As I continue studying human character, I marvel at how the best fiction shines insights into facets of it. I cannot but admire the insight of many passages of fiction. Even in the mystery genre, empathy in readers grows for even “bad characters” or “crazies.
Fiction writers expand our empathy
I know writers stretch our empathy in clever dialogue, in skillfully drawn scenes when characters suffer, and in other ways authors show their character desires, fears, and needs. When readers remain curious due to the strength of storytelling or the fascination of a unique world the dream that fiction offers readers compels us forward.
We want to know more
In Gaudy Night, The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, Book 12, author Dorothy Sayers sets up confusion in a fictional Oxford women’s college. What juicy characters the reader can follow all over Oxford University then into the suburbs of London. Best of all the main character, Harriet Vane writes fiction. She reconnects with her Oxford Dons and lands in the thick of a distasteful business, targeted at all women of learning. The entire women’s college suffers insults, death threats, and rising destruction. Meanwhile, Vane writes another murder mystery novel. Yes, the tension splatters the character’s beloved college, yet she works on at the Bodleian Oxford Library. (We visited this historic and famous library in 2016.)
Writers solve story problems in thought form
The “writer” character thinks about her story and is less than pleased in this passage.
“But the permutations and combinations of five people’s relationships were beginning to take on an unnatural symmetry. Human beings were not like that; human problems were not like that; what you really got was two hundred people running like rabbits in and out of a college, doing their work, living their lives, and actuated all the time by unfathomable motives even to themselves….” Gaudy Night
At another point as character Vanes puzzles about the culprit she says, “Probably the usual thing: a morbid desire to attract attention and create a public uproar. The adolescent and the middle-aged are the most likely suspects.” So much for brilliant insights, huh? Could not help but laugh at the difficulty of solving mysteries that don’t include murder. We all must wrestle with questions of other peoples motives. We try to solve odd happenings in our households, communities, and places of work. Yet the level of difficulty can strain our imaginations to the point where we simple carryon without understanding what or who interrupts business as usual.
“A story is always a sum of…parts, yet only in rare cases does it become a sum in excess of those parts." Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering
Below author, Kate Atkinson, bashes the mystic swirling about writers living imaginative & glamorous lives.
“Really?” Sarah said, her untainted features struggling to imagine what it meant to be a “writer.” For some reason, people thought it was a glamorous profession, but Martin couldn’t find anything glamorous about sitting in a room on your own, day after day, trying not to go mad.” One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
One of those rare social moments at a Redwood Writers Club book launch.
Great writers weave stories worthy of a Persian carpet. So take yourself over to one of the authors I have mentioned and enjoy reading a great mystery or read a book on how to write better fiction. I have to admit I love juicy books on writing craft and I have yet to read Larry Brooks’, so I’m off to find another good read.
Alone, shoveling words, digging for story gold
A writer’s work stays solitary, word by word, and fighting for one story at a time. A compelling story is more than it’s parts. It grows larger than it’s characters and expands into readers’ imagination by zooming in on the heartbreaking details, the note a runaway leaves her parents, the awkward words a teenager uses to express first love, and the chilling reason a murder confuses at the conclusion of a mystery.
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Please, tell us about a good book on writing craft.
“Gaudy Night stands out even among Miss Sayers’s novels. And Miss Sayers has long stood in a class by herself.” Times Literary Supplement
“Larry Brooks is the creator of Storyfix.com, an award-winning fiction writing website since 2009. He is also the author of three bestselling writing craft books, including Story Engineering, recently named by Signature Reads as one of the “27 Best Writing Books” on the planet. A USA Today bestselling novelist, he teaches writing workshops at conferences nationally and internationally.” Visit him at the link above.