It isn’t enough for the reader to be able to follow the action, or even for them to feel in sympathy with your main characters. You need more; you need an element of snazz and sparkle, and you must have a sharply-intuitive grasp of some emotional reality (upon which you competently comment throughout the work as a whole).
Amleth, or Ur-Hamlet
For example, we look at Hamlet, that pilfered tale of incestuous murder and woe. The summary of the original, which you can find on any humdrum internet street corner, consists of an action-packed zest-fest of secret cave-sex, performative lunacy, and eventual murder. What did Bard Will do that made this plot so much better?
Aside From The Sparkling Rhetoric, Of Course
Bard Will took the basic story and cinched it into a plain and unadorned parallel: two mature men, each of whom has a desirable lady-friend on the side, are pitted against each other over the matter of a kingdom. One is willing to murder, and the other one has stout morals. The aftermath is messy, cathartic, and deeply satisfying.
People (Dumb Ones) Get Distracted By Bastardized Scripts
This is slightly off the point, but I am letting you know right now that Hamlet is not mad, has never been mad, and cannot be reliably shown to be mad from the authentic text. And Ophelia is pregnant, and commits suicide. Back to the subject, which is that Shakespeare isolates and myopically focuses on one emotional reality; justification for murder.
Let Me Toot My Own Horn Now
Cyrano, transcribed in the voice of Rostand, explains the occasional necessity of praising oneself, and I here shall note that my Eastern Slave series is successfully modeled upon this structure (the examination and follow-through on one emotional reality). I dare say that reading one or two of the books in the series would be a small satisfaction compared to the payoff you get from reading the whole thing. I get warm fuzzies from reading those books, and I wrote them.
Now, Back To Work!
Hamlet successfully isolates one emotional reality: when and where and how is murder justified? (Suicide is covered pretty well, too. Hamlet himself calls this “self-slaughter.” Sadly, it is the death of Ophelia that eventually brings Hamlet (and the play) to the conclusion that destruction of evil is justified. One of the things I like most about Shakespeare is how directly he deals with the victims of corruption.
Bad Writing (Emotionally Scattered Subject):
Like many of the plain folk residing internal for the broad grasslands, her two parents professed freedom and social good. She learned from her infancy of the similarity between peoples, and to discount tales she heard of children being peddled here and there, like unpaid servants. She thought she would be like them, free in the open lands, until her father traveled away, and her mother became very poor indeed. Then she learned the craven nature of a lying heart.
Well, anyway, she had said this kind of story to any who asked her about the past, even though it wasn’t exactly true. She didn’t want to think about what had happened between her parents, and the slaves in the farther reaches of Leopath were treated with more egalitarian mores than she had been taught to expect, so it was well enough, and she had plenty of good clothes now. Her mother had dressed poorly.
Good Writing (One Emotional Reality):
Ajalia’s parents had been anti-slavery people. They had taught her from the cradle that Leopath was riddled with corruption, and that the answer to the ills of their lives lay in the easy, albeit impractical solution, of abolishing slavery once and for all. Ajalia had believed her parents, or at any rate she had believed that they thought what they said, but when her father had left, and her mother had begun to realize the economic practicalities of life, Ajalia had been sold.
This was the lie that she told herself. The truth was worse, but this was the story that she told, when a story was requested, and if the details changed every year or two, no one was close enough to her to notice. She knew that she lied, but she did not care to remember the truth, and it lay, quiet and unnoticed by the people around her, in the darkest shadow of her heart.
And I’m In A Good Mood, Too
I almost didn’t write any blog post at all today, because I’m learning to be happy, and now I have actual feelings about how I would like to spend my time. I didn’t know there were people in the world who actually felt pleasant a majority of the time. You learn something new every day, sometimes, unless you’re super depressed like I was, and then you don’t.
You’re reading Victor Poole. My books can be found here. I am pretty awesome, and my cat loves me.