Saturday, December 12, 2009

The unforgettable and the unwritten

Toni Morrison famously said that if the book you really want to read hasn't been written, then you'll have to write it yourself.

No, it's not as easy as she makes it sound, of course. But I think there's a lot of truth to it. Many times I've experienced a faint disappointment with an otherwise entertaining story - a feeling that I might have preferred a different ending, or another middle, or else I would have changed the fate of the antagonist, or the protagonist's past, or another character's principal weakness, or what-have-you, in order to make the story more satisfying. I'm pretty sure we all feel like this sometimes, even though we might thoroughly enjoy the story while reading it (or watching it as a movie).

And I think this is the difference between the story that is entertaining, but ultimately forgettable, as opposed to the story that stays with you forever.

I do realize this is a matter of taste, but to me, some of the elements of an unforgettable story are: a protagonist that is likable and good, a hint of mystery, a plot that reveals layers and secrets and surprises, danger of the world-changing kind, but also friends and safe havens (fantsay fans, think of the safety and cameraderie of Elrond's house, or the cosiness of Gryffindor House) and then, a happy ending with justice served and no loose ends. And even with all of these things present, there has to be a certain story magic that brings it all together. That is the story I want to read.

If only I had that story to read today! Or, as Toni Morrison says, if only I would just write it.


  1. I like you bringing up safe havens. I'd never thought of it that way, although I think I've done it subconsciously. But it's a good element to keep in mind.

  2. I like stories that tie up loose ends too, Diane. I don't mind being left on a cliff edge if I know they are going to be tied up in a sequal, but I hate it when the novel just peters out into nothing and nothing is resolved. It seems such a waste of effort to have read it then, doesn't it. And I fel rather deflated!

    But I'm not sure I could write a novel that would be published, so there before the grace of God go I! And hats off to those who have got a novel published - I salute you.


  3. Like you, I like reading about a protagonist that is likable and good, but I really enjoy books that have a more “realistic” protagonist.
    I like the protagonist to be more than just the good guy: good, but with a bit of broodiness. I want to see the protagonist grow and become a better person because of the struggles they face, those struggles coming from within him or herself.
    I want to know about the great efforts they go to, as they try to figure out who they are, or why they do the things they do. Sometimes it’s the struggles we face within that allow us the best opportunity for greater change, and for me, a better read.


Join the conversation, add insight, or disagree with us! We welcome your thoughts.