I’m writing this while they’re still counting votes after the election, when tensions are running high on both sides and the entire country could use a little something (non-liquid) to calm them down.
The best choice for readers is what might be called “gentle books,” straightforward tales of ordinary people in mostly every-day, low-key situations. No psychotics, no wrenching twists, no gore, no vampires or werewolves or demons.
Often comic, sometimes inspiring, these sorts of books were popular from the thirties right through WWII and into the sixties. Gentle books – the work of Angela Thirkell, D. E. Stevenson, Elizabeth Cadell, and many others – offered readers well-written, character-driven stories that reminded them of their own lives. Gentle books continued to thrive through the sixties and seventies with Miss Read, James Herriot, and others. Garrison Keillor and Alexander McCall Smith are among those who carry the tradition on today.
But don’t be fooled by the familiar settings and characters of these books. They are notoriously difficult to write well. It’s just too easy to sink into either banality or saccharine gooeyness – what might be called Hallmark Holiday Special fiction.
One problem is that the sources of tension available to you are, by definition, gentle. It’s easy to keep readers on the edge of their seats when your characters are trying to escape horrible deaths or fending off the destruction of the world. It’s a lot harder to keep readers interested over whether Bertie will be able to escape saxophone lessons or James Herriot will be the one who receives a cocoa tin full of goat droppings to analyze for parasites (considered an honor in Siegfried’s practice). Yet readers need to care enough about such minor, everyday problems that they will want to keep reading and will feel satisfied with the conclusion. [Read more…]