Are Readers Being OD’d On Angst?

Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?

I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.

Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.

Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.

Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict

Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?

I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.

They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”

I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?

That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.

Put More STORY in the Story

I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.

Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.

For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.

The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.

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Hugged By A Stranger

Have you ever been hugged by a complete stranger? Someone you’ve never laid eyes on before?

Well, I did barely lay eyes on his person as he hoisted himself from behind the steering wheel of his car and stood to his feet, and sort of laid eyes on him as he passed by the window in front of me. I didn’t know him from Adam – but he wasn’t an Eve, that much I could see.

Really my eyes weren’t focussed on him at all, but were fixed on something dark that had fallen to the ground as he stood up. Something that looked suspiciously like…

Oh, dear. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start again.

I was sitting at a table in a small corner of a bookstore, this corner they have set up as a coffee bar. I’d finished my coffee and was idly gazing out the window beside me when I saw this grey car drive up and park facing the store right in front of where I sat.

As I said, I saw this man get out of this car and stride purposefully toward the store next door. I saw something dark hit the icy asphalt when he stood up, so I jumped up and went out to see, because I thought it may be something quite important – like a wallet.

It was a wallet. I stuffed it into my pocket and hurried into the Dollar Store next door, looking for someone about his size, brownish jacket. I scanned the aisles and saw a good match but I wasn’t certain, so I approached him and asked, “Do you drive a grey car? Did you just park next door?”

“Yes,” he replied, looking puzzled.

“Did you lose something?”

He gave me a blank look, then slapped his back pockets. “My wallet!”

I pulled it out of my pocket and handed it to him. He moaned once and thanked me for it, then, in front of everyone in the store, he threw his arm around me and gave me a hug. Me, a complete stranger, someone he’d never laid eyes on before.

Can you imagine?!  😉

First published Aug 18, 2013

What DO Feminists Hate?

Monday Morning Musing

I was going about my morning as usual when I happened to check my SPAM queue and saw a title that caught my eye:

“If Feminists Hate This, It Must Be Good”

I didn’t open the e-mail, but I must admit the title IS thought-provoking. My mind immediately brought up various responses:
If feminists hate war, then war must be good?
If feminists hate child-abuse, then child abuse must be good?
If feminists hate drug-trafficking, and the sex slavery that often goes with it, then drug use must be good?
If feminists hate SPAM, then…

Ah, but… So much meaning hinges on the word THIS. Since I never read the message — which is undoubtedly an ad of some kind — I have no idea what “this” refers to. I just jumped on the title and thought, “Wait a minute. This is a false assumption!”

Rather than getting the complete picture, aren’t we sometimes inclined, as listeners or readers, to catch a few significant words and build our rebuttal on that?
“You said this, and it isn’t true.”
“She wrote thus and thus, and it makes no sense.”
“He carelessly asked for a dozen when he should have asked for precisely twelve!”

Looking back I blush to think of times where I’ve pounced on some short phrase and shook it like a rat, not listening for — or deliberately ignoring — the real meaning behind the statement. Yes, “Guilty as charged.” The speaker may have had a valid point but I’ve allowed one sentence to negate it.

Conversely, haven’t we all seen a child pick the part they wanted to hear and go from there?
Mother: “I don’t think you really should go along with them, but if you feel you have to do that I won’t order you stay home.”
Child to friends: “Mom says I can go.”

Another phrase comes to my mind. Over the years people have seized on this statement and taken it literally without ever exploring the context for the complete meaning.
Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” (Matt 7:1)

These words from the Bible are frequently quoted, in fact they’ve become a motto for our times. They’re used to excuse a LOT of bad behaviour, to prove innocence of a sort. Usually comparatively speaking, like:

“Sure, I’m smoking pot, but who are you to judge me? You have a social drink now and then. Remember, the Bible says, ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’.”

Years ago I worked for a boss who smoked. Her sister nagged her about the danger of getting lung cancer. Then studies revealed that women who dyed their hair had a higher incidence of cancer. (It was slight, if I recall correctly.)

Well, the sister dyed her hair, so my boss justified her smoking with this ‘you’re just as wrong as I am’ approach: “My sister criticizes me for smoking, but she’s dyeing her hair. So who is she to judge?” Her argument didn’t affect her chance of getting lung cancer in the least, but it got her off the hook with her nagging sister.

In John 7:24 Jesus says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement.” Sadly, this sentence has never gotten equal billing with the “Judge not” line of thought.

In Matt 5:48 He tells his disciples, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Now wait a minute! What’s this about PERFECT? Who can ever be perfect?

The only way to find out what Jesus meant by this statement is to read the book of Matthew.

Just like the only way I’ll ever find out what “feminists hate” and why it’s so good is to read the e-mail. But I’ve deleted it. I really don’t want to know; the answer is not important to my life.

