Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Good Lesson Reaffirmed

John Grisham recently proved that, when it comes to writing a novel, good characters and a good story can redeem a ton of sins. The book in question is Playing for Pizza, a novel about a third-string NFL quarterback, Rick Dockery, who literally throws away the big game, killing all hopes for his team’s shot at the national title. When the Cleveland Browns turn him loose a day later, his agent’s phone starts ringing, only it’s other teams telling the agent not to waste their time—they don’t want him either. Fate turns Rick’s life around, though, when his agent contacts a coach in desperate need of an NFL quarterback. One problem: the team is located in Parma, Italy. Throughout the course of the story, Rick has to rediscover who he is. He also has to answer questions about what he really wants out of life.

From a writer’s perspective, this book held many broken arrows in its quiver, and at times I questioned whether to finish it or to put it down and move on. First, Grisham relied too much upon the conjugated forms of the verb to be. Then, with long narratives describing how certain foods are prepared and how the Italians eat their meals, the book often felt like either a thesis for a master’s program or a travel guide. While regurgitating research is acceptable in some formats, in a novel it can create a disturbing sense of authorial intrusion, jarring the reader from his fictional dream.

Still, I never threw the book away. Instead, I turned page after page until I reached the end, where a satisfied smile pulled at the corner my lips. And why? Grisham accomplished what many writers strive for—he wrote a good story with relatable characters. As we’ve all heard or read before, there are no stories without characters, and while readers may forgive a ton of errors, bad grammar among them, they won’t forgive a boring story with un-relatable characters. In Playing for Pizza, the person of Rick Dockery captivated me. With each new challenge, I wondered how he would resolve the problem, and I found myself cheering him on.

So, my hat’s off to John Grisham. By writing a good story and diving into the lives of the characters, he kept this reader engaged. A good lesson reaffirmed. I only hope I can do the same for my readers.

On to other news:

This last week, my good friend, Paige, bestowed a nice gift upon me: The Super Peeps Club. I consider myself truly blessed. For those of you who don’t know Paige, she has two wonderful blogs. First, you can see life as she sees it, literally, at her 365 Views By Me blog. You can also read about her life, her experiences and observations, at Paradise Valley 2...Hell's Mountain.

According to Paige, this award goes to other bloggers who have made an impact on your life. To pay it forward, then, I would like to grant the award to the following:

To Greta Igl, who has been a great friend and writing buddy. Because of her, I have learned much about writing, like digging for the deeper issues behind the stories.

To Carol Benedict, whose informative blog constantly touches upon things writers need to know when crafting stories.

I only regret that my good buddy John Towler doesn’t have a blog yet. John has been a great friend and sounding board along the way.

And while the next couple of writers are still new friends to me, I think they have noteworthy blogs for you to visit.

First, you might want to check out Paul Brazill, a new friend on the internet. He’s an amazing writer from the other side of the world. His site is informative as well as a nice portal to his work.

Then, you might also consider Cynthia Newberry Martin. Her blog Catching Days is also a nice mixture of life experiences, literary observations, as well as a portal to her writing.

Finally, April is now just a few days away, and my novel is calling out to me. Next month, I plan to sit down to work through my first revision.

Until next time…


  1. Solid post. Have faith in the writer. And congrats on the Super Peeps -- a truly honorific society!

    Peace, Linda

  2. I'm honored to be one of your super peeps, Stephen. Thank you.

    Liked your assessment of the Grisham book. And I agree that compelling characters can save an otherwise mediocre story, just like unsympathetic ones can sink an otherwise sound ship.

    Can't wait to see how you get through a round of revisions in a month. If you pull it off, you'll have to let us in on your secret :)


  3. Great review and lesson for us all.

    Dude you are awesome!

  4. Good point about the characters. Many times, I have considered giving up on a book because the plot fizzled out by the end of chapter one or each paragraph averaged 2 grammatical errors (I majored in English at school), but I didn't. Why? One of the characters. Maybe it was the good guy, maybe the bad guy, maybe a combination of both, but a character nonetheless. I had to know--had to find out something, anything, so I completed the book and you know what? It was okay. I never felt like my time was wasted because that character carried the story from beginning to end. Someone I wanted to get to know and someone who reminded me of someone in my life.

    Terrific post. Something I could literally relate to.

  5. Linda: Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

    Greta: You're right. I probably won't finish the first revision in a month. As you're aware, it took more than a month to write it. I expect it'll take just as long to go through the revision.

    Paige: Thanks for the "awesome" comment. Your check is in the mail. ;)

    Joyce: I totally agree. When the character draws you in, the story never feels like a waste of time.

  6. Thanks for the award, Stephen.

    I agree with you on the importance of relatable characters. I can overlook a lot as long as I enjoy the characters.


  7. Stephen, I appreciate the mention here and have enjoyed once again visiting your blog. I need to come back more often. Cheers!

  8. Thank you for stopping by, Cynthia. I'm honored that you did.

  9. 財富並非永遠的朋友,但朋友卻是永遠的財富。..................................................

  10. Translation to comment by 葉雅慧:

    "Wealth is not always the friend, but a friend is always a treasure."

    How true.

  11. Curious, I was sure I'd left a comment here already.
    Thank you for the nod and reward, Stephen. I always enjoy reading your latest literary efforts.
    Good write up on Grisham's book. He's one of those writers who are reliable enough that I'll usually read him. But the difference between Painted House and King of Torts is like night and day. Hard to believe the same guy penned both.


  12. John: Your comment must have been lost in cyberspace. I never saw it. And you deserve the nod. You've been a great friend and resource along the journey.

    Your mention of The King of Torts brings back good memories. That was a well-written book from cover to cover, both in the writing quality and in the story.