Since Darling feels so badly lately we took some time off from television and movies and I read the dystopian Hunger Games Trilogy to her. I actually started reading that when she went in for her biopsy, early in this cancer saga. Having heard high praise for the series, I decided it would make good reading material. The Hunger Games was a bad choice. Though it is a great story, reading about piles of delicacies while Darling was awaiting tests, having fasted for twenty hours or so, was a definite miscalculation on my part.
Still, we thoroughly enjoyed the series, and followed it up with the five-book Overlander series by the same author, Suzanne Collins
Both these stories made me wonder what it is that creates a compelling adventure for the reader. What elements must we, as authors, include to entice them to turn page after page, to spend hard-earned money on the written word?
On the surface these books are not that similar. Written for young adults, though, you can see that the main character is younger than most. Like in the C.S Lewis The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series, a young reader can find a comfortable match with at least one of the main characters. That's important. We need to have a main character that the reader can relate to. If a reader can't directly relate to the character, they have to wish they could be the character. There is nothing profound in that discovery.
As I've always taught (given the chance) the main characters are thrust into situations where their principles are compromised and they must reconcile the conflict, both externally and internally. At the end of the story the protagonist must grow into someone greater than they were at the beginning of the story. There is almost always an element of "coming of age" involved in a good tale, regardless of the age of the character or the audience.
Redemption is a good element. I'm not sure what I mean by that, but to go to the brink of your own demise and come back as a better version of yourself - well, that can make a good story. If you lose yourself, it might still be a good story, but it becomes a tragedy.
A lot of good stories take us to a different world. With Gregor the Overlander we went to a world beneath New York City, separated by an almost magical barrier from his own world. With C.S. Lewis the characters are transported through a wardrobe or other magical means. With Katniss, the world is similar enough to our own that we can see the likeness, the dim reflection of the shadow of an alternate reality. The world of Panem is different; Katniss does not start or return to a world similar to ours. Still, we are given a strong mechanism to use in a story: start the reader in their own world and whisk them away to another. Burroughs does that with John Carter, Pellucidar and even with Tarzan. (Though I love the books by Burroughs, his main characters tend to be too complete and perfect right from the start.)
Now that I think about it, there isn't anything profound about that discovery either. Very few stories keep us in our own world, but they must have a link, a compatibility with the world we live in.
I canned pickles, jalapenos and serrano peppers the other day. I expect great things from them in about three weeks, and I'll let you know, either in a new post or in the comment. The cucumbers and peppers were fresh (a few days old perhaps) from a local Farmer's market.
That was a different world, and I really liked it.