Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stormbreaker Unleashed

Another delightful thing about being human is the fact that we're all so bloody different. Or, as Horowitz would write, bliddy. I just finished Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz, and I enjoyed the ride. I have a feeling that many of my writerly compadres would stick up their noses at it, though, and I'm okay with that. We're different, we like different things, and that is good. With such a tremendous range in audience desires, it means that there are more opportunities for writers like us.

Fast-paced, absent of trite lessons-to-be-learned, and full of intrigue, Stormbreaker was fun and shallow. It reminded me of the days I spent as a kid bemoaning the fact that adults are so completely blinded to the possibilities wrapped up in being adolescent. They think we're so innocent and so incapable of dissembling, I thought. They'd never know what hit 'em, if they just let us kiddies be spies. I was eleven, but as far as I was concerned, I could smile angelically and slip into 007 mode without even trying. Where were books like Stormbreaker then?

And honestly? I was never one of those kids who wanted to read some angsty, pulsing full of emotion and possibility book. Not even later, in high school, when everything was one great big soap opera. Life sucks already, alright? No need to wallow in the mud. Just give me a kick-butt book with spanking good action and I don't have to think about zits, the drama of fighting friends, or boys who say, "Look me up when you're eighteen." (Though, in retrospect, maybe it was a good thing everyone knew my dad had a shotgun!)

Why, then, do I say the book was shallow? The truth is, although I've always held protagonists in great disdain when they waffle over decisions and feel nauseated when the bad guy dies, humans invariably go through a range of emotions. And although Horowitz definitely gave Alex Rider a few emotions, there wasn't really any time for thought, reflection, and coming to grips with some of his own actions. It occurred to me when I set the book down that I was left feeling a little indifferent. Fun candy -- and I'll definitely read the rest in the series -- but not much substance, either.

So, what is it that I'm looking for? Do I even know what I want? Am I impossible to please? Am I asking for Cotton Candy with Vitamins? To quote Card, who's writing about something else entirely, "it's not a contradiction -- but it is a balancing act" (Card 88). I think that fits perfectly. There was only one instance in the book that made my eyes smart, and it was when he was at the training camp. The men, for the most part, ignored him, while one made his life a living hell. For an instant, I saw Alex as human, as trying to reach out and matter to someone, and as someone whose heart ached when rebuffed.

This brings me to my own writing. My own failures in my own writing. I've been so focused on writing fun, kick-butt stuff, that I've left the relationships at a relatively shallow level. And, honestly, relationships, both in life and in novels, are what it's all about. How do I intertwine gut-wrenching relationships and kick-butt action without going all sappy and ridiculously angsty? I don't know. But I'm gonna give it a try.


Anthony said...

This is wonderful self-reflection and how your writing discovery process relates to your potential readers.

You are, in essence, talking beyond voicing. In other words, you can have prose that grabs a reader and compels one to read, but you want more.

I leave you with this one thought. You're talking the difference between a good novel and one that goes beyond the good. The book you read and can think about twenty years later.

Was this thought an "Ah HA!" moment, or was it a fuse that has been burning slowly, fueled by experience, time and open eyes?

I'll bet money it is the latter. This writing is already in you. Even if you have written a book where you look back and think that it does not meet your standards, that's merely a draft in the writing process, a skeleton that just needs flesh and bones.

Anonymous said...

Now that's interesting. I've been purposely avoiding too much inner monologue and reflection, fearing today's readers don't have the stomach for it. They seem to just want the action, so I've been pushing forward with plot, but neglecting my character development. I know I need to develop them, but the character who was supposed to be my protagonist is suffering the most. She's almost becoming a foil for the rest of them, and I am toying with dropping her entirely to focus on the others. OTOH, she could bring a whole new dimension to the story. Argh.

Alex Moore said...

@anthony: good thoughts, brother writer. i'm going to go w/ your slow burning fuse idea, though i've discovered that writing about writing opens my eyes far more than thinking about writing does. if that makes sense...

@digitaldame: it's a fine line, i think. a tight rope, even. but i don't think it's an either/or discussion -- rather a matter of quantity. maybe. interesting thoughts here :P

Anthony said...

"[...] i've discovered that writing about writing opens my eyes far more than thinking about writing does."

That is why I started my blog!

Other Lisa said...

Alex, I think the key to this problem - and also to what you wrote about overt moralizing in your post above - is that the character relationships (and the moralizing) have to be embedded in the story. These can't just be elements that you add on top of fun stuff to make it deeper; they have to be essential - a part of what the story is about. That doesn't mean you still can't write kickass action, just that the character relationships you're dealing with have to be part of what motivates it.

And you'll have a better book, because most readers will be more invested in the outcome.

Alex Moore said...

embedding...i like that word, otherlisa. oh yeah, you are so right. it's not that you can't have moralizing embedded (after all, I didn't squirm at all when Alex Rider via Horowitz protested drugs sold to school kids or cloning humans) -- it's just that you can't lay in on over the top and expect it to work. to continue my allusion to heavy-handedness, that's like groping, and not at all welcome. :P

other lisa said...

Another one o' my favorite words - "didactic" - as in, I can't deal with writing that's overtly didactic. Which it sounds like the book you're reading is...

Okay, I have to stop procrastinating and get to work now. Really.

Word verification: "Sawniza."