First, before I start my blog, I want to say that I put up chapter 23 for Empty Altars. I hope you enjoy it.
That said, I want to confess that for years, when someone read one of my books and wrote a review that it was a “fast, easy read,” I was disappointed Now, just to be clear, I’m happy with any good review I get. Reviews aren’t so easy to come by. But most of my goddesses of writing, authors I put on a platform above mere mortals, write layered, complicated novels. Each one of their characters struggles with something. The odds of the protagonist finding success look slim. Every page is heavy with emotion or meaning. And the writing itself is dense, the language rich. I read these more slowly than usual to savor each word, each nuance.
But, I also have to admit that I read far more books that entertain me and keep me turning pages because I’m having a good time. If I wait till the end of the day to read, I want something that makes me relax. I want . . . a fast and easy read, something light. That doesn’t mean the writing’s sloppier or simpler. Not so. There just aren’t as many subplots, as much angst. Usually, there aren’t as many words. The story can be told in fewer of them. And the characters aren’t as flawed.
Deeply flawed characters demand more time to develop. It takes me as a reader longer to decide if I like them, despite their shortcomings. There’s usually a backstory that explains how they became who they are. For fast, easy reads, brush strokes can suffice to give us a feel of a character. But the more that character struggles, the more he falls and gets up again, the more we want him to succeed.
I can give an example of two of my favorite writers. Alice Hoffman, in my opinion, writes serious, heavy books. Even Practical Magic has an undertone of angst. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical. And everything is touched by magic–literally–the protagonists are witches. I read her slowly.
I love Sarah Addison Allen’s novels every bit as much. They’re not fast and easy, but they’re lighter. Her books are tinted with magic, too. There’s an apple tree in the garden that throws apples at anyone it doesn’t like. And her writing’s poetic, lyrical. She creates wonderful characters, but there’s an underlying sense of possible joy that lurks on the pages. I read her more quickly.
I think it’s possible to write a book that’s a fast, easy read and has depth. For me, depth comes when an author evokes emotion. To evoke emotion, the reader has to care about the characters. There has to be enough conflict that the reader worries the characters will succeed, (if it’s a genre that’s known for happy endings), but at too great of a price.
These days, if a reader writes that she enjoyed my book and it was a “fast, easy read,” I’m fine with that. If he/she spent an evening enjoying my story, I’m thrilled. And if she fell in love with my characters, I’m ecstatic. I’ve come to appreciate fast, easy reads. They have a charm of their own.