There are many Radio 4 shows I love but I am especially fond of Desert Island Discs. My only problem with it is I would want to take at least 8 books with me to the fictional island, as well as the pieces of music. Since I can’t arrange that, I thought I would share what I love most about stories and list some of my favourites.
One of the first things I pack when getting ready for going on holiday is at least one good book (I also take The Good Book but that’s another matter!).
A good story, whether it is a full length novel or a shorter piece, stays with you long after you have finished reading it.
Writers are lucky here as if it is their story. They get the pleasure of writing it (and reading it first!).
Stories, for me, count as good if the characters are memorable and the plot gripping. I like them even more if there are lines I can recall and which make me laugh. My favourite is from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Other signs of a good story are:
You can’t put it down until you have read it through.
This is especially good as I had seen the fascinating documentary and already knew what happened! The book is a great read.
The Youtube clip below shows a brief interview with Phillipa Langley.
If you are unlucky enough to have to stop reading it through first time, the second you are free of whatever called you away sees you back to reading the story.
One thing I love is the way Legolas, the elf, and Gimli, the dwarf, go from being sworn enemies to good friends throughout the three volumes.
The suspense of the novel(s) kept me reading, particularly as Frodo becomes worn down by his responsibility as the Ringbearer and how he turns on Sam, his faithful companion. I kept those pages turning as up until the last minute as the menace of Sauron does not go away. Would Frodo and Sam be destroyed by Sauron after all?
Having a soft spot for trees, I also liked the March of the Ents and Treebeard.
Peter Jackson’s film trilogy was a wonderful cinematic experience for me and it was as if he was putting on the screen the scenes I’d seen in my head while reading the book. It is one of the finest book to film adaptations I’ve seen. See the Battle of Helm’s Deep once and you won’t forget it.
My parents went to New Zealand to visit family as The Return of the King, the last film, came out and they proudly went through the “hobbit” aisle at Wellington International Airport. There were also aisles for “orcs” (how many went through that I wonder?) and “wizards”. Given my family are not very tall, there really was only the one aisle they could use.
You simply have to tell others about it.
The ending isn’t necessarily happy but it is appropriate for the tale and memorable. Reaper Man by Sir Terry Pratchett falls into this grouping for me.
You feel as if there isn’t a word out of place.
There is nothing that could be added to the tale. Equally if anything was taken out, you would feel that something was missing. The hard work to get a story to that state of readiness is incredible. I don’t count the drafts I write for stories and novels but it is several.
You are very pleased if others read the tale and share your views over it.
Equally if you have written the tale, you are thrilled with the good feedback it generates.The story can be a short piece, flash fiction or a novel but whatever the length of the tale, it is right for that tale.
The story takes you out of your surroundings for a while.
This doesn’t just apply to fantasy and/or science fiction (where other worlds are taken as read, literally).
Whenever you re-read the story, you feel the same way you did the first time on finishing it. On re-reading the story, you pick up things you missed first go round and those things add to the depth of the tale.
For me, this applies to anything by Terry Pratchett. I never spot all the subtle gags on the first read. I know on the first reading, I didn’t spot all of the clues in, say, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (probably my favourite of her novels).
You appreciate the more subtle aspects of the character and plot.
(particularly on re-reading when you are more likely to be looking for these).
For writers, you appreciate the efforts behind a good story whether it is your own work or not.
For work which is not your own, you play the “Guess how many edits it took to get to this stage” game!
You can quote significant pieces of the tale at will.
Which are my top 3 favourite stories.
It’s difficult to limit it to just three stories but I think mine would be The Lord of the Rings, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Pride and Prejudice.
With the first two, I love the depth of the world building, indeed the worlds the stories take us to and that good triumphs over evil eventually. (I think this is one of the most important themes in writing).
Pride and Prejudice for me is the high point of ironic, funny writing and that is so difficult to get right. It could also be argued all three books come under the fantasy banner! (And I’m not referring to that image of Colin Firth, ex-Barton Peveril, emerging from the lake in the BBC adaptation, honestly!). Pemberley for me is as far away as Narnia or Middle Earth (though admittedly it’s easier to visit a stately home that could be said to represent Pemberley!).
My top 3 favourite funny stories
I’ve got a problem here as my instinct is to name most of the works of Terry Pratchett and P.G. Wodehouse and list Pride and Prejudice again.
To vary things, my nominees for this category are: Reaper Man (Pratchett), Uncle Fred in the Springtime (Wodehouse) and The Code of the Woosters (Wodehouse). Again these books are wonderful for taking you into a completely different world.
I’ve always admired Jeeves. I was introduced to Wodehouse’s World thanks to the Jeeves And Wooster adaptations starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. I loved this so much I went and joined the P.G. Wodehouse (UK) Society.
My favourite story format
My favourite format is the paperback and Sir Allen Lane of Penguin is the man behind them, wanting to bring good reading to a wider populace in a cheap and attractive form.
Which format do you prefer? I have read stories on Kindle (via PC) and this was fine but I don’t think you can beat the physical book. It’s far less expensive to replace if you drop it in the bath for one thing. And it is easier, I think, to try before you buy thanks to our wonderful library.
Our ancestors told stories around the fireside in dark, damp caves. We have the luxury of printed stories, a comfortable armchair (or bed to read in) and we can take our favourite tales with us in different formats. We are lucky.
And stories have their uses besides entertainment. They can educate, warn and, in some cases, be subversive. I think the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example of this. Jesus’s listeners at the time would have been surprised, shocked even, at the idea there could be such a person!
To all writers out there, what are you working on at the moment? Short story or novel? Why have you chosen this form?
So what are your top 3 stories? Separately, what would you have as your top 3 funny stories?
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 31st July 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
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