Monday, September 8, 2008

The Hollow

By Andif


AndiF said...

Damn, if only we could have some of that wet stuff around now. If droughts have taught me anything it's that I could never live in a desert.

Morning all.

Lisa M said...

How peaceful and BeUTFul as I spread out my blanket under the trees. Move over Sniff, no licking my face guys.
We got well needed rain last night.
It was so nice to come out of school to the fantastic smell of rain.
I actually think I could live in a desert, the visual beauty I love.
But the sound of flowing water, pounding waves, bubbling fountains is something I find calming.
Terrific Tuesday to All.
I'm trying to convince myself that I have the energy for today.

Jen said...

Yeah, Andi, I'm with you; the desert is gorgeous and all but after 10+ years in the high mountain desert, I will never again willingly make a home there.

So I have a question of the day for the writers and readers here: forget about genre, plot and characters, as a reader, what are your favorite elements of craft to encounter in novels?

This question arises because I've been plugging along on an expanded outline for my next book, and one advantage I've found about this new, s-l-o-w process is that I've been able to start stringing together the major themes and storylines of the work without having to make a lot of the stylistic/structural decisions that are required to write an actual draft. For example, I haven't even firmly decided to write in a third person voice -- although that's highly likely d/t market concerns -- and one of the only structural commitments I have made is to tell the story with one foot in the past and one foot in the present. (It's a "big story", by which I mean it follows its main characters for ~40 yrs, so there will be alternating chapters of past/present along with the occasional use of a device-chapter in which the story is moved forward by alternative means.) Mulling this over made me curious about the tastes of the group here, hence the qotd.

Maria Lima said...

Morning, all!

Still trying to recuperate from vacation and get back into the swing of RL.

Jen, in reading, I want complex characters whose lives change because of the events in the book/story. A good plot is useless if the characters don't "come to life" - they need to be believable and sympathetic. Not that I need to like them, but I at least need to understand their motivations.

Hope everyone has a great day!

Oh, btw, I put photos up from my trip:

Jen said...

Great pix, Maria! The landscape there is a lot like Alaska, which shouldn't surprise me but, oddly, does. Looks like a lovely vacation.

A little clarification on my qotd; when I said "forget about genre, plot and characters", I meant it!

I'm asking more about structure and style; pure mechanics and optional elements, divorced from the [mostly] universal necessaries like a solid core of cast and story development. Frex, as reader, are you into it when writers use a lot of misdirection and keep you guessing about what's really going on, or is that a thing you find confusing/obnoxious? Do you enjoy a lot of subplots/b-stories or find them more distracting than enhancing? Are there any devices, particularly, that you dig or don't, like playfully breaking the fourth wall or lots of irony or the use of difference-and-repetition to drive a theme? That sort of thing.

AndiF said...


I'm probably not the best person to give you an opinion on this because I tend to prefer small, well-bounded novels. However, the 'big' novels that I tend to like are those where even if the characters and plot are downright picaresque, the themes are still very tightly constructed -- for me, the character and plot can wander all they (you) want but the threads binding them should be deftly interwoven.

Maria, great pictures. I love the aquarium pictures, especially those of the otters.

Morning Lisa.

After 6 weeks with maybe 90 minutes total of rain, same hollow this morning ... dry* and framed with bedraggled leaves and ferns. [LINK]

* since this creek gets it water through drainage, it does often go dry in summer but normally not for weeks at a time.

Kelly McCullough said...

Oooh, pretty.

Too bad that's not the ice cold water of publishing mentioned yesterday. 38 degrees here when I got out of bed which means I'm inside on a couch instead of shivering on the writing porch. I've got a house full of very crabby cats because the food got taken up at nine so that our surgery girl wouldn't eat anything more before she gets taken in this morning. They're not thrilled about the cold either.

Hi to Andi, Lisa, Jen, Maria, and anybody else who shows up later.

Jen, I'll answer your comment in a separate post in a little bit when I've had a chance to mull it over. I might even blog it and link back. It's a fascinating question.

Anonymous said...

