“Ex Libris The Eyes of Madness, simple reviews from a simple reader…”
Hello friends. Today I am pleased to present Andy Graham, author of The Lords of Misrule series, with a guest post on the importance of balance in fiction. It’s a great piece so I am going to step aside rather quickly and give Andy the floor. Ladies and gents, Mr. Andy Graham.
What makes a good book good?
There are formulae that try to predict this.
You can buy books on how to write a bestseller. Does it matter if the authors of those books haven’t been bestsellers themselves? It seems not. A lot of World and Olympic champions are, after all, trained by people whose talent lies in coaching rather than competing.
As the old saying goes: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can, can’t teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers. Those who can’t do any of those become Minister for Education.
Outside of the formulae and ‘how to’ books, there is no end of opinions on what makes a good book good.
Is it clever prose? Or hooks within a story that the author keeps referring to? Could it be cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter? Maybe it’s characters you can identify with, love or hate? How about multiple story arcs or clues dropped throughout the text? Or is it just peer pressure: ‘This is a best seller, you must check it out!’
I’m not sure I know what the answer is (and so won’t be publishing any ‘how to write a best seller’ guides in the near future), but I can tell you what I like.
Prose for prose’s sake gets wearing. I was guilty of this in Franklin (The Lords of Misrule: Book Two), which, confusingly, was written before book one of the same series. Readers had commented that it was ‘very evocative.’ So, in my next book, I backed off and used it more sparingly. After all, isn’t that what authors should be doing: painting a picture without using too many colours?
I like ambiguity. I don’t just want good characters with a token dark secret (e.g. being an alcoholic, having slept with best friend’s partner, having made a mistake that killed a colleague), or bad characters with a hankering to be good because they’re misunderstood because their mother didn’t hug them enough because she had been beaten because…because…because… There’s nothing wrong with this type of character, but if that’s all you get in a novel, it gets very boring. People are ambiguous, so why not reflect that? Unless readers want an escape from the moral ambiguity of real life…?
As regards the plot, I don’t want to be confused by it, but I don’t want to be spoon-fed either. I want to be able to piece together the clues myself. I read a murder mystery recently and enjoyed the phase of thinking, “He’s the murderer. No, she is. Hang on, it must be him.” That’s great!
Cliffhangers? Absolutely. Too many, though, and they lose their power. I want space to breathe while I read. But if the author can get the right balance and evoke in the reader the feeling of needing to skip forwards through the text to find out what happens to the characters you love or hate, then that is the sign of a master storyteller.
(I just hit that moment in The Stand by Stephen King and started scrolling forwards to find out what happens between Harold, Frannie and Stu. I was strong and stopped myself, so if you know, don’t tell me!)
Similarly, too much blood and gore in horror, too much biting of the bottom lip and longing glances in romance, too much action in thrillers with no reason for it other than just having things blowing up and cars gunning down streets as the metal roof shudders in the down draft from the nuclear-capable attack chopper in stealth mode above them etc. etc., too many numbers or details (like exact make of cars/guns/mobiles etc.) in anything, and those plot devices lose their power. They need to be there, they just need to be balanced in order to retain their potency.
Doesn’t too much balance make a book beige?
Possibly, yes. Too much balance could make a book feel bland; there needs to be a bias towards whatever emotions the author is trying to convey. But too much of one emotion or device, and the book risks slipping off the rails and, in some cases, becoming a parody. Unfortunately, we as a world seem to be drifting away from subtle towards blatant in all areas. Sad!
Do you always want your fiction to be balanced?
No, not always. Sometimes I do enjoy pigging out on books that are too ‘top-heavy’ in whatever tropes are needed to satisfy their genre. But that’s the point. It’s about balance. Balance within books and balance between books. Without it, life can get predictable.
As for my writing, I’m getting there. My first book (Franklin) had too much prose. It also had too much stuff in it (the rookie mistake of trying to be too clever). My second (Aijlan) and especially my third (Rose) were much more balanced. The latest (my novella An Angel Fallen) is probably the best thing I’ve written to date, partly because I’m better at hitting the fulcrum in the middle of the plot that allows the story to ebb and flow naturally. I hope that trend continues.
So that, good readers, would be both the single-word title and content of my yet-unpenned bestselling book How to Write A Bestseller, and my answer to the opening question of this blog: what makes a good book good?
(Now that’s done. I’m off to find out what happens between Stu, Harold and Frannie. Does he shoot him? Does she save him?)
– Andy Graham, An Angel Fallen book tour 2017
Thanks a ton for popping in, Mr. Graham, it’s a pleasure to have you here. Be sure to check out An Angel Fallen, I think you’ll have an unnerving time with it.
-Zakk is a big dumb animal!
Andy Graham Author Bio (June 2017)
Andy Graham is a British author currently living in the Czech Republic who will now stop talking about himself in the third person because it’s odd. I have two main collections of books: The Lords of Misrule is a series of dystopian political thrillers set in an alternate world based on life in 21st century EU/ US. I also have an expanding collection of creepy reads that explore the darker side of life, death, and the undead. There are a few unfinished stories rattling around in my hard-drive and some unstarted ones knocking around in my head. They range from disposable airport fiction and YA sci fi to grimdark epics, but they will have to wait their turn. (Unfortunately for my wife, who is waiting for me to write something ‘nice’, preferably with sparkly vampires.) Outside of reading and writing, I’m a musician, qualified osteopath, seasoned insomniac, and father to two young kids who have too much energy to let me grow old gracefully.
You can find me online at www.andygrahamauthor.com (where you can claim a free book), twitter – @andygraham2001 and FB – andy graham author.
An Angel Fallen Synopsis
You’re eighteen. Bored. Dad’s away a lot. Says its business, but you’ve seen the lipstick stains. Mum’s home. Too much. Keeping the world gin market afloat on her own. There’s Ariel, the family maid. She’s cool. The one piece of this messed up world that makes sense. And then there’s Raph.
Raph’s the leader of your gang of two. He gets off on doing those things to the animals you both catch: the slicing, crushing, and maiming. Buried a few alive, too. His relationship with that hammer of his is sick.
You run with Raph because, well, nothing else to do out here, right? Except if your folks found out what you’ve been up to, there’d be hell.
Then you find it. Whatever it is.
It can’t be what you think it is. Those things don’t exist. But it’s staring at you. Asking for help. Is it dying? Can these things die? You need to do something for it. Raph wants to do something to it.
Time to choose. Do you run with the human devil you know, or take a chance on this thing that fell from the heavens?
An Angel Fallen is a tale of divine retribution from British author Andy Graham. On a day when the world is struggling to stay sane, and is being ravaged by biblical plagues, what price will two teenagers pay for their past?
Available at Amazon.
And while you’re here, check out The Ex Libris The Eyes of Madness, stop by and say hello.