Group of children sitting on the grass reading...

Sometimes you find a novel (like The Year of the Rabbit by Flo Lyon which I’ve just finished reading) so  satisfying and gripping it makes you laugh and cry. You want to tell the story over and over again. You adopt, lend and share the book with others.

Why did it affect you and me that way? How did the writer ensnare you and make you care so much by using only words?

Colm Toibin gives some clues in an article he wrote in the New York Sunday Times entitled What Is Real Is Imagined and I’ve added my two bits’ worth:

1. Source: The novel-writer is communicating from nervous system to nervous system, not just from brain to brain.

2. A Shape takes possession of the author‘s mind; it is the god-given shape of any good story. As a human being, you (the reader) instinctively know what this pattern is. Nothing less will satisfy you.

3. Expectations: The opening words and setting scoop you up on a wave that promises an unknown, exciting voyage. It buoys you up, surges forth, zigzags backwards and sideways, and finally casts you out onto the shore of  fulfilled expectations.

4. Cadence & Rhythm: Not only words, but also cadence and rhythm are in the author’s kit. The  writer composes and conducts this inner music. It communicates emotion, atmosphere, attributes and action. The pace is fast and steady; no one could get bored.

5. Characters are believable and make the story engrossing.  The writer’s raw data is personal, in spite of saying, “all characters in this book are fictitious…” The shape pushes the author to select and create whoever is needed to fill its unerring demands. Real people are combined, lose or gain traits and are renamed. The characters of great books live on forever in people’s lives. Sera in Lyon’s book reminds me of Anne of Green Gables.

6. Plot: The story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Half-way through, all the main characters will intersect. Three-quarters of the way on the climax is reached. Then the denouement (tying up loose ends) rushes to a resolution. The book circles back to its starting shelf but you face ahead, feeling renewed.

7. The Theme stands out in the title and is repeated throughout, focusing on the book’s purpose, course and the meaning designed for you.  Lyon chooses a universal theme of fate, family and forgiveness.

8. Style: A good novelist respects words and readers, who  are turned on by clarity, richness and care. Errors, wordiness and over-explaining get the boot. Shorter words replace longer ones. Awareness of precise meanings and derivations and changing the word order make sentences say more with less.

9. Depth: Some writers get you deeper into the story by inserting real events and social issues. Soon you’re identifying with someone who faces problems similar to your own and absorbing information that becomes part of who you are.

10. A Setting  comes to life if the author knows it inside out or else constantly consults a resident.  I spent many weeks of my early summers around Muskoka and Georgian Bay so Lyon’s beautiful portrayal of the landscape was very nostalgic for me.

The easier, more pleasant and delightful the book is to read, the more work the craftsman has put into it. Your joyful appreciation is the writer’s reward.

Check out the blog of  Theresa Jamone, a writing club colleague of mine who uses the pen name Flo Lyon, to learn more about The Year of the Rabbit.

Thank you for spending your precious time reading this post. Please browse around top and bottom and, if you like, comment.


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