Balloon Animals

I just finished reading A Dangerous Age by Kelly Killoren Bensimon and it really made me think about characterization and story structure and subplots. In a nutshell, the book is about a group of women who are are all facing their own issues and the main character is trying to keep her marriage together (or, rather, figuring out if she wants to try to keep it together), texting an anonymous admirer and trying to track down an elusive quasi-celebrity in the NYC scene. 

I didn’t particularly like the characters: the dialogue, their high-society problems and the way they all talked about each other. However, I love the way the author braided together the MC’s issues, threading them throughout the entire book and dropping hints in scenes when they’re out clubbing or doing yoga or eating take out. While I thought I knew who the admirer was and what was so special about the person she was trying to locate, I didn’t quite know. It was enough to keep me guess– and reading. 

Writers talk a lot about plots: how to plot, should you plot, is it better to wing it, storyboards, outline, Scrivener, napkin notes, etc. While subplots are mentioned, I don’t think they’re always successfully executed. I get such a thrill when the story has an element that reminds me of a good mystery, like a trail of breadcrumbs from beginning to end. 

What I want, really, is for reading the book to be like wathcing a clown make a balloon animal. I see the balloon blown up and tied off and then the twisting starts. It starts with a leg, then two legs, and then I think wait- is one of those legs a tail? More twisting. Probably a funny face from the clown for a distraction. Then another flick of the wrist and what I thought was a elephant is now a seal balancing a ball on its nose and I think “yes!”. I’ve been amused, entertained, made to think I knew what was happening and then pleasantly surprised. Of course it was a seal– didn’t the clown make all the other balloons into sea animals? There was also a corny joke I missed about how he “really better seal this balloon up tight”.

I want a story like that. I want the author to bring their best every time. It’s also the type of story I’d like to deliver. Every time. Which is why I’m working hard on my novel, slogging away at a rewrite and trying to make the characters genuine and the plot interesting. I hope it’s engaging and lets the reader get lost in the story so that they read two minutes over their lunch break at work or burn the sauce because they forget to stir it, book in hand as they make dinner. I want them to be anxious to get to the end to know what happens but sad to finsih it because they’re enjoying the story.