Morning, all. Sorry about the drought, andi - we don't get rain from July - November, but for some reason things are still green around here. The leaves aren't even turning. Strange summer. Hope some of the wet stuff heads your way soon.

My likes are pretty simple, Jen. I read long books - the thicker, the better - but at the same time, I don't want to have to work too hard to keep up with what's going on. I get irritated with too much maneuvering, although enjoy a twist that I didn't see coming. KISS is my motto.

Speaking of which - gotta get some work done today. Book III is waiting patiently for me to get back to it. Happy Tuesday!

Dina said...

Hi, all. Just checking in to say andif, I don't know how you do it. Every picture is wonderful. Today's really got me.

Maria, loved the pics (particularly the 'mounties').

Jen, as a reader, I like to be taken on a ride. I think every time I have ever said that I don't like something, a good writer has made me like it. Generally, I want characters I can care about. And I want something to happen to them - some sort of development. The number of subplots isn't a factor if they are well handled. I have read books were one plot seemed too much for the author. I also don't want to wish the book were 100 pages shorter which seems to happen more and more these days. Don't know quite why but it may have to do with what an author is required to produce and what the story requires.

Hope that helps.

Jen said...

Andi, thanks for the reply -- and fwiw I wasn't asking based on my own work, just randomly asking which mechanics people enjoy as readers, for whatever sort of fiction they like to consume. Bonus points for making me look up picaresque; groovy word. :)

I get irritated with too much maneuvering, although enjoy a twist that I didn't see coming.

Me too, Beth. I've found that as I get older I'm an ever more picky reader re: all kinds of structural elements, and if they don't work extremely well, I find myself wishing the writer had just written through without them, and I'm skimming to the end of the story. That said, I do crush hard on writers who are skilled at clever symbolism and subtle uses of repetition, that kind that is like a musical structure, know what I mean? Not beating me over the head with endless iterations of a chorus; more like there's a familiar melody playing faintly in the background that can change tone with mood but remains familiar, similar to the way that theme music is used in movies/tv. I love when writers can accomplish that same feeling with text.

Kelly, very much looking forward to your response whenever/wherever you get around to it.

I have read books were one plot seemed too much for the author.

lol! I know, right? Sometimes you just have back away slowly. Thanks for the response, Dina; I find my pov similar in that anything that is very well done is usually appealing to me as a reader.

Kelly McCullough said...


FARfetched said...

Morning all, to those here now & later…

It's raining at the hideaway, kind of off & on. It was kind enough to wait for me to pad over to the office, then it opened up once I was safe inside. Looks like a pretty good chance of rain all week, which makes Mrs. Fetched want to go shopping. (I dutifully looked up the nearest Bed Bath & Beyond store for her.)

Jen, I read something Isaac Asimov said a long time ago and it's stuck with me ever since. It was about sci-fi, but applies to any genre: stories are about people. The characters have to come to life for you, IMO, before they can come to life for your readers… if you have that, even a thin plot can be made to work. BTW, FAR Future is also going to span close to 40 years start-finish, so I have an idea how much you're about to bite off. ;-) Like I told Yooper in the comments in yesterday's episode, I think I have about 30 more episodes to post (only 5 are written, but like I said I have a clear path from here).

I might have to start some dinner rolls before leaving on the shopping trip. I lurvz my iPhone… it gives me something to do while Mrs. Fetched is grazing in the aisles.

Kimberly Frost said...

Jen -

I enjoy big stories and little stories. Sometimes I want an epic tale with lots of world-building detail. Sometimes I want something fast-paced and funny that I don't have to think very much about.

You mentioned mixing the past with the present, which is one thing that I almost always love to find in a book. Nancy's VIRGIN OF THE SMALL PLAINS was had one foot in the present and the other in the past, which was an aspect of the book that really drew me in. Another book that toggles between past and present that I really enjoyed was THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES.


Kimberly Frost said...

P.S. Awesome picture today. Love it.

Jen said...

BTW, FAR Future is also going to span close to 40 years start-finish, so I have an idea how much you're about to bite off.

