Thursday, December 18, 2008

What's in a Perfect Novel?

image I seem to be on a lifelong quest to read the "perfect" novel. This mental image I have is so picky, that everything I read falls short. But still, I try.

Today, Jon's blog on Essential Novels, (he's JVZ at Erica's blog, and has just started up his own) reminded me of my quest.

And I wondered? What would be your perfect novel, the dream novel that would be your "perfect" reading experience?

  1. What genre?
  2. What length?
  3. What style of writing? Lyrical? Edgy? Aggressive? Poetic?
  4. What kind of pacing? Fast? Slow? A Mixture?
  5. One POV? Multi-POV?
  6. First Person? Third Person?
  7. Lots of subplots? Just a few?
  8. Single tone? Ups and downs? Funny? Happy? Sad?
  9. What kind of themes?
  10. What else? What's in your perfect novel?

image If I could mix John Irving, Neil Gaiman, and Charlotte Bronte (maybe a wee bit of Dickens, too), you might come close. I love the 19th century novel, the exploration of a childhood through adulthood, like the novels of Irving, Bronte, and Dickens.

I love the Fiction that requires the suspension of disbelief like Irving and Gaiman. Third allows for more POV and a more complex plot. I love layers. I get bored with too much lyricism; every word must matter. I love aggressive voices that sort of punch at you.

I like the pacing of sentences and paragraphs to be rhythmic, playing off the rhythm of the plot and scenes. A good portion of the characters should have emotional arcs.

I love complex plots. I love tightly woven, interweaving subplots. I love beginnings and middles that hook like crazy to ends and middles.

image I love books that sweep me onto a roller coaster ride. I love bigger than life heroes, mythical heroes, who make sacrifices that just make you want to bawl your eyes out.

I love to be inspired at the end. I love a sort of book that makes me feel like I can conquer the world when I'm done reading it. I love a book that manages an "epic" sort of feel, without getting bogged down with too many words.

Okay, so what's your "perfect" novel like? And which book has come the closest, for you? Have you tried writing it? Oddly, I don't believe I have.

28 bonus scribbles:

Barrie 12/19/2008 01:17:00 AM  

Have you read The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler? I thought that was really really well crafted.

Stewart Sternberg 12/19/2008 06:34:00 AM  

I am not sure there is such a thing as perfect novel, but might I nominate a terribly good one? "The Great Gatsby". I read it for the first time this year and was astonished. It deserved all the hype it had garnered through my highschool career. I marvel that I avoided and missed reading it through my life. But this, this is what a brilliant work of writing is, carefully layered with all manner of subtext, unobtrusive symbolism, compelling characters, etc.

Robin 12/19/2008 07:46:00 AM  

I suppose I must reveal how simple minded I am, with this answer. I love a great love story with a bit of sex, maybe some magic, and a happy ending. My brain is history. Gonzo.

Lately I've been enraptured by Juliet Marillier and her love story/magical series about the picts in England, chasing out the Gaels (with a lot of magic, of course).

I also really liked "Green Eggs and Ham".

Kath Calarco 12/19/2008 08:12:00 AM  

Simply, the perfect novel for me was Christopher Moore's "A Dirty Job". It has his usual quirky humor, but also dealt with a touchier subject: approaching death - no "walking toward the light" or "seeing life pass before your eyes." Without giving away the plot, I'll just say he shed a more accepting light on dying.

Janna Qualman 12/19/2008 08:50:00 AM  

Oh wow, I think it would be so different for everyone. And I'd have to give it serious thought to narrow down my needs for the perfect novel. It's a great question!

Amy Nathan 12/19/2008 08:56:00 AM  

It IS a great question. For me it's all about the characters. People I can believe and believe in.

I love Jane Austen. I love Margaret Atwood. I love Jennifer Weiner.

I wonder how one would combine them all?

spyscribbler 12/19/2008 09:16:00 AM  

Barrie, I haven't, but I saw your message last night and downloaded it. Wow, it sounds great!

spyscribbler 12/19/2008 09:18:00 AM  

Stewart, I read it in high school and was bored to death. I completely agree it's a well-crafted book, but the story itself bores me. I just don't connect.

