Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

I have a large stack of yet to be read books that friends have passed along to me. All of them are good, but if I spent all of my waking hours reading, I would never catch up, nor would I get any writing done.

When a family member passed along a copy of The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, I was delighted until I picked the book up and weighed it in my hand. I like books that end around 300 pages or less, but 973 pages are a bit too much. I complained to a friend and he said he did not blame me for not wanting to read a book of that length, but he did urge me to read the first couple of chapters. Just to get the ‘feel’ of it, he said. “Someone could have put out a condensed version,” I complained. “Check Cliff’s Notes,” he suggested.

Because of my friend’s good literary taste, I decided I would read a few pages. I didn’t have to read all the way to the end of the first chapter before I became hooked. I have always been a fan of Ken Follett, and I think this book is definitely his best. It makes the history of England under Norman rule come to life in a way that no other book has. It is absorbing, exciting, and informative. You can’t ask much more than that.

When I told my friend that I had finished the book, he asked me if I still thought it should be condensed.

Well . . . I began, not sure how I should reply. “Which sentence would you leave out,” he wanted to know.

I couldn’t think of one.

[I received my copy of The Pillars of the Earth as a gift from a family member.]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who Owns the Zebra?

Several years ago we received twelve inches of snow and a freezing rain on top of that. A friend had given me a puzzle called, Who Owns the Zebra. I spent the entire afternoon trying to solve the puzzle and finally did after using up most of a notepad. While this blog is usually devoted to subjects that touch on the writing process, it is good to occasionally spend a little time doing nothing, or next to nothing. You aren't suppose to cheat by looking up the answer on the Internet. I'll give you a few days to work on this before I post the answer.

Who owns the Zebra?

The following puzzle is a fine example of what is called a
“detective puzzle:” Based on clues supplied in a narrative, one is to answer a question by applying simple, man-on-the-street logic to the information (not all of it relevant) supplied.
On an odd little street in the town of “Somewhere”, there are five house in a row. Each house is a different color, each is inhabited by a woman of different nationality, and the owner of the houses also have their differences: each owner has a different pet, prefers a different drink and works in a different profession. A detective, charged with the task of discovering who drinks water and who owns the Zebra, gathered the following information, itemized for your convenience:

1. The Englishwoman lives in the red house.
2. The Spaniard owns a dog.
3. Coffee is drunk in the green house
4. The Ukrainian drinks tea.
5. The green house is immediately to the right of the Ivory house.
6. The engineer owns the snail.
7. The diplomat lives in the yellow house.
8. Milk is drunk in the middle house.
9. The Norwegian lives in the first house on the left.
10. The doctor lives next to the owner of the fox.
11. The diplomat lives next to the owner of the horse.
12. The teacher drinks orange juice.
13. The carpenter is Japanese.
14. The Norwegian lives next to the blue house.

Who owns the Zebra?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Conflict In Fiction

It cannot be said often enough that plot is a verb. If a novel is to convey a story worth telling, it must move forward in a conflicted manner until it reaches a logical and satisfying conclusion. It is sometimes astonishing how little ‘action’ there is in literary fiction, even though the author might keep a firm grip on our throat all the way to a gut-wrenching conclusion. The most effective conflict in a story is what happens emotionally to the protagonist or to those he cares about. It doesn’t have to involve slashing, shooting, or hanging.

Conflict takes many forms depending on what type of story you are writing. In romance or young adult fiction, the conflict is often more subtitle, involving the relationship between the two main characters. In a suspense or thriller novel, the conflict will be more violent in nature, but it is most effective when the life-changing impact of the violence carries the story along. The most important factor in plotting your story is considering what your readership expects in that particular genre.

In a novel I read recently, the murder did not take center stage, nor were the details presented in graphic detail. The most moving scene involved the victim’s family at the funeral home trying to comfort each other, while seeking ways to pick up their lives and move on. The detail that made the scent so gripping was the suspicion that the husband’s carefully controlled emotions might boil over at some later date.

Regardless of the type of story you are writing, make me feel your pain rather than just presenting violence and mayhem in the manner of a crime scene report. Do it in the right way and I will come back to read what you have written again and again.