Aside from the fact that I am one who loves lists (and can’t wait to go here), it seems like other writers and readers enjoy lists as well.
Remember back when I posted about the Guardian’s series of authors providing 10 rules for fiction? Well, through random click throughs today, I found another link to another article in the same vein.
Laura Miller of Salon.com wrote 5 recommendations for writers from a reader’s POV. Here’s the list in brief.
1. Make your main character want something.
2. Make your main character do something.
3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting. (I’m looking at you, Irving.)
4. Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can’t recognize ‘good writing’ or don’t value it that much.
5. A sense of humor couldn’t hurt.
Miller expands on each point and I think they all hold water. Writers love to play with words, with ideas, with scenes. I’ll admit, I can amuse myself for hours reading my favorite thesaurus or tweaking a word choice in a short story.
But as a reader, please please please please make something happen. Anything.
And sometimes a character just walks across a room. No superfluous detail or inner monologue or intriguing ring of smoke around his head that indicates the guilt still felt for a deed long done is necessary.
Miller published a more recent article about a follow-up item to that list – ‘Beware of Mary Sue.’ I had never heard of the term ‘Mary Sue’ before, but I also don’t follow fan fiction.
Mary Sue is a character that is an idealized version of the author and is a vehicle for the author’s fantasies instead of being a character central to the story.
He may resemble his creator in most respects, but he drivers a hotter car, lives in a posher part of town and has a cooler job.
(I’m looking at you, too.)
I like that Miller calls for a literary fiction litmus test to determine if a character is a Mary Sue. I’m sure an examination of the Roth oeuvre would be a good start.