Friday, February 26, 2016

The Extraordinary Ordinary
Storyworld, whether we escape via reading or writing, is a magical place in a familiar yet unwalked dimension. As much as we like to paint these beautiful broad strokes outside the lines there are, in fact, boundaries that confine us. See, that’s the thing about fiction (okay, most fiction—Fantasy, Paranormal, Speculative aside). It has to find a believable root in reality. People want to read about characters they can relate to. Characters who, despite being different than you and me, come alive on paper and walk a path we can understand. We become sympathetic to their plight, we fight, we root, we cry, we ride off into the sunset as if becoming someone else for a few hours of make believe.

We re-live falling in love another way. We overcome loss we’ve never known. We find strength we never had to have to survive.

But do we walk away inspired? Entertained? Unaffected? Changed?
There are times when stories can become too . . . ordinary. Okay, that sounds kind of harsh but it’s true. You survive the journey and you move on. You may have chuckled here and there. You might have riled some enthusiasm for a happily ever after, but ultimately you close the book and say, “Next.” Or, “Well, those were hours wasted.” Or even, "Wow, I'm so glad that's not my life!"

Why? Where is that sweet spot of believability and fantasy?

The magic in story doesn’t simply lie in the escape but in where it takes you. I have read books that took me to a dark place, and even despite a happy ending, left me there. I have read books that putter along very safely on cruise control, but never change lanes at high speeds, never once let the wind chase through the open windows or never dare to mash the pedal to the floorboard. Stories that could just be any combination of beginning, middle, and end.

For example, I'm a very safe driver, of course, I usually have little blonde passengers, but I gotta tell ya, I get pretty stinking excited about a high speed chase or a joy ride on the back of a motorcycle on the page. Not because it's impossible or totally far-fetched. But simply because it's currently beyond my reality. And my comfort zone. But in storyworld, I'm free to experience it without consequence. I'm exhilarated!

But more often than not I find myself wondering...Where is the charge? The spark? The insatiable page-turning force?

The thing, yes I’m still talking about that elusive “thing” is what makes the ordinary extraordinary. The things that makes us cling to the pages and live vicariously. Stories that, despite the struggle, let us enjoy the entirety of the journey. Few stories have actually changed me. Stories that gripped me so deep in my own reality that I still walk through those pages from time to time without even opening the book.

I know you were hoping I had the secret formula… well, I don’t. Sorry, don’t storm off. The truth is, the sweet spot is different for everyone. It’s precisely why one person loves a book another could barely tolerate. And frankly, I’m happy we have a variety for the simple pleasure of finding that perfect match between reader and story that turns ordinary words into something extraordinary inside you.

Have you ever read something extraordinarily ordinary? And what ingredients do you add in your writing in hopes of achieving this beautiful balance?


Amy Leigh Simpson writes Romantic Suspense that is heavy on the romance, unapologetically honest, laced with sass and humor, and full of the unfathomable Grace of God. She is the completely sleep deprived mama to two little tow-headed mischief makers, one pretty little princess, and wife to her very own swoon-worthy hero. Represented by the oh-so-wise and dashing Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary Inc.


kaybee said...

Good morning Amy.
Good points. I had an agent regretfully reject the piece I'm shopping around because it didn't grab her and keep her reading. That is such an elusive quality, yet we're nothing without it. I just sent a book by a multi-published Christian author back to my local library because I couldn't put it down, because I couldn't pick it up in the first place. And this person has won every award except the Nobel Prize.
The first Christian fiction that gripped me, and the gold standard I go back to, is the Thoenes' "Zion Chronicle" series. I was stunned at how God could use ordinary people in extraordinary times (the birth of Israel!), and I wanted to do something like that.
The piece I'm shopping around now is an Oregon Trail story and that can be tricky, because so many writers have done it and I'll never be Jane Kirkpatrick. On the flip side, though, there were hundreds of thousands of people who made that trek, and each one had a story, so I just needed to find mine. WHICH IS (drum roll? snare drum? a lone chopstick tapping on the table?) an impoverished young widow joins a wagon train as a cook and discovered the scout is the man who betrayed her several years before. And they are stuck together for 2,000 miles of travail.
Good post, off for weekend, will talk to the Alley Cats on Tuesday.
Kathy Bailey

Casey said...

