Wednesday, April 20, 2011
We've all seen this phrase in practice. Authors such as Jane Austen, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and Charles Dickens have left behind clear depictions of the world they lived in, and it’s true, their writing is compelling because it gives us an authentic glimpse into their lives.

Lately though, my shelf is flooded with books about things their authors couldn't possibly have seen or experienced. Though I'm pretty sure JK Rowling has never been to Hogwarts, never seen a quidditch match, or had any luck with Wingardium Leviosa, I completely believe her.

So what makes an imagined story as compelling as one based on real life?

Characters that stay with you — Stories like ENTWINED, PEGASUS, and TUCK EVERLASTING have characters that make us believe they're real. The best authors know their characters like they know their best friends. Whether you’re a fan of Stephenie Meyer or not, you have to admit you get the feeling there’s so much more to her characters than you’ll ever read on the page.

Places you've seen for yourself — What draws us to books like THE BLUE SWORD, INCARCERON, and THE NEVERENDING STORY? It’s the atmosphere. These stories somehow manage to lift you out of everyday life and immerse you the in the unknown. You can close your eyes and just picture Middle Earth, because JRR Tolkien was so well acquainted with his magical realm, he was able to give us a firsthand account.

The winding road with a purpose — You can reread PATHFINDER, THE INHERITANCE CYCLE, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA several times before you notice all the clues that were in place. In real life, we can look back at the string of decisions that brought us where we are today. As you begin the Harry Potter series, the story seems relatively straightforward, but as the plot unfolds, you realize how complex it really is, and that gives it a sense of reality.

Conviction that changes you — Every time you pick up of a book, there is a chance you will save the world or encounter greatness. Everyone loves an entertaining read, but we treasure the stories that change us. Who can forget old classics like PETER PAN which speaks to our heart's deep-seated longing to hold on to childhood, or how THE LORD OF THE RINGS shows us the meaning of hope? New stories like THE HUNGER GAMES and MATCHED teach us to value our freedom and fight to defend it.

It's not difficult to nail down what makes an imagined story resonate like a genuine experience. It's passion. Real passion transcends fiction. It leaps off the page and compels us to believe what we're reading. Write what you know? More like believe what you're writing. Know it in the pit of your stomach. Make it real.

What about you? Is there a book that was so real to you or made such an impact that you were different at the end of it?

Love YA,


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Unknown said...

I love this post, Steph. "Believe what you're writing" -- some much needed advice. Especially when writers are some of the most insecure people (myself included) around.
The last book I read that I felt different at the end was IF I STAY, but I also feel strongly about THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. I'm not used to reading those types of books where death is echoed on every page and it really challenges me emotionally.

Ingrid Palmer said...

IF I STAY was one of the most powerful books I've read in a long time. It's one of those books that makes you think about the characters and themes for days, weeks and (I'm betting) even months afterward. PEGASUS has affected me, too, but in a more subtle way. It keeps sneaking into my mind :)

sonja said...

I guess I'd make the argument that fantasy authors (the good ones, anyway) are indeed writing what they know because they spend a lot of time getting to know their fantasy world before they write it. Problems generally arise when writers violate their own rules. (I think I notice "rule violations" more in TV than in books, though - cough FRINGE cough.)

I'd venture to say that it's more difficult for a writer to write convincingly about something "real" that they don't "know" (like writing about a character performing surgery when the author has never been to medical school) as opposed to writing about a fantasy world created by the author who can make it up however s/he wants to do so.

Kristan said...

I don't know if I'd call it "more" difficult to write something real you don't know than to make up a world and really get to know it -- I think they're just different kinds of different. Apples and oranges, you know?

LOL about the Fringe.

Great post about how fantasy writers can MAKE new realities for themselves, and more importantly for readers. It's so true!

Anonymous said...

I would definitely say that out of all of the books I’ve read in the past year The Hunger Games series has stuck with me the most. Although so much of the book is loaded with science fiction imagery, the characters and motivations are so down to earth. She captured the psychology of all of the characters, from the main characters to the more minor characters, so perfectly. When an author is capable of doing this, even if the story is set in a purely fictional world, the story really sticks with me.

kaye said...

This is tough.

When I first finished The Hunger Games (the first book, not the trilogy) I was really blown away. I read that book all in one go, barely cognizant of the fact that I was even turning pages. Suzanne Collins' writing is really action-packed and that paired with description just felt like I was part of some mental movie playing out as fast as my hands could turn pages.

That's the sort of feeling that really begins the process of a book being amazing to me. The clinch is when you close it and it's on your mind for days and days and days after. With The Hunger Games it was the whole topic that had me. I love dystopian novels individually as case-studies and everything about this book (and the subsequent two) raised a lot of interesting issues. It made me think not only about the story but the story's potential.

That's how I knew I loved it.

Stephanie Mooney said...

Sarah and Ingrid, I'm about halfway through IF I STAY and I love it! It had me from the first page.

Sonja, you're right. It would be difficult to write about a surgeon when I have no idea how the medical world works, because it has to live up to the real thing. Then again, I don't have to convince anyone that doctors are real, like I would an emperor on mars. LOL.

Natalie, Suzanne Collins's characters are sooo real.

Kaye, I feel the same way. I don't know where I read the HUNGER GAMES or remember turning the pages, I just remember experiencing the story.

crw said...

Age difference here. I love the spy books of John Le Carre and Len Deighton. They tell the real dirty story of what spying might have been like in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. No fancy gadgets, fast cars and people trying to take over the world. Read the Smiley series by Le Carre and you will not be taken to another world; you will be taken to a Europe just emerging from a war where ordinary people that you could pass in the street and not notice; spy and kill and betray and defect and hunt to protect ideals that few understand and nobody cares about. Brilliant.

Joelle said...

Great post. It really is all about the passion that an author has for their craft that will draw in the reader.

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



on the shelf

The Bitter Kingdom
Wild Awake
The Raven Boys
Mind Games
Eleanor and Park
The Shattered Mountain
The Shadow Cats
Froi of the Exiles
Days of Blood & Starlight
Every Day
Jellicoe Road
Finnikin of the Rock
Guitar Notes
The Dead-Tossed Waves
The Crown of Embers
New House 5: How A Dorm Becomes A Home
The Fault in Our Stars

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