Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Gene Doucette's IMMORTAL revisited

In January 2011, I posted an analysis of Gene Doucette's novel IMMORTAL.  At that time, it had gathered a nice sized readership and was still growing in popularity and even controversy. 

At the time I wrote the analysis, some months prior to posting, I asked his permission to dissect his work in public and use it for a writing lesson.  Being a professional, he consented, and I sent him my analysis.  He sent me a response which I then set up to post right after my post on his novel. 

He noted these posts on his own blog and website -- and several of his fans leaped in to add commentary, all of which is absolutely fascinating and worth reading.

Note that I did not, in the body of my post, "review" IMMORTAL.  This is not a review but a nuts-n-bolts analysis that should be taken in the context of my previous writing-lesson posts.  My post was not a criticism of the novel (that would have different content).  My post was an analysis aimed at Romance writing students. 

I could not capture or articulate all the important points about IMMORTAL in this one post, and so recommend all writing students (regardless of genre specialty) read this novel, make marginal notes and come back years later to study it.

Here are the direct URLs.

My analysis of IMMORTAL. 

Gene Doucette's response:

Each of these links will take you to a page with the comment-discussion at the bottom.

Note, if the colors make it hard to read, you can highlight everything with your cursor and get black text on white background.  The blog-owner may still have issues with the color scheme.

So, on Gene's post, one of the comments is from Angela who was curious about what I meant by "couldn't put it down."  Another was from Mike, who observed how easy (and interesting) it is to get caught up in a secondary character's story and make it your own. 

I set out to answer as a blog-comment, and well, you all know I don't write short.

So my answer has become this blog post, scheduled for March, and there are several reasons for that.

First, while these 2 posts were being discussed, Gene Doucette mentioned to me that he was still in the process of determining how commercially "successful" IMMORTAL would be.  I think that was after I had noted that I felt it would do wonderfully well as a feature film script, and he answered that he had that in mind. So I wanted to wait a few more weeks to see what might develop.

Second, I did recommend students read the novel, and didn't want to continue the discussion until they'd had a chance to do that.

Third, meanwhile the subject came up on a #scifichat that a "Star Trek-The Love Boat" mashup would be something to avoid at all costs -- which spawned the sequence of 7 posts from Feb 15th to March 29th, 2011.  Oddly, that dovetails with the discussion of IMMORTAL but most specifically with the aspect of commerciality. 

Fourth, on a #scriptchat I think it was, there was a discussion of the 4-quad script and the virtues of the 4-act structure as opposed to the 3-act structure Blake Snyder favors. Taking "4-quad" to refer to the 4 demographics a film must capture to be an "opens everywhere" film, (by age and gender), which speaks directly to this issue of how intensely Gene Doucette's fans respond to the novel IMMORTAL as opposed to how wide the potential market for IMMORTAL might be.  (size of market vs. cost of production). 

Fifth, I do have an example of a self-published book as strongly crafted as IMMORTAL but in a totally different genre.  It is not, however, readily apparent to me how to make a writing lesson out of it -- all I can do is point and say "write like that" Carol Buchanan's GOLD UNDER ICE is on Amazon (read it; we'll talk about it's Tarot underpinnings)


So I still have a lot more to learn from Immortal.  I want to see the screenplay!

So go read or re-read the posts and comments on IMMORTAL linked above, and here's my answer to Angela and Mike who commented on Gene Doucette's guest post.


As a writer, I enjoy things in a story that are not the same as what a reader enjoys. 

I read and analyze at the same time.  It's a rare book that forces me to suspend analyzing for structure, beats, character motivation, theme, etc etc, the moving parts of storytelling.

IMMORTAL was not of that kind for me.  But it is, precisely, that kind of book FOR OTHER KINDS OF READERS. 

And that's what kept me reading.  I saw this book through the emotions of others, not myself.  That is what it means to be a writer reading to learn the craft.

Reading stories becomes very non-personal, and the reward, the payoff, the zing at the end comes from the craftsmanship used to entertain that readership to which you do not belong. 

It is such a "high" to get outside your own head, to go where you yourself could and would not go, that seeking that high becomes the point of reading stories.

All addicted readers do that.  It's part of what it means to be a reader.  Readers seek to be "transported" into imagination, to places where things are "different."

IMMORTAL has proven, through its loyal readers, to have the level of craftsmanship behind it that I did see upon reading it.  The spirited response to these two posts shows clearly that I was right about this book.  It's special. 

But what kept me turning the pages was the promise that I had in my hands the exact book I'd been seeking for years while writing this blog about Hybrid Romance Writing Craft.

This is the book that illustrates these points - and I read a lot, believe me.  I also get a lot of beginning writer's manuscripts where I have to explain to them why it won't sell (explanations that have been drilled into me over years in the publishing industry).

I know this stuff so well, so subconsciously, that I'm inarticulate on the subject and can't get my point across to students without an example.

IMMORTAL is the perfect example, and I seriously believe that all those aspiring to sell Romance novels of any type, especially ALIEN ROMANCE, need to read and reverse-engineer this book for themselves.

I do not ever mean to imply there is "one and only one" way to write, to do the Art of writing, and by no means am I defending "the publishing industry" and the standards by which working editors at the mass market imprints choose books to publish.

If you have read most of my entries on this blog and the more technical teaching-blog editingcircle.blogspot.com you have to know how I am following and interpreting the changes in publishing due to POD and e-books.

You must have noted how I keep returning to doing futurology on publishing using the tools I'm illustrating in the writing craft posts.

If you've followed these blogs, surely you've browsed through my professional review column and noted that my personal take on the world is that, contrary to the Great Wisdom of true sages, I see the world as complicated, not simple.

As I see it, there are no "simple" answers.  But what I do in these writing craft posts is focus up close on a single strand, or a tiny pixel-sized light, in the overall pattern I'm seeing, and try to give you the "hex-number" for the color of that pixel.

Armed with that information, the writing student can use that color code to enhance the richness of color in his/her own compositions.

Get enough of these color-codes into your toolbox, and you can create images in your reader's mind in three dimensions.

There are thousands.  It's very complicated.  There are more "right answers" than "wrong answers."  In fact, there are only a few "wrong" ways to write a story.  That's why it seems there is no rule that can't be broken.  But there really are some. 

When you can bend and twist the "right ways" to look like something new (a craftsmanship level beyond most working professional writers) you can create something like IMMORTAL.

My students may never be able to duplicate the feat that Gene Doucette pulled off here, but I do want them to understand how he did what he did, and how they can do it too.

Mike: Does what I've said here show you why I didn't "lose myself" in a supporting character, and that's why I found this book fascinating and worth discussing?

By looking at a piece of writing in multi-dimensions, you discover the adage of all stagecraft, "there are no small parts."  There's no such thing as a "supporting player."

Marion Zimmer Bradley also taught me something she'd learned from her teachers: "The Villain Is The Hero Of His Own Story."

When a story is well written, all the characters are Heroes with Stories.

On Star Trek, they introduced "The Holodeck" as an entertainment center, the next step in fiction reading is to step right into the 3-D story and participate, make decisions that direct the plot, act and react.

Why is that such a natural thing to understand?

Because all readers already do that, using cold text! 

The writer's challenge as an artist is to get readers to step into the story and walk a mile in the moccasins of one of the characters (any one of the characters the reader chooses).

Gene has achieved that with IMMORTAL -- for his targeted audience, very specifically, very exactly, very precisely. 

Therefore, this work is worth studying.

We'll talk about Carol Buchanan's novel GOLD UNDER ICE next week.  And I think there will be much more to say about all this. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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