But after you've raved about it a few months back, I did download it to my Kindle. I do want to read it again!

Melanie Avila 12/19/2008 10:06:00 AM  

Two books that stand out that I didn't want to end were White Oleander and The Poisonwood Bible. And Memoirs of a Geisha. I like stories that are real and could happen to anyone, but that are written SO WELL with such deep characters that you don't want to let go.

My current wip is kind of my attempt to write that. I think that's why I'm a little disillusioned right now. Of course it can't come out perfect on the first draft, but I have very high expectations.

Edie 12/19/2008 10:41:00 AM  

There are too many perfect books for me to pick one. I love the variety of books and would be bored if I read the same one all the time or the same style or the same genre. If I were pinned down, I'd say a book that made me laugh and cry. But if a book makes me smile, I'll love it too. Or a book that keeps me turning the pages to see what's going to happen next.

StarvingWriteNow 12/19/2008 11:49:00 AM  

Lord of the Flies.
Gone With The Wind.
Silent in the Grave.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The Gift of the Magi.
A Room With A View.

I also have loved Evelyn Waugh's stories. And Ernest Hemingway. And DH Lawrence.

kathulhu 12/19/2008 02:54:00 PM  

I blogged my answer, it was just too long to leave in a comment :)

Anonymous,  12/19/2008 07:47:00 PM  

Nah. No such like with writing my perfect novel either. Not sure why, though I think it has to do with mine having too many elements to count. So, I just use a few here and there and hope I've chosen the right ones to make the story fit.

If I could have Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Louisa May Alcott, and JK Rowling all rolled up in the same book, I'd be set. ;-)

Lisa 12/19/2008 09:36:00 PM  

I think we can always find fault if we go looking for it. But why look? Looking for faults takes the enjoyment from beauty of what works.

Susan Helene Gottfried 12/19/2008 10:40:00 PM  

Perfection's overrated, my friend.

Btw, I owe you e-mail. I'm not blowing you off; I've been sick. (I made the Tour Manager post on my own blog for me last night!)

spyscribbler 12/20/2008 12:27:00 AM  

Hey, guys, apologies... I won't be back online until Sunday, so I'm sorry to sort of leave all your comments hanging.

I have this spontaneous urge to give you guys a hug. Thanks for hanging out, for letting me think out loud, and for giving me so much more to think about.

And thanks for the company, too. :-)

spyscribbler 12/20/2008 08:53:00 PM  

Robin, that's not simple-minded at all! I love a story exactly like that, too. I think Susan is right: perfection is overrated. If I had everything I wanted, all put together, it probably would spoil it all. Kind of like having broccoli and chocolate together, or something. :-)

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 10:44:00 AM  

Kath, I've always looked at his books, but never picked on up. They've niggled at me, though. I think I need to check this out!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 10:44:00 AM  

Janna, isn't it? It's probably undoable, LOL. One of those unattainable, romantic strivings!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 10:45:00 AM  

Amy, I think Susan is right... combining might kill the magic. I'm with you on the characters!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 10:47:00 AM  

I loved Memoirs of a Geisha! Such a great read, and I just loved the main character. I haven't read those other two books, although I've been told to repeatedly. I have to try them!

PS: I'm atotally rooting for Mateo!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:54:00 PM  

Edie, a book that makes me laugh and cry sounds like a perfect book to me! :-)

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:54:00 PM  

Writenow, I haven't read DH Lawrence in forever, but he used to be my favorite writer. Him and Thomas Hardy!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:55:00 PM  

Kathulhu, I loved your blog answer! :-)

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:56:00 PM  

LOL, Marcia! You made me think about that. Like I said above, I love brocolli with water chestnuts, and chocolate. Together? Not so much, LOL!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:56:00 PM  

Lisa, GREAT point! You are so right. I try not to look, but sometimes, it's hard not to see, when you're in editing mode with your own stuff, so often!

spyscribbler 12/21/2008 04:57:00 PM  

That's so true, Susan! :-)

Travis Erwin 12/22/2008 04:46:00 PM  

Richard Russo's The Risk Pool came mighty dang close to perfection for me.