Monday, January 13, 2014

Don't Bother Knocking

I just finished reading a decent book this morning and did some inward reflection about what it is that gives a book the ability to draw me in and hold me there for its duration.

For some reason, the image of a house popped into my head. It was clad in iron but otherwise nondescript. One thing that stuck out, however, was the single window on its side. A light was shining from somewhere in there. Most importantly, I saw that the window was cracked open.

I could say that that it was the artist in me connecting a thought to something physical, and that I was simply creating art within my mind. I honestly think that I wasn't fully awake yet and my mind was a bit soupy from reading through the last chapter of that not-yet-finished book.

Regardless, I figured I'd have some fun and run with it. So here it is, for better or worse: My comparison of a good novel to a house:

This house exists in a very large neighborhood, one full of very colorful houses, some better looking than others. Nothing unusual in way of books or houses so far, I know.

In this neighborhood, however, the goal is to turn an innocent passerby into a thief, one that takes from the house the very excitement and pleasure that we, the authors/homeowners, build it with. Perhaps we left the blinds drawn and a window cracked open so someone can peek at the goods we have to offer. Should the pane of glass reveal a dire shithole, the would-be-thief might drop his plan and just walk on by. No harm. No foul.

What he sees has to be enticing enough for him to be willing to take a chance... a risk. For this thief, it's not the risk of being apprehended by police, but rather a risk of wasting what precious little time he has. The eye candy seen from the street has to be worth the world to him or at least something that offers that possibility.
And how is he supposed to find out if the house as a whole holds enough worth? By slipping in through the cracked window, of course. But to get him to take the first step, to squeeze through the window is simply not enough. It is truly a first step of many. I've read stories that overwhelm me with so much information at first glance that what I thought to be a house full of treasures was nothing  more than a first room full of clutter. If gems exist there, then they are lost among the vast mountains of junk.

Even if the contents of the first room are rewarding, that in itself is not enough. The thief has to know that even greater treasures are waiting. He just has to decide to look for them, and he has to recognize the need to suck the worth from every room he enters.

Otherwise, the thief simply cuts his losses and makes a quick escape through the window. That isn't good for us as authors. It's our job to fuel the thief's anticipation with the prospect that even greater gems await but can only be found by following the rooms down to the structure's very core.

Finally when he gets to the very last room, he can't be disappointed. We have to fulfill his expectations. After all, we are the ones who baited him all the way down to the keel in the first place. If he feels cheated, be sure that he will be hesitant to visit any more houses owned by this particular homeowner. Even worse, he'll tell his friends that it's not worth the risk.

The thief has to leave with the utmost satisfaction. The risk has to be worth his time and more. With luck, in the back of his mind he might even wonder if the homeowner has another house somewhere nearby, one that may be as rich and rewarding as the first.

Well, that's my analogy. Hope you enjoyed. Either way, it was definitely fun to write out.

Thanks for reading!

-- Tim M.

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