Tuesday, April 22, 2008

for the writers in the house

Derek Nikitas, author of the novel Pyres, as well as one of the short stories in the Killer Year collection, has a wonderful guest blog up today over at Murderati.

He's writing about literary thrillers - what they are, what the writers struggle with when writing them, and how they fare in the marketplace.

He totally nailed my current writing issue - what he calls "negotiating the interaction between subtlety and intensity." Which is exactly what I've been doing since late last week.

Reading his blog post this morning was like going to a top-notch writing workshop. He hasn't solved my problem but he has named it, and that's the first step toward conquering it.

Even if you're not a writer, Murderati is a great read, especially if you're a novel reader who likes mysteries, suspense, thrillers, etc. There's always good conversation in the comment section too - so don't skip that part!

And if you have a preference as a reader for subtlety over intensity, or vice versa, I'd love it if you commented about it here. I know it's a subjective thing, but I'm really curious about what readers look for in their idea of a "great read."


Peggy Payne said...

This is also my biggest struggle. I call it clarity.

I don't even attempt to be subtle, because when I set out to hit people over the head, it's viewed as subtle.

So it takes me so many drafts to make anything CLEAR!!!

I have signs on my computer now, three of them, saying: Remember to Say the Obvious, Nothing Goes Without Saying! and Compassion for the Reader, Without Condescension.

I don't know why this should be so hard.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I read his blog over at Murderati and it was very good and gets you thinking. It did feel like a workshop with some very good points. You have asked what readers prefer subtlety or intensity, I think that is a hard one to answer. It would all depend on the book, but I'm inclined to think that one book could contain both elements and that would make it a very intriguing read. Elements of subtlety interspersed with intensity or vice versa if done smoothly would enrich the story line. On the other hand I may be missing the point completely as I was prone to do in school, sometimes everybody else would 'get it' and I would have a completely different idea of what I just read. So in closing I would say that I have been no help at all. I hope your scene comes together for you soon.

billie said...

Peggy, good to see you here. My problem is two-fold. Often when I think I'm being intense, as you mentioned, readers view it as subtle.

But other times when I'm being intense, readers see it as melodramatic.

I guess finding the balance is a writerly skill that requires some mastery of the craft, particularly when it comes to the key pieces of action and the points where things hinge and turn.

My signs are imaginary, and one came from you:

What's at stake?

Dig deep.

I suppose now I need to add a third:

Strike the balance!

billie said...

Arlene, actually you're right on target. As usual, I've turned it into a one way or the other issue when in reality it should be BOTH.

I think what you've hit on here is that the very best books (at least in my subjective opinion) are the ones that have both elements and therefore pull at a huge audience.

I'm thinking of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible. These books do both things very well - they develop characters but they also have elements of suspense and intensity that propel the reader forward.

I guess what this comes down to is my ultimate goal in writing novels. I can do the literary part. Whether it would sell is another issue entirely. I could probably do the thriller/suspense part alone if I were willing to forego the subtleties of character to some degree and just Tell The Damn Story. (which is its own difficulty and challenge, and tougher for me than anything else)

But what I keep aiming for is to do both and do them well. And that takes work and time and editing. Hopefully one day I'll strike the balance.