Friday, February 18, 2011

Realistic Plot and Characters - Black Creek Crossing by John Saul

What I'm writing: Working on editing In the Shadow of Olympus, plus working on a YA Dystopia short story and doing a major headdesk because I can't come up with a suitable story idea for the last week of Y2K
What I'm reading: Black Creek Crossing by John Saul
What I'm knitting: I'm stalled at the moment.

In an earlier blog I touched on the need for a realistic ending (in regards to the wonderful novel, Ender's Game - which absolutely gave a great ending). In reading Black Creek Crossing by John Saul I'm getting more and more amused by the inconsistencies throughout the whole darn book. I'm about half-way through and I'll finish it because I care enough about the two protagonists to see how their story ends, but I find myself chuckling at the bad grammar and inconstant plotting and characterization to find the book at all scary.

I'll believe in any world an author creates as long at they are consistent in their handling of that world and can justify their plot points. Witches - Sure! Ghosts- why not? Aliens who look like goats, smell like dogs, and talk like humans - Convince me! In fact, I love to be convinced, to get sucked into an alternate reality and not question its existence. Brilliant stuff!

But then there are books like Black Creek Crossing. I remember reading something of Saul's when I was a teen and liking it, so when I saw this book at a used book sale, I figured I'd give it a go. It's a fast-paced, engaging read.... except when it isn't. Here's what I mean: it's hard to stay engaged when the author writes one of his characters out-of-character, or uses a plot twist that just doesn't make sense in the context of the story - it pushes the reader right out of the tale and back to reality.

A couple of examples:
One character, the father of one of the protagonists, is a son-of-a-___. He's alcoholic, verbally abusive, borderline incestuous, and arrogant. His wife and daughter are justifiably terrified of him. So why is it that he's in a drunken rage and when his wife yells at him to clean up his mess, he bows his head and does as he's told? Um... no idea. It's a good example of a character being so completely out-of-character that the reader is tossed out of the story. I would have expected him to backhand his wife, or to scream and stomp off to pop a top again... but not go clean the kitchen!

As for plot inconsistencies: There's a cat in the novel - a black witch's familiar type cat. (and this next part is spoilerey enough that if you plan on reading the book - which I highly don't recommend - you probably shouldn't read the rest of this paragraph). The cat is shown to be able to get in and out of locked rooms, closed closets, etc. It's not explained how - but that's okay because it runs true with the mystery of the book. The cat even attacks three antagonists (teen boy bullies), making them think kitty is going to kill them, that they'll surely bleed to death from the inflicted scratches (or have their throat torn out - can a house cat tear out the throat of a teenaged boy???). Of course, when the attack is over, there's not a scratch on them. Anyway, the three aforementioned boys trap the cat in a backpack and smash him against various hard surfaces to kill poor kitty. The thing is - if kitty can magically morph through walls, can appear and disappear at will, why can't he get out of a nylon rucksack? I need that justified. And from what I've read so far- it isn't.

Don't get me wrong - I know why Saul killed the cat off, I just don't agree with the gaping plot hole that was his way of doing it. He killed poor kitty off to advance the plot, because if he didn't he'd have to find another reason for the protagonists to begin dabbling in witchcraft (they bring the cat back to life with a bit of water, a few drops of blood, grave dirt, and tears - who knew it was so easy?? Not even an incantation needed.).

Writers always need to find that spark that moves a plot forward - the crisis that causes the hero to lash out at the dragon, but, darn it, that spark better be believable. It takes thought, and planning, and second-guessing, and rewriting, but really, even the most crazy sounding plot point can work IF it's justified and within the character's motivations. Like I said before: convince me! Please!

There are also spots of shabby writing and grammar errors that I won't touch upon.

And finally (and I bet you thought I'd never stop ranting), most of the characters in the book are cookie-cutter. They're either evil or they're good - they're not fallible humans trying their best. There are horrible abusive fathers, spineless mothers, sadistic bullies, and shrinking victims. All black and white -not a single shade of gray.

So that's my take on making plot and characters either believable or unbelievable.

Now I'm wondering why the heck I'm going to finish reading this book!!


  1. You've convinced me, Amy, that I'm not going to read this book. You make me realize just how much I have to learn about the craft of writing. I learn so much from your posts. You should be a teacher, you know! The things you point out as flaws in this book make me wonder if I'm aware of such blatant "no-no's" in my own writing. When it's time to edit my book, would you be available? Great post. I enjoy reading everything you write.


  2. Hi Jackie,
    Yeah, I definitely wouldn't recommend it. If you can believe it, it only got worse as the end drew near. *shudders*

    I'm glad you like to read my blog - it helps me feel like someone out there is reading! :)

    I will absolutely be around to edit your book when it's time.