Heh, I'm actually not being anywhere near as ambitious as you are. I learned from earlier failures about how much I can chew, and it ain't all that much. My story takes place in contemporary America, so no world-building, and there's just 5 main characters plus supporting cast. It's similar in scope and themes as John Irving's Garp & Hotel New Hampshire; sort-of an in-depth examination of the dynamics within and around a single family over the years.

Kimber, I liked that element about Nancy's VotSP, too, as she knows what the hell she is doing. ;) It's a device I enjoy a lot whenever someone is telling the sort of story that covers a long span of time.

PS. Nancy I apologize if this amounts to hijacking your thread today, I hope you don't mind. I just thought it was an interesting question for this crowd. And I've enjoyed reading everyone's responses, thanks y'all! :)

Nancy P said...

Not only do I not mind, but I really appreciate it, especially on a day (like yesterday) when I'm so distracted with busy-work that I can only glance in but not comment. I'm looking forward to reading this, instead of just snesaking peeks at it now and then.

Maryb said...

Andi - I can't believe you didn't get any of the hurricane rain. We were inundated.

Jen - great conversation starter. I come at this ONLY as a reader. A voracious reader.

I'll have to think about what I like. But off the top of my head I tend to not like first person stories - I get tired of hearing everything from one point of view no matter how interesting the character is. I find myself fascinated by third person stories where the author has only limited omniscience. What I mean, is that the author only know (or tells us) what some characters think but not all - and especially not a key character.

In style - I don't like too much narrative. I don't like to be told things. I like to be shown things and have the illusion that I figured everthing out myself. I especially don't like when an author uses narrative to tell me what a key character's personality is like. Show me.

On the other hand - that style that used to be popular about 30 years ago where the entire book was dialog? I don't like that either. If I wanted that I'd read a play.

I like multiple time periods. One of my favorite novels of the last 20 years is Iain Pears' "Dream of Scipio" which takes place in Avignon in three different time periods all jumbled together.

Janet said...

Jen, What do I like in books? Lots of pictures and sex. ;)

One of my favorite calendar dates is coming up.

Banned Books Week
Celebrating the Freedom to Read
September 27–October 4, 2008

I can't say what I like in books because each one is unique and provides me with something new to learn. I guess I try to grow and learn as I read.

What I don't like in my books: Politicians. Who are running around the library aisles trying to find books to ban.

Maria Lima said...

Ah, Jen, mea culpa for my first response - this is what happens when I try to read/respond without having caffeinated. ::g::

Okay, so my *actual* answer: as a reader, I prefer long as it fits in with the overall plot/theme. Adding a subplot just to pad is often obvious and annoying. But, adding a subplot to enrich and itself be a new lens to the characters/main plot is often what makes a book a favorite.

Cleverness for the sake of cleverness should be avoided at all costs, but clever twists rising organically out of the story: utter gold. If there *is* a twist, I want to say "aha" - and realize that the book has been leading me there all along.

One thing that I find off-putting is the character list often found at the front of historical novels. Immediately makes me think that either (a) the author or publisher think I as a reader am too dumb to figure out who's who myself; or (b) the book is too convoluted with too many characters and needs the explanation. For (a) - shame on you; for (b) - a big sign to me that the book needed some serious editing. Any reader should be able to get the gist of who's who and what part each character plays through reading the novel. That said, I often enjoy extras such as family trees or maps that help me visualize connections.

I'm enjoying reading everyone else's responses!

AndiF said...

Mary, the rain from the hurricane cut across the state at a severe angle so that only the northwestern part got it. BTW, did you read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks? I thought it was a great use of mixing different time periods and that using the book restoration to move through time worked really well.

Janet likes books with sex in them?!!? I am SHOCKED! SHOCKED!

I do and don't like narrative -- that is, I don't like when it appears to be telling me what to think but I do like it when it's clearly coming a character's POV and I have to fit in with everything else to understand it.

Maryb said...

Janet I love banned books week too. I think this year I will pick one and read it conspicously in a public place.

Andi - too bad you missed the hurricane. I have People of the Book on "The List" because you (or someone) told me about it. But I haven't gotten to it yet. Maybe I'll move it up on The List. Did I ever ask you if you've read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon? It has a "cemetery of the Dead Books".

