I’m talking about those stories that wrap their tentacles around your eyeballs and drag you to the bottom of the sea. The ones that make you forget about your work, your friends, your lover, even your wine. If what you’re reading right now doesn’t compel you like this, break up with it immediately. You deserve so much better.
In the Anatomy of Story, John Truby says that in order to find your voice as a writer, you should first discover the elements that turn you on about a story. This must be done with complete honesty. No editing. No censoring. There are strange worlds happening inside of you that stories allow you to explore, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Or so I tell myself. As poet and writer Nikki Giovanni said, you must be unintimidated by your own thoughts. So I did the exercise and in the process unearthed some gritty stuff. I discovered that I’m not made up of flowers, sunshine and candy (imagine).
- Innocence Corrupted.
There is something I find morbidly satisfying about characters that are stripped of their naiveté and forced to face a cruel world. Give me a character that is unfairly beaten, brutalized, judged, abandoned, tortured and thrown into circumstances that are beyond their ability to cope.
Drive them to the brink of despair and hold them there until they learn something profound. Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle series does this beautifully. The magic-school-fantasy of Harry Potter meets the dark-gritty-surviving-in-the-real-world of David Copperfield. Put it this way. The moment that final instalment is released, I will go into hiding. Don’t look for me.
- The Journey
There is nothing better than watching a character try their best and get better at things; that phoenix that rises from the ashes and embarks on a journey to pursue a primal desire. That struggle and determination is so irresistible to me as a reader, perhaps because it reflects my own desires to rise above present circumstances. Do you agree? Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series is my all time favourite example of this. Over the course of six books, we follow an abandoned little girl’s journey to become a mighty warrior in the Late Stone Age The tools, botany, wildlife, terrain, hunting, medicines, tribal customs and ancient philosophies…the author spared no details. I was there every step of the way, learning alongside her. A literal time machine chock full of fantasy.
Okay, so we’ve started from the bottom now we’re here. I want to enjoy here. I want to see the the fruits of their labour, the pot of gold at the end of their character development. Are they tougher now? Show them defeating great foes. Displays of power and skill, un-locked treasures and fulfilment of desire. At this point, all I want to do is finish the book with a sense of awe and reverence to the world that I was so privileged to be a part of. Perfume: The Story of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind gave me transformative chills. The disturbed genius of the protagonist will trap you inside his mind to the beautiful, bloody end.
Magic, secret places and things, the unexpected, Societies of Somethings, antagonists with layers to them, and unadulterated nature that is ancient and alive. I enjoy a writing style that is thick, juicy, and can be sliced cleanly in one stroke. I want it to explode into a thousand flavours that are complimentary, provocative and nourishing.
What turns you on about a story? (Don’t hold back)