Something in the Way (They) Move (Me)... Attracts Me Like No Other (Writer)

Saturday, February 18, 2017
Not too long ago, I read Beth’s post on censorship. She wrote of books that nudge our thinking, that move us. It made me think of the work that moves me… and it made me think of my mother.
Mom and I both enjoyed John Grisham’s work. For me, it was my “fluff” stuff. Entertaining. Easy to read.
After she read The Chamber, my mother said, “I hate that book!” I was flummoxed. I had devoured it. Loved it.
“I hate it, because I ended up liking that KKK guy.” Inwardly, I smiled. Gently, I tried to explain that that’s what great writers do. They try to make the unlikeable characters likeable—at least a little. Authors (at least good ones) make it their mission to create characters the reader can relate to, in small ways, with words that fill in the gray instead of just the black and white.
Reading Beth’s words made me think of the words and images that have moved me in powerful ways.
Alan Paton’s book Too Late the Phalarope moved me. Probably the first novel that made my mouth gape open, wowed by the power a writer has. His novel of one family’s unraveling because of apartheid saddened me beyond measure.
It’s been decades since I first read it, and I still go back and reread it. It’s that good.
Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns is also a book I’ve read multiple times.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by William Golden, took me into a world that was completely foreign to me… made me glad that—for the grace of God, I didn’t go there. So did the documentary Born into Brothels. Zana Briski opened up the world of prostitution in Calcutta, where girls who are barely teens have no choice but to follow in their mothers’ footsteps.

All this mind-talk about moving a reader also made me think of a draft I shared at a writing retreat five or more years ago. It was a short story I’d categorized as fictional but in reality, it was all about me and it was all true garbage that was going on in my life.
All bile spewed out, all black and none of the white.
The editor who headed the retreat—Britton Gildersleeve—read it, and said, “I hate this character.” We had a conversation about it. Nothing about the character made Britton sympathetic. Nothing made her relate to the character.
Did I have the courage to say, “That character is me”? No way. But I learned.
Our job as writers is to create characters who’re painted in shades of gray. All good or all evil, all kind or all cruel… that's either boring or makes us unable to relate to them, and it’s also not what people are really like.
And if we can move the reader out of their comfort zone, if we can nudge their thinking along with presenting characters our audience can connect to?
Well, that’s just gravy.

What are some books or movies that moved you? Still-amazed-minds-after-all-these-years want to know...

Sioux Roslawski is a writer who's humbled by the power of words. When she's not devouring a novel, she's either teaching (middle-schoolers) or parenting (not too much these days) her two grown children, or spoiling her granddaughter, or rescuing dogs for Love a Golden Rescue. To read more of her stuff, go to her blog.


Margo Dill said...

The Native Son is a book that moved me--it was the first time I thought murder is more complicated than we think it is. Before this, I was death penalty all the way. . .

Currently, I am watching House of Cards--although I am not a binge watcher so I am somewhere in the middle of season 3. Anyway, my point is Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey's character) is actually quite awful (if you haven't seen it), but I like him and I root for him in the show. Why? Probably because he seems to love his wife and is played by one of my favorite actors, but still he is ruthless and awful, and I like him--good writing and good acting there.

It's hard, but when I teach novel writing, I always tell my students that they have to give their villain some redeeming quality. It makes the book more interesting.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I haven't had the chance to get into "House of Cards" but I will at some point. Kevin Spacey fascinates me, every time he appears in a scene, and I've heard such good things about it.

(And if you haven't watched "Breaking Bad," you should start right now. It is the best show I've ever seen. The writing. The plot. The cinematography. The acting. It has it all. You end up rooting for meth makers... for most of the series.)

Anonymous said...

For me, the book that changed my life was Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. A heartwarming story of undeniable love between a brother and sister pair of dogs and their boy and how life can irrevocably change our lives forever.

I was a rather difficult child after foster care, psychologists, and adoption, I still was lacking in certain social etiquette and graces. While this book didn't teach me any of that, it did teach me about love, something I thought I would surely have to live without or live with a false representation of the emotion after being shuffled from house to house. It made a young, unreachable child feel again. It broke and renewed my young tender heart and paved the way for more opportunities.

Despite being a grown woman, mom of a teenager and a toddler, wife, and more, Where the Red Fern Grows was and will continue to be my favorite book for what it accomplished for me.

Val said...

The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck. When O-lan kills her second daughter at birth, I had to forgive her, because she really had no other choice. I felt sad for her, too, when Wang Lung brought his mistress, Lotus, home to live in O-lan's house.

Sioux Roslawski said...

CK--What a poignant recommendation. It IS a wonderful book, but your connection with it is so much more powerful than my connection.

(And thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.)

Val--It's probably been over 30 years since I read "The Good Earth." I should reread it. I went through a Pearl Buck phase and read every book of hers I could get my hand on. Thanks for the reminder of what a great novel it is...

KAlan said...

"Making unlikeable characters likeable has never been done so powerfully, in my opinion, as in "Time's Arrow" by Martin Amis (sp?) It took a risky and unique narrative structure to achieve it, but left me questioning the core of my value system.

Sioux Roslawski said...

KAlan--I will have to check that one out. Thanks for the recommendation, and also thank you for stopping by.

Mary Horner said...

A book that moved me was The World According to Garp by John Irving. The reader is plopped into world with all these not-so-normal characters who turn out to be as normal as anyone else. It made a big impact on me when I was a young English major and had been forced to read a lot of the classics. My own world had been turned upside down as a young woman, and this book changed the way I looked at writing and the world. I know this is not a typical answer, but it had a big impact on me.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--That book--and that writer--also had a great impact on me. You reminded me of it, and it struck me the same way. Crazy things happened, but they seemed so ordinary, presented the way Irving wove them into the story.

Renee Roberson said...

I've read so many books that have moved me, but the most recent one was "All the Bright Places," a contemporary YA novel by Jennifer Niven. A boy and girl meet on the top of the bell tower at their school--both struggling emotionally for different reasons, and the dynamics of their relationship were so beautiful, and heartbreaking, that I find myself rereading certain passages over and over again. After reading that book, I can finally understand what it must be like to live with bipolar disorder, from the highs and the lows and the description of the amazing things the brain can create during one of the high periods. I cried for hours after the end, though. :(

Sioux Roslawski said...

Reneee--I will definitely have to check that book out. (I love books that make me cry. Weird, I know.)

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