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  • Writer's pictureDonna Norman Carbone

Lost in Story: From the perspective of reader and writer

Have you ever read a book and, although it doesn’t have a sad ending, you were sad that it ended? That’s how I measure a good story, one that immerses me from beginning to end. I get so lost in the characters that they feel real, as if they are telling me their story.

Long before I became a serious writer and reader, I loved watching movies. Some of my old favorites include The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, The Way We Were, Love Story–the list is actually rather long. It wasn’t until I realized how captivated I was by story that I found I could revisit them, therefore prolonging my relationship with these characters, by reading the books these adaptations were based on. Thus, began my passion for reading which eventually took off in an entirely new direction, one not necessarily based on books with film adaptations.

Stories serve as both an escape and opportunity. For me, I can sit snuggled up at the corner of my sofa or on a beach under the hot sun and get lost in another person’s reality in both familiar and unfamiliar worlds. Well-developed, connectable, authentic characters and a richly developed setting are what hooks me.

I remember reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and being swept away by both the descriptions of the daily routines of the Geisha (from dressing to makeup to etiquette) and by the lush landscapes.

Every time I read a Dickens novel, I find myself rooting for the underdog (and there always is one). Dickens’ work reflects the realities of society during the Victorian era. He always makes a statement about the class differences, often the underbelly, of London. His description of the city has my eyes peeled because he captures its steel essence, the antiquity of it, and I’m transported.

Opportunity arises in my ability to take something away from the reading, whether it’s visiting a new destination or learning to understand the choices of people that I don’t encounter in daily life. The YaYa series by Rebecca Wells sucked me into the Ya Ya foray, acquainted me with New Orleans culture, and made me feel deeply for Vivi even though she is every bit the antagonist as she is the protagonist. Likewise, The Hours by Michael Cunningham delves deep into mental health as it parallels the lives of three women, Virginia Woolf from 19th century England, a women in 1950s American suburbia, struggling with her life choices as a wife and mother, and another in contemporary-day New York who is trying to keep her world from crumbling. Not only do I like to escape into a new world, I welcome new learning and new understanding about the human condition.

As a lover of language, I study words and the construction of them. I play with words. I string different words together in various sentence structures to alter their meaning. I feel their meaning live beneath my skin. Take this quote from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”: I could talk about this quote and its meaning for days. Fitzgerald is a master of language--fluid, poetic language. After reading his novel in high school, and almost yearly as a teacher, its meaning morphs based on my own lens and current circumstances, often taking on a different meaning for my students who don't, yet, have the life experience I have. It’s always interesting to me that something static, as a book, can take on different interpretations based on the reader’s station in life.

From the writer’s perspective, getting lost in the story takes on a different form. Naturally, I consider all of my expectations as a reader and try to create complex, authentic situations so my readers can connect to character and place. While I read plots as seamlessly woven, particularly in the books I hold in most high regard, a writer needs to craft in a very calculated manner. Threads need to connect. Continuity must exist. Development and growth is essential. When I’m writing a book, I get lost in the story almost as an obsessive behavior. My characters live and breathe through my fingers, my thoughts, even my dreams. When I’m in the writing zone, I constantly revise, adding and taking away, to capture exactly the essence I want to portray.

As a writer, I’m sad when I finish editing a book because I know the story can no longer live in my head. It lives on the page, the words static. But hopefully, readers will bring their repertoires and expectations and emotions to reading my work to make it breathe for them. I hope my readers become lost in the stories I have to tell.


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