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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Book Review: Finding Sky

Book #1 in the Nicki Valentine Mystery Series
by Susan O’Brien
Published by Henery Press

I just finished reading this book and I’ll say it has a satisfying conclusion. This is the first book in a new series so the writer will gain confidence and in turn give her protagonist a little more confidence, in the next books.

I expect mysteries to be fairly fast-paced and suspenseful. This book isn’t. It’s more like chick-lit with a mystery element. Nicki Valentine tells us her story, explains her situation — a widow with two children — talks about her children’s personalities and behaviour, her fears and issues with safety, food, dirt, and germs. If you enjoy following friends’ day-to-day lives on Facebook, you’ll probably enjoy these open-hearted accounts of where they went, what they did, what they ate, games they played.

Nicki tells about her best friend and neighbor, Kenna, whose desire to have a baby adds the mystery angle to this tale. Andy and Kenna plan to adopt, but the eighteen-year-old mom-to-be has disappeared. Pregnant and alone, where did she go? Is she safe? Kidnapped by a teen gang? Kenna asks Nicki to help find this girl and we read of her efforts at interviews, stake-outs, and searches. Her search gets her involved with troubled teens and a gang member, understandably bringing yet more anxieties.

You see, Nicki is taking classes to become a private investigator. This is a huge stretch for her type. At the best of times she struggles with almost neurotic anxieties for herself and her children, has little self-confidence, and is rather a klutz. Her conscience prods her if she tells a lie in the course of investigating. Can she become a successful PI? She’s attracted to her hunky instructor but resists the attraction. Low self esteem kicks in. Why get her hopes up when he’d never be interested in her?

There’s a good story in here if you’re patient. I’m more a fan of classic mysteries where the sleuth is occupied with the whodunit puzzle rather than angst about herself and her abilities. But all this self-analysis is common in modern cozies. I found it easy to scroll through all the angst and day-to-day stuff and read the parts that actually deal with finding the missing girl. (Spoiler alert: Nicki does get her answers in the end.)

In my opinion the book could be cut by at least 30% — and I’d encourage the writer to get to know Miss Marple, who’s kind and clever, not always sure, but never floundering in self-reproach.

Nicki reminds me a lot of Salem Grimes, another new sleuth with a lot of down-to-earth issues and angst. She stars as The Trailer Park Princess, a series written by Kim Hunt Harris

Gifts and Children’s Whims

Seasons greetings to all my Readers and Followers.

Is everyone in a “holly jolly Christmas” mood? I wish for you one and all happy holidays with lots of sweet getting-together times. We’re planning to enjoy Christmas dinner with our children and grandchildren and have a gift exchange in the afternoon.

Seems we’re going to have a white Christmas after all. We’ve come through a spell of unseasonably mild temperatures and the snow that fell in November slowly disappeared. In the last few days we’ve gotten a bit more and the temp is dropping.

I haven’t posted anything for a week, trying to get through an un-jolly blue funk. I sometimes feel like I’m swimming through mud, wishing I had lots of energy and enthusiasm but rather feeling exhaustion and depression. Getting stuck in a mire about what little I’ve accomplished versus what all I should be doing.

I find it heartwarming to hear those cheery old Christmas carols like “Joy to the World.” I realize that feelings come and go, will drag us down at times, but the world is singing of great Joy: our God remembers us in all our trials and has sent us a Counselor and Guide. I’ll never be all I should be or do all I should do, but Christmas comes every year to remind us God is ever merciful.

On a happier note, for Friday Fictioneers this week I wrote this story to go with the photo prompt: “The Princess and the Pea Green Hat.” Now I offer a “choose your own ending” for this tale. Read the story and choose which ending you like best of those below. Or add your own in the comments. 🙂

1) Princess loved the hat and wore it everywhere until she outgrew it.

2) She loved it, wore it on their holiday trip, and left it at a MacDonalds 1500 miles from home.

3) She wore it to school once but no one else was wearing a hat like this. Being a sensitive child she refused to wear it again and be called weird.

4) She wore it to school, but so many others were wearing a hat like this, hers wasn’t a novelty at all. Being a sensitive child, she refused to wear it again and look like everybody else.

5) She had a fight with her friend Tiannia, whose Mom knitted the hat, and tossed the thing in a dumpster for spite.

6) She felt sorry for all the poor children who have no hats, so she donated it to a charity.

♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬ ♬

I can sympathize with Princess, her eager-to-please mother and long-suffering father. When it came to Christmas gifts, I was an odd child — or a normal one with very indulgent Aunt & Uncle. (I grew up with them as my parents.) I asked for some ridiculous things, on a whim more or less, and Mom & Dad F (read “Dad” here) bought them for me.

Like when I asked for a typewriter when I was nine, or a microscope when I was ten. Whatever possessed me!? Of course these items were a novelty for a few days after Christmas, then I put them away and seldom looked at them again. (What an ungrateful wretch!)

Much to my parents’ dismay. “You wanted this thing and now you’ve got it and you never play with it!” I felt bad, but I’d completely lost interest. Mom & Dad F were just scraping by; Dad had serious health issues after the War and missed a lot of work for awhile. Only as an adult did I realize the sacrifice they made to get me those things. To top it off, my siblings (raised by our parents) consequently often griped that “Whatever you ask for Uncle Fred buys you.”

Children have such brilliant — but fleeting — whims. For my folks’ sake I wish they’d said, “Forget it. Here’s a doll.” Or I’d had some smarts myself and not asked for expensive novelties. (Though the typewriter did get some use several years later when I was in high school.)

Mind you, they usually gave me the book I wanted, too — often the current Nancy Drew Mystery — and those I appreciated for years. So I have lots of good Christmas memories in addition to a few guilt-trippy ones. 🙂

All I can say now is, give your children and grandchildren whatever you want, but don’t expect undying appreciation. They are children.

She’s Somewhere Else

Dementia

Grandma’s somewhere else
though she sits beside me.
Though I hold her hand
and we chat about little things
she might remember.

I didn’t tell her
it rained again last night,
that fall is here; the trees are bare.

Today’s rain can’t touch her;
Grandma’s somewhere else
where the trees are ever green–
where she barely hears my voice.

— C.G. (2013)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I wrote this story as my Friday Flash Fiction contribution this week.
The exactly-100-words story posted was yesterday on Friday Tales:

A LIGHT LOOK

That streetlight looks so familiar, Adina thought. But where’s Henry? Why has he left me here?

“Mom. Stop!” Adina turned and saw Judy running down the sidewalk toward her.

“You were to stay in the house and wait for me, Mom.”

“But I have to find Dad. We’re supposed to go somewhere.”

Judy took her by the arm. “You have an appointment, remember. I’m taking you. I just stopped for a quick pee first.”

Adina chuckled. “You’re too old to pee, Judy.”

Judy burst out laughing, wiping away a tear. “Come on. Let’s get in the car.”

Why does she cry when she laughs? Adina wondered. What’s wrong with that girl?

 

NaNoWriMo Behind Us; Christmas Ahead

Hello Everyone,

I’m almost done my time-consuming writing projects, namely my NaNoWriMo novel followed by my Christmas greetings to special friends and family. I’ve only a few letters to write, then work at formatting Silver Morning Song as a print book. I have a lot of older friends that never read e-books and there are lots of folks in general who prefer a print copy, so I’ll work through CreateSpace and do a print-in-demand edition.

So I’m ready to start blogging again and share something of my experience writing my novel in November. Usually I don’t sit down to write anything until I have the article, story, or book outlined and scenes gone over in my mind. With this project I had only a vague idea of the story I wanted to tell and a few particular scenes in mind. So my experience turned out much like this quote:

Driving--Writing quote

I’m so thankful for the way different scenes came to mind as I worked at the story, events that would fit into a summer “working holiday” for Joy, almost twelve, and her 15 year-old brother Gerry. I still have lots of smooth out and some more to write after Christmas, but I know where I’m going now.

I get the feeling that the greatest benefit of joining NaNoWriMo and committing yourself to write this novel is that by the end of the month you’ve learned to know and care enough about these people to keep on and finish their story!

My two siblings spend the summer with their widowed Aunt Patty, age 33, and her two small children. They’ve been sent to help her as she starts a market garden near a small Ontario town; they also help fix up her house which is old and sadly in need of repair. So they get to meet new — and some quite odd — people and do the things kids did before the electronic age. I’ve even included a writer of Wild West novels for teens. 🙂

There’s a family in this town — every town had at least one when I was young — where money is scarce and troubles abound. This particular dad, scarred by the battlefield conflict in WWII, drinks too much and domestic violence impacts the children’s lives. The oldest boy becomes a bully and gives newcomer Gerry — “that rich city kid” — a hard time. Joy becomes friends with Darlene, a girl from this family, and gets an idea of what life on the wrong side of the tracks feels like.