I love story world. It's one of the best parts about reading a story. One of the best story worlds I have read was Beth Vogt's Catch a Falling Star. I really felt I had stepped into Kendall's world and saw it so clearly through her eyes. It was one of the most natural examples of story world, without feeling like it was tacked on as an after thought. I'm still learning how to create my own worlds like that. :)

Angela Ruth Strong said...

I have become sooo picky, but I just read a soon-to-be-published story by Heather Woodhaven about a book club that decides to live like characters in their books by forcing themselves to try new things. I laughed, I cried, I raved to everyone I talk to, and I don't want to pick up a new book yet because I'm still enjoying the memories of that one. I wish I could tell you the title, but she's still working on the name. I suggested "Paige Turner." Anyway, good post. So true.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

So glad to meet you, Kathy! I feel like any story idea COULD sound ordinary, it's all in how you weave all the little pieces together. I'd fight for your story idea. No one can tell it like you. Best of luck!!!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Casey, I love it when that happens! The best example for me is Francine Rivers A Voice in the Wing and An Echo in the Darkness. I swear I walked through the streets of Rome with Hadassah every step and even since. It truly changed my perspective and my walk with God in the most amazing way. Truly extraordinary!
And of course, I love Beth too! She's pretty spectacular!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I'll have to keep my eyes open for that one, Angela! Sounds amazing! And I love it when I get that excited about a book. It just doesn't happen very often. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Oh, and your ears may have been burning. Betsy St. Amant ending up chatting very fondly about you for a few mins at acfw. I don't even remember how it came up but you're awesome. Just so you know. :)

Anonymous said...

Love this. <3 A balm to my spirit.

Pepper Basham said...

You are such a tease!

And I'd beg to differ on the 'fantasy' statement. Even within the fantasy, there has to be relate-ability! The story world can be totally wild and crazy, but whether it is in Middle Earth or New York City, I have to find some relate-ability between SOME character in the book, right?
Frodo? Sure. Lucy Pevense (Narnia), oh DEFINITELY! Luke Skywalker? Sure!

However (because I KNOW what you're talking about), and I desperately wish you have all the answers!! What makes the story stick? I guess that's why there are so many books and so many genres. Different things work for different people. Like shoes!

I can think some are ADORABLE, but I'd never wear them because (#1 - I'm terribly clumsy) and #2 - they're 'not me'. They can be made well, lovely, and affordable, but they're not my style or practical.

In some ways stories are like that per reader, but in another way a very good a very good story - and there is a nugget of gold within those 'very good stories' that make them meaningful. Like you said, relate-ability is the key, and feeling like you are not only observing but participating.

My 25 cents ;-)

Pepper Basham said... one more thing:

Laura Frantz.
Yep, she creates a story world that I LOVE EVERY TIME!!!


Krista Phillips said...

Oh yes! LOVE this post, Amy!!!!

I definitely agree that Francine's Mark of the lion, especially the first two books, were utterly amazing. I tried and I yelled and I was so engrossed in the story, that I felt everything the characters felt.

I LOVE that.

I also agree that it is definitely subjective. I HATE coffee and LOVE dr Pepper. I know a lot of coffee drinkers would look at me like I was out of my mind. I just think the stuff tastes nasty.

And there are some books that have a similar ucky taste to me. Just not my cup of tea--er coffee.

But still, we want to write so we can be SOMEONE's cup of coffee, or can of DP. :-)

Robin E. Mason said...

sometimes it's the whole premise of the story, sometimes it's s single line within the story that grabs me, speaks to me, speaks *of* me. i have read the few that don't pull me in, rarely do i abandon a story (has to be really awful) but i find some sort of truth in all the ones i love most—and there's so many of them!! like when fall fades.....

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Sometimes it's s single line or premise or truth for me too!!! Totally! Aww, lady! You sure know how to make a girl blush!!! Hugs, sweet friend!

Unknown said...

The beautiful part of writing is the ability to take that 'ordinary' and make it extraordiary. Oh, I hope I always remember that!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Me too, Pep!