My summer vacation is over; I’m back once again in my little house, sans grandchildren. The rewrite will soon be underway on Julian Lackland, thanks to my intrepid beta readers. This manuscript evolved over ten years, and several old writing habits still embedded in the earlier sections have come to light, little writing crutches long gone unnoticed. They will be dealt with by using a global search, and examining each instance, then either changing it or leaving it.
I also have a wonderful novel on deck for beta reading, written by a fellow Myrddin author, Marilyn Rucker. When I’ve finished with this amazing book, I have one more beta read for a member of my writing group lined up before the end of summer. After that—it’s NaNoWriMo Prep Season!
The novel I took to the beach with me was “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Australian author, Liane Moriarty. The book details the experiences of nine people booked into an exclusive Australian health spa, and three members of the staff.
Moriarty’s characters are immediately engaging. I was sucked into their world in the opening pages. In fact, I hated setting the book down, wanting to know everyone’s dark secrets, curious as to what led each one to book themselves into that very unusual health spa. Structurally, it’s a bit jerky, and the ending is a series of short infodumps, but it works. By the time I reached the startling conclusion, I looked forward to the informational epilogues just because I didn’t want to let them go.
Moriarty introduces us to The Cast of Characters by opening with Yao and his experience as an EMT and introducing us to Masha as she suffers a heart attack.
The story picks up ten years later when nine people meet at an exceedingly remote health spa that promises to change their lives and completely transform them in ten days. The recommendations by their friends and the reviews they have read are glowing, but none explain how the transformation will be accomplished.
Each guest arrives with secrets and personal reasons for wanting to be remade into something better that what they believe they are. Masha is later revealed as the benevolent antagonist, and Yao has become her disciple.
Liane Moriarty’s characters are so compelling because, at the outset, she establishes each as an individual and endows them with a mystery. Immediately the reader is hooked.
- Each character is a “fish out of water,” in that they are immediately thrust into an unknown and possibly dangerous environment.
- Each character projects an obvious surface persona, but early on, cracks reveal glimpses of weaknesses and fears; the sorrows and guilts that lie beneath their exterior personas.
- As the unusual rules become clear, each is angry and afraid, yet willing to continue because of what they hope to gain on a personal level.
- Each of the characters’ stories combines and connects to make a larger, powerful story of transformation.
So, what did I learn from reading that novel? I had a reaffirmation of sorts—the reassurance that no writer is able to follow every writing group rule and no book that does would be worth reading.
Moriarty’s novels often end with info-epilogues, showing me that every writer has habits that are technical no-noes, but which are part of their creative process. It reinforces my belief that good writing and great characterization engages the reader and overcomes a few minor defects.
This is not permission to use lazy writing habits. Slapdash writing is jarring and interferes with a reader’s ability to sink into the book.
In the first draft, we spend a lot of time trying to convey our story and characters to a potential reader. Sometimes a shorthand of sorts is necessary for the first draft to help me get the right pacing or the note an insight into a character. But that can backfire if I’m not vigilant in weeding these crutches out in later drafts.
One of my personal habits is the tendency to rely on certain words when a good description eludes my creative mind. Good beta readers help us by spotting when the words and tricks we use consistently become jarring.
Melding character arcs with the action…reaction…action flow of the story is crucial. Moriarty’s narrative was smooth and easily readable. Only an experienced writer or another editor would notice what I did. And, as this little bunny-trail habit is a trait I’ve noticed in all her books, it can be assumed it is part of her style of storytelling.