ML - I always assume that the editor has required the character list because the editor doesn't trust the reader. I seldom look at them - partly because they give too much away. But I love family trees that show relationships. And books that are dependent on geography that don't include maps should be ... banned (kidding!).

Here's a very pure structural question. Books without chapters. I've found that I don't notice it. But then I've recommended the books to other people and that's the first thing they point out - that and how it kind of annoyed them because they didn't know where to stop each night.

AndiF said...

Andi - too bad you missed the hurricane.

Well that's something I'll bet doesn't get said often (or ever).

I remember reading reviews of that book but I can't remember why I didn't put it on my TBR list. It's there now.

Lisa M said...

Read the question and the answers. Scratches head, took nap. Came back and read again. I have a master's degree and you guys streeeetch my brain. A good thing.

One of my favorite books this last year was Water for Elephants. It was a book that dealt with two time periods of a man's life. So the use of alternating or clusters of chapters about one time then the other is one I enjoy. As much as I want to say this slice of craft or that I enjoy and work for me, I can't pull myself away from character. I know you said that wasn't what you wanted BUT I don't think it can be sifted out. For without characters you love or hate, all the craft pieces won't be effective.
I want to say that as I reflected on the books I love, I find many have someone I really love to hate. East of Eden's Cathy is my all time favorite bad girl and evil in human form.
So the craft piece I look for now is are there characters and action that churn my emotions. The use of symbolism and foreshadowing are both something I enjoy. Parallels between characters and also with the setting are threads I've tried to weave into my work. And I think the repetition is helpful especially in complex stories.

Nancy's use of character internalizations in Virgin were masterful. The emotional pain the teens felt was palpable because of us being inside their minds and hearts. That combined with the parrot a physical symbol of grief and anguish clinched the deal.
I've been reading Stephenie Meyers
Twilight. She too is a master at teenage angst. The difference I see with Nancy's work is that the characters grow and mature emotionally. Meyers stays at the same emotional level with her characters for most of the first book. Of course it is YA and the characters don't age, but within the story, I still don't see Meyers showing the character growth I think could and should happen. Of course Meyers is rolling in dough and I haven't sold book one.
I like twists but not convolutions. I want action but also variety. Action doesn't have to be shoot'em up either.
I do love beautiful language, the use of nature and setting as a character too.
Way too long Jen. We need to all meet at Sally's porch and have a good cuss and discuss session.

Lisa M said...

Andif--I was struck by both pictures. I love the contrast of the exposed rocks with the flowing water.
The hardest thing about going back to school is being inside all the time. I don't get outside enough and my soul suffers because it is out in nature that I feel most whole.
So being able to look at your pictures is such a treat. A salve to my soul.

Nancy-- I will admit to sneaking a peak at my laptop while the kids are working in class. I'll see who's checked into the blog since early morning. Usually Farf or Kelly make me laugh, Beth shares an adventure, MaryB lends support, Maria and others share vacation pictures and experiences (wistful envy), Kimber, Dina, Janet, Nicky and others pipe in with wisdom, insights or laughs. Keeps me grounded and better able to keep my balance in dealing with the students.
Thanks to you all.

boran2 said...

I love that photo, Andi!

I am truly late for this party.

It has rained here with a vengeance today. With the darkened skies, I was glad to spend most of the day inside.

Janet said...


I'm re-reading A Handmaid's Tale, baby, while on breaks at work. :)

I don't think this book has ever scared me as much as it's doing today... What I once read as sci-fi is now possibly going to be POLICY. Good grief.

And Jen - I thought about some of this today. You know what else I like - HUMOR. Even in the scariest tales... there's some smirking bastard who makes me laugh. Or some other person when confronted with pain, misery or some such trial... comes up with a kneeslapper or smartass comment.


Jen said...

I'm sorry for my sudden disappearance from the thread yesterday, I've been feeling under the weather and had to go rest. But what a great thread this was! Such fun to read, so many great responses, and yes it certainly would be a fun conversation to have on The Porch. Thanks so much to everyone for their posts, and double thanks to those who posted at length and/or twice. ;)