READ LIKE AN EDITOR: A MONTHLY BOOK REVIEW
Welcome to a new series in which I review the best book I read all month and use that as an excuse to offer editorial advice! As a writer, I feel like I am constantly learning new things from the books I read, whether it’s a lesson on what not to do or something I wish to use in my own writing. After all, we are collages of our favorite artists, so let’s look at my favorite book for June.
June is a pretty easy month for book reviews because, well, I only read one book in June. The book was pretty hefty--about 500 pages and so incredibly detailed that I had to spend time soaking up each page as I read. Here’s why I didn’t mind taking all month to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern:
The Night Circus tells the story of two magicians, Celia and Marco, who must compete against each other in a traveling circus that is only open at night. Both of them have been trained for the competition since they were young, and neither of them know who their competitor is until they meet face-to-face and fall in love. The story is a Victorian fantasy that lets you watch the circus and competition unfold throughout the course of about a decade. It is slow moving and, quite frankly, lacks a plot (as so many scathing reviews have pointed out). I’ll admit that I was afraid to pick up the book in fear that the bad reviews were right. Turns out, they were right, but they were also wrong.
The Night Circus is a perfect example of a book with characters and atmosphere that are developed enough to replace a substantial plot. Not all books need the sort of plot that involves rising action, a climax, and a resolution; but, if you’re not going to take your readers up that standard mountain of action, you need a good substitute. The Night Circus has a list of characters that show us their perspective of the circus (the story is told from a third-person omniscient POV, which makes it feel like you’re hopping in and out of the characters’ minds). As a result, you feel a deeper connection with the characters and the circus with which they are involved in some way. Additionally, the story is so richly detailed that you feel like you are in the circus yourself. Morgenstern touches all five senses when she describes a scene, which is the best way to go about describing anything when the story starts to feel flat. When you are connected to the characters and the setting like this, you don’t really need all the action. This way, the story feels more intimate, and it takes your breath away at several points rather than at the climax. It makes you ache in ways a story with a standard plotline cannot.
If you’re looking to read and/or write a fast-paced book with a lot of action, it goes without saying that The Night Circus may not be for you. For those who love a good slow burn and are looking for some inspiration, this is your book. That being said, it’s okay if the story you are writing is not something thrilling and action-packed, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Just because mainstream media promotes explosions, dystopias, and sex does not mean your work is worthless otherwise. Focus on your characters and your setting; make them so rich, complex, and intertwined that your readers get lost in them. There is no formula to writing, only some blank space and a new world to create.