Hopes and Fears…
The truth is: I’ve not been writing much recently. The start of 2014 has been incredibly busy, in the main due to an intrusive level of work but also due to a series of enforced home maintenance tasks – brought gustily to various walls, roofs and fences by the UK’s unprecedented run of storms.
I’m not too stressed about the writing because the extra thinking time is always helpful. And besides, I’m not prepared to force myself to write against my will. It would steal the pleasure of the task, and it’s only for the fun of it that I write.
I have, however, been reading and this is what brings me to this post.
I’m not sure if other writers have the same problems that I have with reading nowadays. My problem is that since starting to write, reading has become more difficult. I notice more and more detail. Can almost feel the author’s writing process as much as see the story. Am fascinated by layout and punctuation. And the net result, is that a book for me now has to jump an even larger hurdle for me to become engaged with it.
To be honest, I sometimes wonder if this is robbing me of enjoyment I would otherwise have just settled back and taken in. But there’s not much I can do about it now…
Anyway, I’ve recently read the second Lee Child (Jack Reacher) novel, called Die Trying, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve only recently discovered Lee Child’s work and can see why he’s so popular. His main character is accessible to both sexes, strong yet vulnerable, mysterious, likeable. His writing style naturally lends itself to creating pace and excitement through the use of short, often staccato, sentences. In his first novel this technique was somewhat overdone, perhaps even clumsy. It was therefore a real pleasure to see how both story structure and layout had evolved into the second instalment and it is with genuine interest that I now look forward to seeing how his writing evolves into the rest of the series.
And here is my first observation: evolution. For me, writing isn’t just about a good or unique premise. It isn’t just about pounding out another few thousand words. It’s about learning a craft and producing something that’s fractionally more elegant than what was done before. I’m not sure that I find this very often when I’m reading.
After Lee Child’s book, and in my usual eclectic style, I decided to try out Wool, the ex-indie writer Hugh Howey’s now ultra-successful novella bundle. I picked it out and dived in and, to start with, I could see why.
The opening of the first part (Novella One) is packed with mystery. The main character is human, real, accessible and quite obviously in mortal jeopardy. The world he starts to paint is bleak and frightening: a compressed social-microcosm. I can sense that there is every chance that this character’s tale will carry a lengthy storyline and I, as a reader, wanted to know more.
Then it ended.
And Part Two started over.
And Part Two ended.
Just as abruptly.
And Part Three started over…
For the record, there is obviously nothing wrong with this soap-opera style of episode based drama that cycles endlessly around an ever expanding character base. It’s at the heart of a number of bestsellers. It’s just unfortunately not for me.
More specifically, my greatest disappointment was that the structure stamped out all hope. Yes, it’s a post-apocalyptic, doomsday tale. I was ready for that. Yes, it’s bleak. It has to be. But, nonetheless, amongst fear, hope burns brightest. Without hope, where would we venture, why would we even begin to strike out into the unknown, how could we reach forwards into the future?
Looking back into Lee Child’s book I can see this blend of hope and fear played out before me. Can see him directing his characters across the pages. See the clear beginning, middle, and end. With Wool, all I can see is a fractured series of character driven sound-bites, revolving around a single basic theme, with no clear direction, no prescribed intent, and no real hook to make me want to find out what happens next.
Don’t get me wrong: books are different for everyone, and I’m delighted Hugh Howey has found success. His story doesn’t grab me but it clearly grabs lots and lots of other readers.
I certainly don’t regret trying the book out. If I hadn’t, I would have missed out on an unexpected insight into something valuable: a deeper appreciation of hope and fear. So, thanks Hugh, I genuinely hope your sales continue to soar. The challenge for me is to see if I can take this lesson and to see if I can develop my own skills a little bit more…