Recently, I was reminded of the best Halloween I remember growing up. As a rule, I pretty much hate Halloween. I don’t like anything scary. I don’t like to be tricked, I’m not a big candy eater, and the costumes of today are too ridiculous for my taste. However, there was a great year, back when I was about seven. (notice, I have on a sweatshirt… we are both wearing gloves… it was freezing cold in Minnesota. I was a little mad about the sweatshirt, but I still felt lovely!)
Meredith was a cowgirl and I was … Belle from Beauty and the Beast. I remember it well. I had the idea in my head, and so Belle I was. I didn’t have a special yellow dress imitating the dress she wears in the movie. Simply feeling beautiful and believing I looked like her was enough. Don’t get me wrong, I think the costumes that are an exact match are cute, too. But I think there’s something special about a kid who smiles, knowing who they are for Halloween, whether or not anyone can guess it.
And believe it or not, I’m going to relate this back to reading a good book.
When I read a great novel, I automatically put myself in a character’s shoes. It’s perhaps WHY I get so wrapped up in books.
Here’s my list of books I could not finish:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Blindness by Jose Saramago
Room by Emma Donoghue
Why? Because I had nightmares. Yep. All three of these books (just to name a few) gave me nightmares… horrible, wake up shaking type nightmares, therefore I couldn’t finish them. I sought out people who had braved it ’til the end and made them tell me the ending. I couldn’t stand the thought of being on the road, afraid for the life of my child… afraid that I would be captured and eaten by cannibals. Going blind is probably my greatest fear, and while reading that book I had a nightmare that Meredith went blind, awful things happened, and I could do nothing to save her. Don’t even get me started on Room. I thought about it night and day. And for these reasons, I think these books are great. They are too good. They were so real, I believed I was there. It got into my head. I became the character in so many ways, and that created a world that I didn’t want to be in.
The same goes for books that I can finish all the way. That list is way longer, thank goodness!!
When I read Grapes of Wrath, I felt as if I were Tom Joad, or at least felt comforted knowing he was by my side through the journey to California. I felt I had lived in Greece and had a very strange upbringing when I read Middlesex. My stomach churned and I seriously doubted the people around me as I sat and read The Bell Jar. I cried at the end of Of Mice and Men, because I felt that I had been taking care of Lenny right alongside George.
As a writer, I hope to always place the reader in the story. A good friend of mine once read the first draft of my first manuscript… she gave it back with critique. She had written on the third page in, “Remember how it felt to read Harry Potter? We know Hogwarts. We’ve been there. Make the planet resonate with me in the same way… I want to be there, not just read about it.” That critique changed my writing. I realized that instead of telling, I had to show. We’ve all probably had a teacher give us that advice, but what does it really mean? It means that instead of saying:
I like the desert because I grew up here. My house is great. I don’t think I ever want to move away.
I could say:
The cactus growing in my backyard is enchanting. I have no doubt in my mind that New Mexico is rightfully named “The Land of Enchantment.” In the spring flowers bloom, which always surprises me. Flowers on a prickly cactus? When I still lived in Minnesota I never would have believed it. There are windows in every room where I live. The view changes daily, because the birds are always different and the sunset is never the same as the night before. So many people I know say they can’t wait to get away. Not me. I could live here forever.
By the way, that last paragraph is entirely true!!
What book did you dive into, almost literally? What character did you relate to so strongly, you felt as if you’d been walking in their shoes? Which authors do this best? I’d love to know!