Friday, April 25, 2014


I've been thinking about doors this week.

Not {necessarily} the wooden kind.

Here's why:

I've been reading a novel - a good novel, actually one of the more creative and well-written novels I've read recently - this past week. About halfway through it, as we rumbled our way to our church's Good Friday service, my husband asked me what I thought of the book so far. In silence, I ruminated, wishing for a cup of coffee to help my thoughts percolate. ;-)

"I like it," I finally replied, my words drawn out like caramel on a candy apple. "I like it. A lot. I think." And I went on to detail the many ways the book delighted me: multi-dimensional, fleshed-out characters; interesting plot twists I hadn't seen coming; historical bits I hadn't known before; internal struggles.

My husband said, "So what don't you like about it? You said, you think you like it."

I paused, unsure, then the realization dawned on me even as I spoke: "I don't think there was a door."

That was what had caused me to hesitate giving my utter approval to the book. You see, for years, I had wondered what separates good stories from great stories OR great stories from ones that leave you feeling like something was just a little bit lacking, the way you feel after ingesting too many Palmer's chocolates. :-) Obviously, there can be a lot of things that bring the story up a notch or two. But I've been thinking about this for a while, as this is at least the third book this winter that I've read lacking this entryway. Here's what I think.:

The door is what separates.

"What in the world is she talking about?" you might be thinking just around now. "What is this mysterious element, 'the door?'"

The door is, quite simply, the early-on decision {by the main character/s} to step away from their normal existence.  In most cases, it won't be a real door ... though in some, it may be! {See The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as one example, and The Hobbit as another.}  And the rule is: the main character has to step through that door willingly, or we'll start to feel like he or she is just a victim of Fate.

Can a really great story not have any {obvious} door? Possibly, but I'd like to examine that story and see if I can't find the door, hidden though it may be. Initially, I thought that the well-known novella A Christmas Carol might be a good example of a story without any door ... After all, the Christmas ghosts seem to drag him along without his inclination or desire. BUT then I remembered his brief response to the ghost: "If you have anything to teach me, let me profit by it." And so they fly out the window and set the story going.

What are some other well-known doors, some of which are hidden behind layers of disguises?
In The Secret Garden, Mary uncovers a door and walks through it, thus beginning the real plot. All of the book up to this point? Just set-up so that she could, in fact, be driven to open that door.

Or in Pilgrim's Progress? Christian walks through the wicket gate.

Take Hamlet. Where is the door in that play?  When Hamlet swears to remember/exact revenge on behalf of his father.

And a plot that wavers, that seems to be going nowhere? I wonder if the problem was simply this: there was no door. Or there one does exist, but the writer doesn't know it and so cannot ornament it aright?

I'm curious... Have you noticed the "door" in novels? Or, if you read mostly nonfiction, what about in that? Because my theory {as of right now!} is that EVERY good book has a door. {And now, like Mary in The Secret Garden, I'm on the lookout for them!}

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