.

    Wit.. if there isnt any humor in the narrative or if there isnt at least something clever going on.. its a no go even if the pace is fast. my friends have wit and are clever why should I expect less from fictional characters that should entertain me?

    that last one.. Vivid. with an economy of words the people and the setting and the story have to take on semblance of something real… like a 2d painting that looks 3d. Anyone can describe a brick wall. you could probably spend 10,000 words or more going over every damn detail of your average ordinary brick wall.. but a good author.. if it matters can make you SEE a unique brick wall.. get a feeling for what shade of red the bricks are and whether its old and sagging or fresh and bright and do it in such a way that you dont even realize its been done… but the story is richer becaue in your minds eye that wall was *real*ish.

  6. No time to leave a proper response, but if I find a way to relate, and if they look at something in a way I wouldn’t easily have thought of, those are things that hook me.

  7. The main character(s) got to GROW. Personally. He/she needs to learn from the experiences presented in the book, and mature as a character. Drizzt wouldn’t be nearly as fun to read about if he just moped around in the Underdark his whole life. Bilbo became somewhat haunted by his experiences, in both good and bad ways. Each of the Ohmsfords in the Shannara series embraces responsibility and duty in their own way. I want to feel like I’ve grown a bit when I’m done reading the story.

    There has to be action scenes that are described aptly, succinctly, excitedly, and in a way that makes my heart race a bit. When my favorite characters fight, I feel like rooting for them. When a poorly written battle has one of them in it though, I want to cry for them.

    One of the downsides to the “splat fiction” that many D&D books have is that the characters aren’t always written in such as way that they seem consistent, and maintain their lovability. I remember reading a Dragonlance novel where Tas was in the book, but Weiss and Hickman hadn’t done the writing. He wasn’t the same. I wasn’t happy-go-lucky when I was reading the parts with him. Instead, I was hoping he wouldn’t be ruined forever.

    Fireballs are always a good thing.

    I want to be able to imagine my own adventures in the world created. I still daydream quite a bit. And I’ll even admit to searching for cupboards that led to Narnia when I was a kid (heck, I wouldn’t mind going there now sometimes).

    A little romance doesn’t hurt either. Not some novel with Fabio on the cover, but a relationship that is respectable and adds to the story can be a really good thing. Raist and Chrysania. Caramon and Tika. Aragorn and Arwen. The relationships all added depth to the characters and the story.

    Humor. I don’t like books that are nothing but heavy all the time. Comedy relief is a good thing. Helps to nurture sarcasm, a wry smile, and a perverse sense of propriety.

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