Friday, February 5, 2016

Nicholas Sparks – A Writer to Remember


I first met Nicholas Sparks through the pages of A Walk to Remember. The poignancy that permeated the story seemed so real that it hardly felt like fiction. Then I learned it wasn’t fiction in the truest sense. His protagonist, 17-year-old Jamie Sullivan, was inspired by his sister, who died of cancer at age 33. By his own admission, Jamie’s story paralleled his sibling’s in many ways—her personality, her faith, her experiences, her longing to get married, the wonderful gift of love her husband gave her despite her terminal illness. The story didn’t exactly follow the typical romance guidelines because the happily-ever-after ending didn’t appear to happen, although Sparks insists the conclusion doesn’t say Jamie died. Even though he believed from the beginning that the cancer would take her, he couldn’t in the end state outright that she had lost her fight with the disease. (I still wonder whether part of the reason he couldn’t carry through with the finality of her death might have been because his sister was still living when he was finishing the book, and he couldn’t end the story based on her life that way while even the tiniest thread of hope of her recovery existed.) Whatever the reason, he left Walk open-ended. Nonetheless, many readers (including me) believed Jamie’s death was the only logical outcome.

Nights in Rodanthe, another of Sparks’ novels, also attracted me to his characters. Unlike most of his fiction books, it wasn’t inspired by actual people or events. Its only tie to reality is that the main characters are named after his in-laws. The story involves two middle-aged people (I was middle-aged when I read it)—both reeling from catastrophes in their own lives—who are drawn to an inn and each other in the town of Rodanthe, North Carolina. Adrienne, whose husband left her for a younger woman, is minding the establishment on the Outer Banks for the weekend to help out a friend; Paul is seeking refuge from the shambles of his life. When a storm traps the two strangers together for five days, unexpected feelings surge and love blooms. After they part to return to their own realities, they stay in touch via letters and phone calls until communications from Paul suddenly cease. You guessed it: he died.

These are just two examples that show Sparks’ penchant for writing tragic love stories. (See Message in a Bottle among others.) True, a lot of people never find what they are looking for in a mate; or, when they do, it may not work out for any number of reasons. That’s life. However, when I read a book, I want an escape, a reason to hope that one day I may be carried away by a knight in shining armor. Realistically, that’s not very likely. Idealistically, why not? (Yes, I have been accused of being an incurable romantic.)

What do you look for in a romance? Do you want the characters to do the happily-ever-after thing? Should hope spring eternal and obstacles be overcome so that they embark on a life of true love? Or should the harshness of reality on occasion separate them forever?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

22 comments :

  1. I'd like to see more modeling on how to overcome differences and save relationships once the blush is off the rose. Better yet, how to keep the blush!

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    1. I agree, Diana. In fact, that plays a big part in the story I'm finishing now. Reality, yes, but the positive side of it.

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  2. Nicholas Sparks does know how to tug at someone's heartstrings!

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    1. He certainly does, and he's a compelling writer. I just long for a few endings that aren't modeled after Romeo and Juliet.

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  3. I'm not much of one to read nonfiction because I've run into too many authors that default to sex or language fillers that add nothing to the plot line, characters or my time. You reminded me of an excellent author by referring to the movie I watched. (Nights in Rodanthe) which I had just stumbled on to watch - and immensely enjoyed. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. A lot of fiction is based, at least in part, on nonfiction. In both cases, sex and language have been used (or overused) to titillate the senses of the readers rather than move the story forward. Neither find a place of prominence in my books (although an occasional reference to one or the other may lend realism to a scene). Thanks for visiting us, Shannon.

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  4. I've always kidded around that a good story has both a happy birth and a sad death in it. Fiction is just that, it's not meant to be a replay of reality. It's meant to stir, entertain, and surprise us with what is not common. If fiction wasn't dramatic, how many readers would it have? Happy endings are nice. Sad endings are sobering. Is it possible to have both? Yes. There are some stories that reveal the raw ugliness of the world we live in and yet give hope and optimism. I like stories that I say, "Boy, I'm glad that hasn't ever happened to me," more than stories that would make me say, "Boy, I sure would like for that to happen to me." Drama has it's place.

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    1. I agree that stories should be both nice and sobering. Realistically, many stories are based on actual events that might have been manipulated to suit the authors' characters -- or may be included with relative accuracy because to change them would make them less effective. Of course, drama and the unexpected keep readers turning pages, and that (hopefully) sells books. Thanks for stopping by, Dale. :-)

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  6. If I WERE a romance reader ... I would be the 'happily ever after' type ... I can read about tragedy in the newspaper everyday (yes, I still read a physical newspaper ... ink stains and all).

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  7. Love your comments, Christopher. You keep us all grounded, and you make us smile.

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  8. Kisses, hugs, and HEA - that's what romance novel escape is all about for me! I'm such a shallow reader, at least for leisure. :D

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  9. Great post. I think love in stories should seem real, not perfect. Show the trials, the heartaches. Then I can believe it!

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    1. Well, you have the trials and heartaches, and even the most insipid romance novels do suffering very well indeed - they just end with the HEA. Truly, I don't think the romance genre is bestselling because it ends in death or heartbreak. I think hope and the desire for happiness is built into the human psyche, and we indulge that with romance writing and reading.

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    2. I agree with realism. Life isn't perfect. I know death happens. (I just lost my grandson, who was just shy of 22 years old and who left behind a 2-year-old baby boy who will never know the special man his daddy was.) But I also believe in love and hope, and I sometimes simply want to go there. Life is bumpy. Love is a road full of potholes. Still there must be joy once in a while to make life worth living. My characters go through trials and tribulation -- occasionally of their own making -- and sometimes they don't survive. However, the protagonists almost always make it to the end. What looms ahead for them offers, at the very least, hope and the potential for happiness.

      I wonder if one of the differences between male and female romance writers is that men are more likely to write romantic tragedies than we ladies are.

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  10. I claim I don't read "romance" novels, but I've enjoyed the 2 or 3 Sparks books I've read. They're a little outside the formulaic romance box, and often based on true life, so maybe that's why I like them. I do also read the romantic suspense novels a friend of mine writes. So I guess I can't "really" claim I don't read romance

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    1. I don't read them either, except when one captures my attention for some reason. Certain authors, however, never fall into that category because of their use of foul language and/or explicit sex. I simply choose not to go there.

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  11. I don't want to read a novel, invest time and emotion in characters I love, just to have one die in the end. Sorry, but those books are not for me. I'm not locked into a ride-into-the-sunset ending, but I want to believe the lovers have a chance at happiness.

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    1. So do I, Polly. That's why I am not a huge fan of Romeo and Juliet.

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  12. The following comment came to me via e-mail after S.K. Randolph tried unsuccessfully 3 times to post it to BRP. She's the second person who has had trouble today in getting a comment to post.

    When I was in my teens (a long time ago), I read romance novels by a British author named Georgette Heyer. I loved them because the characters were often polar opposites, unlikely candidates for love, and because I loved Regency England. Today, my library is much more diverse. I do appreciate a good romance when it is part of a broader story. A romance novel has to be exceptionally well written in order to find its way into my pile of reading material. The most important thing to me as a reader is that when all is ‘read and done,’ I am left with that deep feeling of satisfaction that comes with a story well told.

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    1. I agree that good writing and a powerful, surprising story are musts in a romance novel -- as well as in other genres. Thank you for commenting, S.K. Randolph; I'm sorry you had so much trouble trying to post it.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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