Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Makes a Novel Memorable by Victoria Chatham

Our topic for July is: What makes a novel memorable? For me, it is the characters every time, no matter what the genre.
I have my preferences, of course. I mostly read historical romance, and then western romance (historical or contemporary) and anything and everything in between. I rarely read science fiction, fantasy or inspirational. Not that I haven’t, those categories just don’t come high on my list of preferred reading
My most favorite and memorable historical characters are from Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance Frederica. Freddie is such a managing female! And really, any heroine in any genre has to be a bit out there for me to be engaged. I have read many books where the heroine has been TSTL, too stupid to live, and consequently I have consigned her and the book she appears in back to the shelf.
Heroines in any genre or era need to have some element of courage in their character. Whether it is standing up to their families or the mores of their society, the more courage shown by a character in standing up for what they want or what they believe in, keeps me reading. Wimpy heroines need not apply.  
Snappy heroines that immediately come to mind, after Frederica, are any of Jane Austen’s leading ladies. Okay, I’m probably giving my age away here but I don’t mind. Of more recent years there’s been Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum and Tami Hoag’s Elena Estes, also Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
My heroes have to be strong, too, but they can be strong in different ways. Lord Alverstoke, Frederica’s nemesis, is everything a Regency hero should be. Something of the bad boy in his youth, but an athletic, muscular figure whose place in society gives him a great sense of self within the propriety of his era. That he gradually falls in love with the aforesaid managing female makes for a delightful character arc as his views change.
Another of Tami Hoag’s characters, Lucky Doucet, is almost an anti-hero. A war-damaged vet,  Lucky retreats to the dark bayous of Louisiana. Even though he’s chosen to live this way, he still manages to help people where and when he can. Love leads to Lucky making his way in the world beyond the bayou with an unexpected and satisfying twist at the end of the tale.
Though they are two very different types of character, the one suave and elegant and the other very physical and damaged, they both held my attention. The more empathy I can feel for the characters, the more I can identify with them then the more real they become to me and those are the books I have no problem returning to again and again.
Do the characters that mean the most to me reflect elements in my psyche? Maybe. Those characters are people that I would like to meet and spend time with, characters whose values and experiences I could imagine sharing with them as I would a good friend, might—after all—be just like me.
See what other authors in our Round Robin group have to say on this subject:


16 comments:

  1. Victoria,
    You can always be counted on for a thoughtful take on the subject. We both appear to agree that character is the most important thing in creating a memorable book. Stephanie Plum and Lisbeth Salannder were great examples, being so different, and both truly memorable.

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    1. What a lovely compliment Judy! Thank you.

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  2. I have an old copy of Frederica on my book shelf. What I like about Heyer's stories are the female characters are strong, intelligent women, but the historical surroundings, mores and manners are followed. So often in today's historical romance novels they are not. By the way, I just finished His Dark Enchantress and enjoyed it!

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    1. So pleased to hear that you enjoyed His Dark Enchantress. The second book in the series, His Ocean Vixen, is now available. I agree that many of today's Regencies don't follow the niceties and I sometimes wonder if that speaks more to marketing than anything else. I'm sure there are many readers who are not familiar with the Regency world as we know it and maybe those authors are simply writing to their market.

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  3. Interesting post. I'd forgotten about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I loved that book and the characters still resonate with me.

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    1. When I first read it I kept thinking there was something wrong as it all seemed like backstory. Then when I hit my stride I couldn't put the book down, nor any of the subsequent titles.

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  4. This is an excellent point: "The more empathy I can feel for the characters, the more I can identify with them then the more real they become."
    I agree.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Dr. Bob. Looks like all of us have similar views on this.

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  5. Loved your post, Victoria, and your list of strong female characters. I'm a big fan of Georgette Heyer's novels. I haven't ever read any Tami Hoag. I have a big list of books to try from this Round Robin. Thanks for the recommendations!

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    1. Yes, the list of potential reading is an unexpected bonus. Now to find the time to read them all. Sigh.

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  6. Hi Victoria, Lisbeth Salander is certainly memorable. I'm currently treating myself to a re-reading of GH so I'll get onto Frederica next. I think you're right - it is basically character one remembers although some new fiction, such as The Memory of Love, evokes a time and society in a memorable way. anne stenhouse

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    1. Twice in my life I have had a complete GH library. I gave the first one up when I came to Canada. I gave the second one up when I planned to return to the UK. That didn't happen and I regret passing those books on. However, I'm gradually building my e-list of GH books, but this time my favorites first!

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  7. Victoria, you make me want to pick up a Regency romance! I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of reading one. I completely agree with what you said about wimpy heroines. It irks me so much when push comes to shove, the male goes "This is man's work, I'll handle it!" and the girl/woman fights a swoon and agrees. Your point about needing empathy for the characters was spot on as well. :)

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  8. There are so many good Regencies Rachael. Hope you enjoy one when you do get to reading one. The other side of the not-a-wimpy-heroine is when the heroine tries to be too much of a man. I've read those too and thought how unrealistic they are. Learning to find that happy balance is crucial.

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  9. Vixtoria, I'd forgotten about The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I loved that book and (now could I have forgotten) Georgette Heyer's novels. Loved your post.

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    1. Thanks Connie. I think this topic has generated a really good conversation.

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