[Repost] Five Memorable Novel Elements

~ By Chris Bailey

Critique partners say I write chick lit, and I hope they’re right, because I love romantic comedy. But I read across a wide range of genres, even delving into literature now and then, and it’s through reading promiscuously that I’ve identified favorite elements that cross the boundaries of genre to make novels memorable for me.

1) A protagonist whose yearning drives him beyond reason.

In Ken Follett’s epic historical, Pillars of the Earth, Tom’s longing is a mystery to his wife, Agnes. “Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city’s fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral.”

2) Dialogue—or inner monologue—that’s so honest it’s scary. Or maybe so revealing that it offers healing.

In Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, the main character, a refugee, speaks directly to the reader: “I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying A scar means, I survived.”

3) Characters and situations that make me laugh. Even better, snort.

In this excerpt from Thursday Next: First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde, Jurisfiction Agent Thursday Next is describing the current (future) state of political affairs in Great Britain.

“Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness and tolerance. It was a state of affairs deplored by Mr. Alfredo Trafficcone, leader of the opposition Prevailing Wind Party, who wanted to lead the nation back onto the safer grounds of uninformed stupidity.”

Will the government manage to safely eliminate a dangerous stupidity surplus before something awful happens? Anything by Jasper Fforde makes me interrupt my husband to read aloud, but it’s way funnier if you read the whole thing.

4) The promise of growth and happiness for the characters.

“I think of how each person in a marriage owes it to the other to find individual happiness, even in a shared life,” Tessa declares through internal monologue as The Heart of the Matter winds down to its hopeful conclusion.

5) Moments of recognition that connect fiction and reality.

Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a mystic tapestry woven with threads of insight. After May’s funeral, Lily remembers the sound of the bees. “That night, in my bed in the honey house, when I closed my eyes, bee hum ran through my body. Ran through the whole earth. It was the oldest sound there was. Souls flying away.”

Oddly enough, the parts I remember pull me out of the story, which is considered a negative. But there’s a difference between a moment of startling clarity and an episode of glaring error.

What makes a story memorable to you?

Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.

2 thoughts on “[Repost] Five Memorable Novel Elements”

  1. I love the quote about scars — powerful. Wow.

    What makes writing memorable to me?
    Particular images which seem to capture so much more than a mere description.
    The only example I can think of [quoting from memory], in Walker Percy’s “The Thanatos Syndrome” — [about one of the minor characters … from the perspective of the main character]: “He had that super-sane chipperness of the true nut.”

    Other aspects which capture me include humor (as you mentioned) that makes me laugh til I ache. I found that in “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, and Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” … among other books.

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