Opening Doors

Doors + quote

Good Speech

by Archibald Lampman

Think not, because thine inmost heart means well,
thou hast the freedom of rude speech:
sweet words
are like the voices of returning birds
filling the soul
with summer, or a bell
that calls the weary and the sick to prayer.
Even as thy thought,
so let thy speech be fair.

Archibald Lampman

What Makes An Artist

bluebirds.blossoms

by Edgar Guest

We got to talking art one day,
discussing in a general way
how some can match with brush and paint
the glory of a tree,
and some in stone can catch the things
of which the dreaming poet sings,
while others seems to have no way
to tell the joys they see.

Old Blake had sat in silence there
and let each one of us declare
our notions of what’s known as art,
until he’d heard us through.
And then said he: “It seems to me
that any man whoe’er he be,
becomes an artist by the good
he daily tries to do.

He need not write the books men read
to be an artist. No, indeed!
He need not work with paint and brush
to show his love of art;
who does a kindly deed today
and helps another on his way
has painted beauty on a face
and played the poet’s part.

Though some of us cannot express
our inmost thoughts of loveliness,
we prove we love the beautiful
by how we act and live.
The poet singing of a tree
no greater poet is than he
who finds it in his heart some care
unto a tree to give.

Though he who works in marble-stone
the name of artist here may own,
no less an artist is the man
who guards his children well.
‘Tis art to love the fine and true;
by what we are and what we do
how much we love life’s nobler things
to all the world we tell.”

From his book, Collected Verse of Edgar A Guest
© 1934 by The Reilly & Lee Company

The Tasks At Hand

I hope you’re all having a happy day of rest and reflection.

My New Year started with a phone call early this morning. I stayed up to welcome the New Year in — and read an interesting book. (Book review to come.) Then I crawled into bed and was dozing off when the phone rang at 1:10 am. My cousin in Alberta, forgetting the one-hour time difference, was calling to wish us a happy new year.

I listened to her message, then went back to bed, but was restless with my left leg paining quite much. So, up to take more Tylenol, and finally to sleep again.

This morning I arose from my bed and could walk. Joy, joy! What a blessing to be able to get up and walk around without that hobble!

In retrospect I don’t think my problem was gout, seeing there was no heat, redness, or swelling in the knee joint. Rather, I must have over-stretched something in my back when I made my bed and slipped a disk out of place. This morning the nerve down the back of my leg is still sore from being pinched, but the disk must have slid back in where it should be and the nerve isn’t being pinched anymore.

End of painful hobble. I am so delighted!

Now I can get back to my New Year’s resolution to sort out my house. I’ll start out easy by going through the top drawer on my side of our dresser. Over the years this has become my catch-all for everything that has no other place and serves no useful purpose. Skin cream samples and half-tubes, old bookmarks, a scattering of hairpins I never use, old eyeglasses I intend to donate to charity. (Wait a minute! The lenses in my old glasses are all scratched up and the frames obsolete. What charity will want them?)

I’ll try walking a mile in my daughter’s shoes. I’ll go through this drawer, asking, “Which things will she throw out when I’m gone? Which will she think are worth keeping?”

Do you have a “catch all clutter” drawer like that? What rationale do you use for sorting through stuff you’re keeping “just in case I need it someday”?

It’s time to get on with my day, so I’ll close with a New Year’s blessing to all fellow writers: 🙂
May words flow from your veins
in an unblockable stream;

may your mouse never freeze
in the middle of its tale;

may your power never blink
before you’ve hit “Save”;

and may your anti-virus preserve you
from all invasive microbes.

Germ.jpg

Resolutions Upset Already!

happy-new-year-1900587_640

“Life is odd, with its twists and turns,
as every one of us sometimes learns…”

Click here to read the whole poem.

Yesterday after supper I was doing some last minute cleaning — and resolving to give the house a thorough going over in the next few weeks. Then I made the bed and, whether something twisted and turned in my knee or whether my gout just decided to boycott my cleaning agenda, my knee started to feel stiff and sore. Within an hour I couldn’t walk. By bedtime I was dealing with pain from hip to mid-calf.

So I’m meeting the New Year with a hobble and one resolution already put on hold. I’m fairly sure this is gout; hopefully this spell won’t last as long as the one I experienced in November, in my right foot. I certainly see now what those old-time authors meant when they wrote about gout-afflicted, limping old geezers.

Thankfully it hasn’t bothered me to sit and do a jigsaw puzzle this afternoon, or to recline and read. Tomorrow will just be another holiday for me — or maybe I’ll work on an easy sewing project. I’m so thankful for pain meds.

So here’s to a brighter tomorrow! Happy New Year, every one. Thanks for reading and following my blog. I appreciate you all.