Post by Mattias Bergman
Ideas. Are ideas what makes novels truly great? If so, then how? I’ve been increasingly pondering that question as I study some of the great classics of literature. We focus so much on POV, on characters’ “voice”, on scene-setting, on witty dialog. All of these are necessary, to be sure, but are they what make a novel stand apart?
Does anyone remember the vivid settings of the Grand Inquisitor, for example, or quote the snappy banter of Anna Karennina?
So let us postulate that we need an idea — the over-arching human question that we explore in our stories.
But, ah, this is February — the month of Valentine’s day, and by extension, the month of romance.
So, for the modern novel, do we need not only ideas — and of course POV, setting and dialog — but also romance? If there are male and female characters in our novel, do they have to fall in love? Or perhaps fall apart from one another?
The pressure is on, but there are exceptions. In the Da Vinci Code, for example, the author follows religiously (pardon the pun) the notion of a direct descendant of Christ, *without* the need to have her fall in love with her “rescuer”.
I hate to say it, but I deplore many of the so-called historical novels that take a fascinating period of human history and reduce it to a mere bodice-ripper. Yet they sell.
Take as an example a series of novels I am writing concerning ex-patriate Norse in the Byzantine empire in the late 10th century. It is a truly pivotal time and location, with the future of European and Greco-Roman civilization at stake. The novel explores questions of belief and destiny, and whether one should make personal choices that can have profound impacts on the lives of thousands of others.
Ideas. Big ideas.
But do I need a romance?