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Author, advocate, designer, mental health advocate and parent. 

Of literary merit

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Of literary merit

Jan 7, 2011 | Personality, Writing | 2 comments

Aci Castello - The edge

Image by ciccioetneo - long exposures lover via Flickr

What makes a story good – or great?

It’s a question that gets bandied about a lot in class – I’ve been studying creative writing for the past four years and it’s been one of the ‘biggies’ that gets posed to us.
And while many have looked at the mechanics, the use of language, and application of plot, character, tension and more, others examine the interactions and relationships and the subtext in the plot.
There are lots of elements listed that make a story good – but there’s one missing.  Passion.

The importance of passion and involvement that your reader gains from a story – the passion that you invest in a story, no matter how dark.  And I’m not talking passion, as in enjoyment, necessarily – but the passion for telling the story itself.
As a writer, I’ve always found that the most difficult part of it all is to share the underlying story itself.  The elemental *thing* that makes up the seed that creates the idea that made me write it in the first place.  There’s a passion there for the story itself, no matter how grim, no matter how beautiful.  And I think that’s what makes a good story – the investment of the author into the piece that creates the sense of ‘reality’ and substance within the piece.

I have a hard time with that, simply because the subject matter I choose to write tends to be very dark- being passionate about the darkness and the things that go ‘bump in the night’ makes people very wary of you (like the ‘Merry go round’ escapade).  I know there have been occassions where both my best freind and finacee and other very close freinds have said that what I’m suggesting is just warped and that I should stop now, before people think I’m being serious.  I’ll be talking about that more later in the month I think, when I get round to explaining why ‘I’ doesn’t mean ‘me’, but it’s important to highlight this.  Just because I can put myself into very dark places doesn’t mean I’m some nut job serial killer – or that because I wrote erotica for a while that I’m some kind of mad deviant.  It just means my brain tends to do wierd things with the world around it – and that I’m well suited to my vocation, which is writing.  And that’s what literary merit boils down to.  Getting published is about luck – literary merit is about being passionate, lucky or not.

What do you think?

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  1. -10

    If Lolita can be considered great, and in my opinion it is, then I don’t think any level of darkness in fiction is an issue. People may get uncomfortable, but isn’t that a part of a good novel depicting things which are dark or awkward? It’s *supposed* to make the reader uncomfortable, because they’re immersed.

    • Kai

      I think Lolita is an amazing work of FICTION. And that’s important to emphasise, because ultimately, whether the Nabakof turned out to be anything other than a good writer (specifically for Lolita, I haven’t read anything else of his, even the retrospectively post death release) then it’s got nothing to do with how I approach the novel.
      One of the private comments I got suggested that ‘the problem with fiction’ is how can ‘a person’ tell if it’s ‘real’ or not. It’s odd though, the same person that asked me that can believe just about anything they read on the news. I don’t understand the unquestioning blindness on one hand, but the instant beleif that the story she’s encountering is real and true and *has happened* somewhere, other than between the ears of the author.


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