Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What is "It"? by Carla Damron

I want my novel to have “it.” You know what I mean—that certain something, that special oomph, that magic. All writers want to write this novel, but so few do.

What is “it”? Defining it is part of the problem. We can’t break it down into plot points or character arcs. It isn’t lean or lush narrative. It isn’t a complex structure or a specific point of view. It is all of these and more, something we can’t grasp exactly, but we know it when it is there.
The novels that have it for me:

Alexandre Dumas’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I read it at as kid, and so completely immersed myself in the story that I read a French history book to further understand the time period. FOR PLEASURE.

Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Also a childhood experience—this novel opened something inside me that is still alive. I could probably blame my love for advocacy on Ms. Lee.

Pat Conroy’s THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE. Conroy’s masterful storytelling and brave honesty helped me face things in my own life. His love of language is on every page.

Virginia Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. While I’ve never fully grasped this work, it keeps calling me back. I think the vein of darkness there came from the author’s soul, which is something I’d like to understand.

Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Linked stories.  Poetic narrative. The most unlikeable protagonist that she made me love. I could read this masterpiece every year.

I could add more to this list (CATCHER IN THE RYE, A SEPARATE PEACE, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, etc), but you’d find no common thread.  Each reading experience pulled me out of my life, and opened an inner eye to some new awareness. They left me changed, even if just a little.

I believe they became a part of my DNA.

Your list is, of course, different from mine. But you have one: a group of titles that touched you, that left its fingerprints inside you. It is why you read.

And it is why we write.

Of course, I am not likely to ever write a novel with “it.” I’m realistic about my talent and my limitations. But I will keep trying because all writers must.

Dumas, Lee, Woolf, and, sadly, Conroy, have passed away. But they left us these amazing portals in the pages of their books. We can read them again and again. In that way, they are still alive for us, and for generations to come.

I know of no greater legacy than that.

What books would make your list? 


Jim Jackson said...

Gosh, I feel so inadequate when I look at my reading list from ninth and tenth grades. However, of those 112 books I read during that time, four of them I chose to read again as an adult:

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John LeCarre
Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

Paula Gail Benson said...

Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was a tremendous mind opener for me, not only for the story, but also its structure. Also, as a theater lover, reading The Miracle Worker taught me so much. Carla, as always you are modest about your talent (which Pat Conroy praised). The Stone Necklace is both a journey and revelation.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

PD James, Devices and Desires

John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman

carla said...

Y'all list GREAT books! And they do have it!! Jim, I never read The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but now I think I will.

Warren Bull said...

I would say anything by Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers.

Gloria Alden said...

For me TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD would top my list, but I've read and reread so many other books both mysteries and literary works that I've reread it would be hard to list them all. A recent one was WONDER, a YA book by P.J. Palacio. I think every kid from middle-school through high school should read that book. I've reread all the Jane Langton mysteries. I love Barbara Kingsolver's books as well as Louise Penny's books. Because I while getting my degree as an older student, I took an overload taking all the literature classes I could fit in so I read many of the classics as well as others assigned.

And then there is your THE STONE NECKLACE, that I'm going to pick for both of my book clubs. It was great book with such depth to it.

Julie Tollefson said...

Books I've loved through the years: SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett (re-read numerous times in elementary school and again as an adult), WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte, everything Jane Austen, THE SOUND AND THE FURY and a few others by WIlliam Faulkner. I also love Louise Penny and Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman and Tana French.

Once I start naming names, it's hard to stop!

KM Rockwood said...

I remember discovering the "it" factor when I read Margaret Stewart's Merlin Trilogy. I'd read intensely, and when I finally looked up, I'd always be surprised that I wasn't actually in Camelot.

carla said...

More great titles. Gloria, your so nice to mention my novel-- it means a great deal coming from you!
And SECRET GARDEN was magical, as was the Merlin trilogy.
Funny SECRET GARDEN story: when I was a teen, I babysat for couple and noticed this book on their book shelf. I took it down to thumb through it. Turns out it was A DIFFERENT Secret Garden, and it wasn't G rated!

Shari Randall said...

I'll be watching out for that alternate SECRET GARDEN - yeesh!
The Mary Stewart MERLIN books definitely had IT for me, as well as JANE EYRE and a little children's book called MISS RUMPHIUS, which is magic. Just magic.
I know what you mean about TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. I don't think I'll ever be able to completely understand it, but that book doesn't let you go.

Anna said...

The books that have characters who live on in my head and heart long after I finish reading include A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, THE GOOD SOLDIER, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, THE GRAPES OF WRATH...and, honestly, THE STONE NECKLACE.

Daveler said...

It's also difficult because you tend to put your favorite writers on a pedestal, and sometime's it's hard not to see the monster for the seams when you're the one who stitched them up. That "it" is a pain in the butt. It's impossible to explain, and sometimes it for someone else isn't the it for you. I have cried over frustration of not being able to find "it." Dead on post.