Followers of the tour have an opportunity to enter in a $200 Amazon gift card giveaway! Entries will be accepted until midnight on August 31, 2015 with an announcement of the winner posted from Mary's Blog on September 1, 2015. Anyone submitting a proof of purchase entry in the giveaway draw will receive as an added benefit the tour purchase incentive rewards package of free e-books and discount coupons donated by tour hosts. For a full tour schedule of events, as well as details on how to enter, visit Mary E. Martin at http://maryemartintrilogies.com/virtual-tour/
You can also tune in to JD Holiday's World of Ink Network interview with Mary and guests, over BlogTalkRadio at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/worldofinknetwork.
What Makes a Novel Great?
a guest post
by Mary E. Martin
Because everyone has his or her own personal taste, it’s hard to answer this question. What appeals to me, you might consider dull, boring or even downright ridiculous. And of course, vice versa. It’s the same with a painting or a song. Personal taste. I might love Anton Chekhov’s stories and you might think they are too dated to be relevant in today’s world—NOT great for a writer who wrote almost two centuries ago. You love Stephen King, but his work might leave me cold and eventually bored which would not be good for a horror writer.
Does this mean neither writer has written a great novel? Of course not. You can devise all sorts of rules to determine whether a piece of writing is great. Is it a page turner with an interesting plot? Do the characters seem real? All that is helpful, but lots of novels are like that.
Will it be read one hundred years from now? For me, that’s the real test. Unfortunately that means we’ll not be able to apply that test to novels written today. But we can look at the old ones still popular today and try to figure out why we still love them. Some examples? Take any one of Dickens’ novels. Even if you haven’t heard of his novel, Bleak House, I’ll bet you know about Scrooge. Why? Scrooge was such a powerful character and his story was so transfixing that some of us read his novella every Christmas or at least watch the movie. Why? Because the character Scrooge is embedded in the consciousness of popular culture and has been from the beginning.
When I was a child, I was extremely impressed with Alastair Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge. In one of the dream sequences, Scrooge was confronted by an apparition in a long black robe. When he drew it back, small children were huddled underneath representing “ignorance and want.” If that can’t frighten you, what can? What is it about Scrooge that sticks? He’s intensely unlikeable, stingy with a flinty disregard for his fellow man. Do you know anyone like that? Sure you do! He’s your boss. Or maybe he’s even closer to home. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we all have a bit of Scrooge in us.
No one wants to be like Scrooge. When his employee Bob Cratchit tries to speak well of him, we see compassion at work. We all want a world with second chances to do better. It is one of the very best redemption stories ever written which was published just in time for Christmas in 1843 and to this day has never been out of print. With his characters and the dream sequences, the story strikes something very powerful—a universal and timeless chord. The story asks—what does it mean to be human and how do we deal with the many complications of our own nature? The characters are as real to us as our spouse, child, neighbour or—ourselves.
The writer and his characters make us think about what it is to be a human being in the place, time and circumstance he or she is in. And if it is truly universal and timeless, then it may stay with us forever and speak to future generations. The next question is: how to do this? Maybe it’s not so hard. I wonder just how much human beings have changed over the aeons. We still love and hate. We still suffer from greed, ambition, pride, lust, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony. Paradoxically, at the same time we are still capable of great acts of kindness, forgiveness and love. If you look at that list of failings and attributes, you can easily see hundreds if not thousands of opportunities for terrific stories.
But it’s not just confined to characteristics of humans. Those characteristics drive plots. One of the most fundamental is the quest. Scrooge was dragged through dream sequences which were a hair-raising quest. We often say that Shakespeare’s characters were very powerful. Just think of Macbeth and his Lady. Ambition drove them to murder the King. Lear, the near feeble but once great King, is blinded with pride as he turns upon his daughters. But think what his pride did to him. Because of that foolishness he was turned upon viciously by those who should have loved and cared for him. Old age was never so terrifying!
If we start thinking of our characters and plots as embodying some of these characteristics, they may have a chance to survive. Why? Because humankind has not really changed all that much. In 2015, we will still be captivated by a character who is driven to a bad end by lust or avarice. He or she might be just like that person across the desk from you at work. Or if you look closely, a tiny bit might be found in our own hearts. When we’re writing our stories and want to strive for the top, let’s be thinking about what it means to be human and driven (even mad) by high emotion. Those are the questions to explore when creating our characters and plots if we want them to survive.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.