Hello, beautiful people on the internet! Welcome back to Worldly Wise where together we’re going to take the reins of your speculative fiction story and see it to the finishing line. Last time we took down the seven deadly sins that destroy the beauty of speculative fiction and tested out our newly gained skills with a writing prompt.
A while back, I hopped onto Instagram and asked for a few book recommendations to add to my TBR pile. But here’s a little secret: while I love writing, I am guilty of not being an avid reader. In fact, I binge read 3 to 4 books and then read nothing for a long while.
However, as I started reading a few of those book recommendations, I realized they were some of the best (in my opinion) to appreciate the basic storytelling elements. And I couldn’t help but think how much I would love to share them with you all.
Today, I have 4 book recommendations for you to binge on and get a better understanding of storytelling elements.
But first thing first, what are storytelling elements?
There are many definitions out there, but I consider the following three elements essential when telling a story. Miss out on one and your entire story falls apart:
1. The Characters: Who are you going to follow around in the story?
2. The World: Where does this story take place?
3. The Plot: What is happening in the story?
There’s a lot to explore about these storytelling elements in themselves, but our focus for today is to appreciate them in practice. To avoid any spoilers, I have included the blurb for you to read and what I liked in the novels.
Without further ado, here are my recommendations:
The Characters: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.”
I am a sucker for fantasy characters being the narrator and here we have Death narrating the story. That sold me. But the novel is filled with characters that you fall in love with, sometimes hate, and then end up falling in love with once again. Much like people in real life. And you cannot help but love them, even Death, because they are so unyielding in the face of something so dreadful as war and their relationships so heartwarming.
Beautifully written with a heartbreaking yet absolutely realistic ending that would leave you in tears and have a profound impact on you. However, as is the case with many novels, people have a divided opinion on this one. If complex reads and tragic endings aren’t your things, maybe steer clear of this one.
The World: The Goblin Emperor by Sarah Monette
“The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend…and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne—or his life.”
The strong world building was my key takeaway from this book besides the poignant characters. If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you know I love world building, and this novel had such detailed world building that I fell in love. You’ll find everything important about it here. The politics, mannerism, laws, interpersonal relationships, everything is mapped out so perfectly it is hard not to be in awe.
However, some parts are drawn out too long with descriptions and names that are hard to remember, but the coming-of-age trope is something I enjoy and saying this novel has done justice to it is an understatement.
The Plot: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
“The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.”
Some novels grip you the first time you read them. Then there are some that when you re-read them, you appreciate them on a whole new level. This one is a combination of both.
There was so much foreshadowing and so many other nuances hidden in plain sight that re-reading it gave me a new sense of appreciation of just how spectacular this novel really is. You think you have uncovered all the layers of this novel, but end up finding another one right underneath. The plot is so skillfully crafted and detailed, anyone who appreciates high fantasy novels is bound to find this interesting.
Now, there’s a complaint that Jordan has borrowed many aspects from J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, but I argue there are so many pieces of literature out there and almost everything is inspired by something or the other.
Jordan has included his own original magic and delivered us a story with growth and powerful allusions. But that’s my opinion and if long novels or series aren’t your cup of tea, we can find you another.
Complete Package: Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
“What would you change if you could go back in time?
In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time.
In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors, each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-traveling offer, in order to: confront the man who left them, receive a letter from their husband whose memory has been taken by early onset Alzheimer’s, to see their sister one last time, and to meet the daughter they never got the chance to know.
But the journey into the past does not come without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . .”
I am in love with this beautiful novel. Kawaguchi has touched upon the age-old question with his unique traces and it just warms your heart. With heart-rending characters and their stories that might leave you in tears, topped with such an interesting world building, it really makes you wonder what would I do if I could go back in time?
The pacing is just as it should be and when you turn the last page, I promise you’ll learn the truth about past, present, and future that was right there on the surface of your head but it’ll hit you differently.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel is the debut novel of famous playwright Toshikazu Kawaguchi and you’ll find hints of his skills in the way the novel feels like a theatrical setup and it is in some ways. But that shortcoming is nothing compared to the way the novel will leave you feeling. Like a warm cup of coffee on a rainy day.
Tell us in the comments: Have you read any of these recommendations? What are some of your go-to novels that explore the basic storytelling elements?
The next time we meet, let’s create a world of wonder that can be, in equal measure, marvelous and intimidating. But we’ll take away the intimidating part with questions that can help you set on a path to create the perfect world for your characters.
Disha Walia is a lifelong storyteller and an enthusiastic writer and editor in love with the idea of exploring the creative world of words. While making her space in the world of non-fiction and fiction alike, Disha loves to spend even her free time daydreaming about what next to write. Connect with her on www.quillinary.com. You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.