Making the Ordinary World Disappear

So, I'm anxiously awaiting my copy of THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin. Yes, it's a vampire novel, which I'm sorta sick of. But with crazy reviews, (including one from King, who says it "makes the ordinary world disappear" and TIME Magazine's "the vampire is scary again") I had to order it. I hope it's worth all the buzz.

So what, exactly, makes the ordinary disappear while you're reading a novel? For me, it's detail, depth and resonance. And how do we accomplish that? For me, it's being able to see people, really see them, and then translating what you understand into unforgettably real, unforgettably flawed, and unforgettably interesting characters. Preferably, ones who make terrifically bad decisions from time to time.

Here, in part three of the author's Amazon podcast, is Cronin talking about plots and people. And this is where I think he nails it, when it comes to making a story utterly engrossing: that plot and character happen simultaneously. As he puts it, "plot is a collection of decisions the characters make."

Which is a HUGE relief for me to hear, since I'm worried that the plot in my current horror novel is so character-centric. But what I hope makes the MS  interesting hearkens back to a question Cronin asks (same podcast), which is, "What are the characters not telling anybody?"

I love this, because this is what drives my character-centric story forward - every one of my main characters is harboring a secret. Figuring out what they're hiding and how they use their secrets, what those secrets compel them to do in the midst of high emergency is what, for me, harbors the conflict, the mystery--it's what juices the book.

After all, as Cronin puts it, "knowing a character's secret ignites their humanity." Awesome. So what about you? What in the writing world gave you some extra confidence this past week? A particular book? Something an author said? Also, what books are you anxious to get your hot little hands on this week?


Anonymous | June 14, 2010 at 11:03 AM

Sounds like a great book! I know the industry is saturated with vampires, but I do still love 'em...probably always will, LOL!

What's more, I've been pleasantly surprised. A new beta volunteered to look at my pages and actually LIKED the first chapter! I've gotten so close to my work that I can't see the forest through the trees and had really lost my sense of "is any of this good or is it all trash?" So it was really nice to hear some positive feedback. I'm encouraged to continue. Phew!!

Lydia Kang | June 14, 2010 at 11:27 AM

I love secrets! They totally make for a great story (yours included, I'm sure!)
And congrats on great beta feedback!

Renae | June 14, 2010 at 11:31 AM

There's a reason the market is saturated with vampires. People just can't get enough of them, myself included! I love to get lost in a good book. Of course that makes writing hard but hey, we can't have everything right?

Falen | June 14, 2010 at 11:35 AM

this sounds awesome. And now i want it too

Alesa Warcan | June 14, 2010 at 11:37 AM

Have you watched Abel Ferrara's "the addiction" (1995)?
It has vampires too, sorta kinda... Though they're more interesting than most I've come across.
Christopher Walken plays a part as one.

Bethany Elizabeth | June 14, 2010 at 12:09 PM

What a great post! I'm all inspired to write an stuff now, to really make the book a place for readers to escape the world. :) Something I love about vampires is no matter how over-done they become, at their core is still a raw attraction. I may roll my eyes at vampires now, but secretly, I still love to read about them. Okay, maybe not-so-secretly. :)

Dawn | June 14, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Congrats on the great beta feedback.
And now, the book I can't wait to get my hands on is the same as you - thanks for the heads up. I'm not quite sick of vamps yet.

Theresa Milstein | June 14, 2010 at 12:41 PM

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the book once you've read it. It's rare that I read a book that wows me. I love reading, but few are don that well.

Anonymous | June 14, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Thank you for this post!

I'm not particularly fond of vampires, but will probably read THE PASSAGE because Justin Cronin is a professor at my university. But from this, it sounds like something I might enjoy: I do agree that plot should arise out of the character's choices.

And that question: "What are the characters not telling anybody?" is such a perfect question. :)

Amparo Ortiz | June 14, 2010 at 1:19 PM

I've been hearing great things about this one, too. Can't wait to see the "bad vampire" again :D

Cronin's quotes are what actually inspired me! After reading them here, I'm totally psyched to get back to work.

As for books I can't wait to get my hands on? I'm going to stick with the vampire theme of your post and say "The Fall" by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I read the first book, "The Strain", and nearly had a heart attack!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) | June 14, 2010 at 2:33 PM

I'm so excited about this book too. Not because of the whole vampire thing. It's supposed to be amazing. I also can't wait to get Suzanne Collins' Mockingbird in August. I can't wait much longer. lol.

Eric W. Trant | June 14, 2010 at 2:56 PM

King is endorsing a lot of books these days. I sure hope he doesn't go all James Patterson on us and start writing Stephen King & (insert actual writer in small print) books.

Books I want to read: Anything good. I need to make a trip to the bookstore, soon. I'm even thinking about going back and reviewing some writing books as a refresher. It's been a few years since I challenged my method.

- Eric

Roland D. Yeomans | June 14, 2010 at 3:13 PM

Stephen King put it this way : "Good books don't give up all their secrets at once. Fiction is the truth inside the lie."

When you meet someone, what you see is a mask. There are always several faces behind it, all true at certain times in their day. The trick is to see beneath the mask and guess what time of day it is for them -- and if it is the time of reckoning for you with them {especially if they're a vampire!}


Deb Salisbury | June 14, 2010 at 9:48 PM

I heard an interview about the way he planned and plotted this book. He's an interesting speaker. It sounds like it will be a great read!

Kathi Oram Peterson | June 14, 2010 at 9:55 PM

This is the second blog today to post something about this book. Guess I'd better pay attention. Though, vampires are becoming cliche.

Vicki Rocho | June 14, 2010 at 10:50 PM

I keep seeing this book around. I think it's stalking me!

Roland D. Yeomans | June 15, 2010 at 12:14 AM

I know you're not doing any blogfests, but how about dropping in and seeing mine?

Matthew Rush | June 15, 2010 at 9:18 AM

That is a great point about character AND plot coming together at once. Pretty difficult to pull off simultaneously ...

Aubrie | June 15, 2010 at 9:39 AM

Oh boy! This does look like a good book. I'm putting it on my list. Thank you!

Zoe C. Courtman | June 15, 2010 at 9:46 AM

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting!! I *just* received my copy of THE PASSAGE yesterday, and have already cracked it open. So far, so good - I'm intrigued and already emotionally invested. We'll see how it goes!

Alesa - nope, haven't seen The Addiction - but I luuurrrves me some Christopher Walken. Thanks for the recommendation!

India Drummond | June 15, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Ooh, sounds promising. I am sick of vampires that aren't scary!

elizabeth mueller | June 15, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Nice post, this one! Thank you for sharing it with us. It's so true, everything that you said. Making the MCs so real that they become a part of us and we wish that they were truly real. *sigh*

Hmmm, I haven't really felt anything that would make me feel more confident in my writing. If I had more time, that would help for sure. Having fighting kids after bedtime really takes away from me. :(

Oh well...

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