I barely knew my characters when I started, but now I’m enthused about them. I didn’t give them any major conflicts while I was writing because the conflicts only presented themselves to me as I got towards the end of the summer. I had no outline to start, but soon needed to make a two-month calendar to keep track of the day-to-day happenings.

 

Teddy Bear quote 3

I committed myself to updating my story EVERY single DAY. I’d drag my feet sometimes until late in the evening, unwilling to start. But then I’d tell myself, “You must — even if you only add another paragraph.” Which led to writing another scene, maybe a thousand words. So I’ve learned more about the value of commitment.

But I never left sloppy copy behind. I will need to delete some lines where I changed my mind and restated some thought or dialogue, but I corrected all typos and fixed my story as I went. I could have gotten done a lot sooner if I’d left all the changes, but I’d never have courage to face the task of editing now. To each his own. For me the important thing is to have a story when you’re done —not a 50,000-word mess to clean up.

I haven’t been very energetic this year, since my chemo-therapy treatments I’ve been tired a lot. However, I had a checkup at the Cancer Clinic Nov 23rd and the oncologist was very pleased with the effectiveness of the treatment. She tells me all is well with my blood counts. I told her I’m SO forgetful and she says that’s normal, things should improve, so here’s hoping.

I had a bad few days in November because of gout in my right foot. I guess it’s handy that I was planning on sitting anyway. 🙂 I was home-bound almost a week not able to put on shoes — which is nothing to really complain about. Since then arthritis has moved into my left knee.

But now November has sped by and we’re facing the Christmas season with all its glitter and glow, carols and gatherings. Texas has gotten the snow while we have a balmy 5 C! If this keeps up there’ll be no white Christmas for us. Nevertheless I wish every one of you, wherever you live, all the joys of the season.

Snow, Woe and Micro-Tales

We’ve had a fair bit of snow this past week; our world is quite dazzling white now. And it has been COLD! Yesterday our grandson, now working for his dad doing snow removal, came with a loader and cleaned out our driveway. Hard to realize he’s big enough, and mature enough, to operate such big machinery. How the years do fly!

I’ve been besieged by a new ailment this week. Old Arthritis in disguise. Monday morning my right foot — particularly my big toe — started to hurt. The pain has gotten worse, the swelling increased. Looks and feels like a genuine “club foot” now as I limp around the house. Not very nice.

Heading into Week Two of NaNoWriMo today and I’m well on the way as scenes keep coming to me for my story. Since I’ll be doing a lot of sitting this week anyway, maybe I can aim to have my 50k words written by Sunday night. 🙂 Then comes the edit — though I am editing a bit as I go along. Even if it reduces my overall word count, I will take out unwanted words and fix typos. Don’t like leaving a mess to clean up later.

Speaking of writing, I just got an e-mail telling me that one of my newest 100-word stories was published on The Drabble this morning. You might call this crime fiction — or you might not. You can read it here: “I Confess”

Books: Gone To Green

GONE TO GREEN

© 2009, 2016 by Judy Christie

Amazon blurb:

Will a big city journalist find love and happiness in small-town in Louisiana? An ambitious newspaper editor trades her corporate life at a large paper for the ownership of “The Green News-Item” in rural Louisiana — and finds friendship with an unlikely group of people. Ready to fight for right she is unexpectedly drawn into new causes — and attracted to an appealing high-school coach who raises catfish part time.

I found this book interesting right off the bat because it duplicates a scenario in one of my stories. But instead of a lawyer inheriting a farm, this 36-year-old single city editor inherits a small town newspaper from a colleague and friend who suddenly passes just after setting up this new position as his retirement package. Hoping for a promotion in her own sphere, Lois goes down to Green, LA, has a look around, and decides to give it a whirl. For Ed’s sake.

Most of the people she meets are kind, friendly, easy-going folks. But even small towns can have their greedy types and corruption. Her main reporter gets a whiff of something rotten and she encourages him to go after it. She herself gets glimpses of racial prejudice. If they blow the whistle on certain people, the paper’s headed for a hot gumbo.

She is also getting attractive offers both from her home paper: “A great offer coming up. You should grab this opportunity,” as well as a big-business offers to purchase the paper. Decisions, decisions. And there’s this kind high school coach who lives down the road and drops by just to chat. Someone she’d like to get to know better.

I’m usually not all-out generous, but I really enjoyed this book and give it five stars. It’s well written, has an old-fashioned flavor — no immorality — and the story line is great. Makes you want to visit the place, drop in on her and say “Hi.” And this is the first in a series, so we can keep on reading about Lois’s adventures in Green, LA.