Let’s take a look at The Choice by Nicholas Sparks from a writer’s perspective.
This post contains spoilers.
The Choice* by Nicholas Sparks
(*Amazon Affiliate link)
Summary: Travis Parker is happy being a bachelor. However, when he meets his new neighbor Gabby Holland, his life turns upside down.
The Choice was made into a movie that was released in 2016.
Like our previous novel for The Bestseller Code challenge, Me Before You, The Choice is a love story/romance. Also like our previous novel, it strays from the typical romance format as the love interest has health problems due to a severe car accident.
Where the two diverge, however, is that in Me Before You, the complications add depth, making it a compelling story. In contrast, in The Choice, the complications are a formulaic attempt to gain sympathy and instead distance the reader.
Why did one work and the other did not?
Incorporating Emotions In Fiction
In fiction, readers like to be touched by what they read. They like to experience what the characters are going through, and get swept away by their emotions. Many authors struggle, however, with how to authentically incorporate emotions into their stories.
There are several ways to write about a character’s emotions. One technique is to simply name the emotion, such as “George felt happy.” It is best to avoid this method for several reasons. First of all, it is telling the reader, rather than showing, which leaves the reader flat. Also, people tend not to be all that aware of their emotions, so naming them outright is unrealistic.
People are much more likely to be aware of the physical sensations they experience when emotional. For example, ” The muscle in her neck that always tightened when she was under stress began to twitch.” The secret with this technique is to use sensations that are universal enough so the reader can recognize them, but that are not overused or cliché. Raising eyebrows, rolling eyes, or a heart hammering in the chest are examples of physical descriptions that are overused.
Experienced authors have even more tools. They may reveal a character’s emotions through their actions, through metaphors, through punctuation (Oh no!), or through the use of the objective-correlative, which involves using objects, descriptions, or situations to convey a particular emotion. A simplified example of the latter might be, “She pressed her nose into the roses, hugged the chocolates to her chest, and smiled up at the forest of balloons bouncing overhead.” The roses, chocolates, and balloons are all things related to happy events, so the reader can infer the character is happy.
So, why does The Choice fall flat?
Nicholas Sparks incorporates plenty of emotions, but he tends to name the emotions.
Molly was sitting near the back door, her tail thumping, and Gabby felt anxious at the thought of the future.
He was still sitting at the table, feeling slightly shell-shocked, when he spotted his sister approaching.
To be fair, he also uses physical descriptions:
Her heart squeezed again, and this time she tried to hold on to the feeling.
In contrast, in Me Before You:
“I — I’m Lou.” My voice, uncharacteristically tremulous, broke into the silence. I wondered, briefly, whether to hold out a hand, and then, remembering that he wouldn’t be able to take it, gave a feeble wave instead. “Short for Louisa.”
It probably helps that it is in first person, but can’t you sense the intensity of her nervous awkwardness , even though she never says directly she’s feeling nervous?
I didn’t enjoy this book for several other reasons, in addition to the flat emotions.
The characters were inconsistent. In the beginning Gabby, who has a job as a physician’s assistant, accuses Travis’s dog Moby of fathering puppies with her dog, Molly. This rang false with me, because even lay people can tell a neutered male dog from an non-neutered one. A medical professional should definitely be able to tell. But I gave her the benefit of the doubt because maybe Moby was far away in the distance at all times (except he wasn’t).
When her dog Molly gives birth and has a medical problem, Gabby definitely should have known right away what it was and I suspect should have been able to give first aid, rather than simply rushing off. Yes, in real life people are inconsistent, but that seemed excessively so.
It was also apparent that Gabby and Travis were going to get married right from the beginning. Novels work best when they create mysteries that keep a reader guessing and wanting to read on to find out the answer. The minimal tension that did arise seemed artificial. Gabby had to make a decision, but because she wasn’t the main character, we could guess what it would be.
Overall, The Choice works too hard to try to tug at the reader’s heartstrings, and leaves them feeling nothing instead.
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If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog. Links in the list go to the landing page from this blog where the discussion starts. However, this is an open-ended challenge so feel free to jump in with any of the books at any time.
The next book is number 60. In the Woods by Tana French (2007) – Discussion begins May 14, 2018