Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spending Time With Friends

Donis Typing today.

All right, I have to weigh in on the character vs. plot question, as well, and like my blogmates, all my weight comes down on the side of character.  I’ve read many books with clever plots that delighted me at the time, but no matter how skillfully a plot is constructed, months later I don’t remember the story nearly as well as I remember the characters.  And if I liked the characters, I want to keep company with them again.

Reviewers and the literati elite seem to go all breathless over dark and tortured characters in hopeless situations.  This isn’t a new phenomenon.  This kind of book can be a brilliant art form, as it is with noir novels, when it’s full of dark humor and a thoughtful, perhaps cynical, exploration of human nature. I find that even though I still love a good dark novel, I can’t take a steady diet of self-destruction and hopelessness any more.  As the English say, I think I’ve had enough of both in my real life to be going on with.  If I’m going to spend many hours of my life with these characters, I damn well better like them.

So, like Charles, I’ll happily while away the time reading about Bertie Wooster’s pointless night out, because it’s a lot more fun than sitting in a hospital room.  

Speaking of which, I’ve just finished reading my first Ngaio Marsh novel.  I had never read New Zealander Ngaio Marsh, but I picked her up because one of my husband’s nurses was also a Kiwi, and she and I spent quite a while discussing mystery novels.  The one book I have read is called A Man Lay Dead. It’s a typical 1930s style English country-house mystery, full of upper class ladies and dandies and stalwart servants. The plot is convoluted beyond belief, involving an antique dagger, a gong, a game of Murder, a single calf-skin glove, a bannister, and  a mysterious Russian secret society.  And Marsh’s writing style - and use of adverbs - would drive Vicki mad.

The sleuth, however, is a humorous, upper-class, Oxford man.  None of the other characters can figure out why someone with his background and breeding has deigned to become a common detective.  Turns out he’s so brilliant that he simply has to have puzzles to occupy his feverish mind.  Sort of a Sherlock Holmes with a sense of humor.

He entertained me.  However, even though I just finished reading the book last night, I’ve already forgotten why the murderer did it.  One of my favorite examples of plot versus character is Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The plot is so complicated that Chandler himself couldn’t quite figure it out.  But the characters, setting, and dialog are so compelling that nobody cares.

Last year about this time, Hannah Dennison favored us with a guest blog following the publication of her first book, A Vicky Hill Exclusive.  Since then, her second Vicky Hill novel, Scoop!, has been released by Berkeley, and the third, Expose*, will be out in December.  Hannah will be back tomorrow at Type M, no longer a newbie author, but well broken-in and dealing with the eternal question of how to keep your characters and your series ever moving forward.


* That’s Expos-AY.  I can’t find a diacritical mark on this dang keyboard.

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