I recently finished The Shadow Of The Wind by masterful storyteller Carlos Ruiz Zafón and before I go any further… Fear not – NO SPOILERS in this post.
The Shadow Of The Wind (click the link to go to GoodReads) is defined as a mystery novel but I would add that in its richness and complexity, it also bears the signs of historical fiction all the while being a coming-of-age story about a young boy whose life is forever changed through the power of a single book.
I read this novel with the avid eyes of a young adult and reflected upon it with the analytic spirit of the writer I praise myself to be.
Here are a few tips I want to share with writers and minds alike.
1) Setting is key.
The story is set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, in a Barcelona whose memory of the events is still fresh and traumatic. The Franco dictatorship is looming over the present time of the plot without being mentioned once.
Such an informed account of the events taught me this : do your research but don’t let it show. This is a fictional book, set against a non-fiction backdrop. The latter needs to be incorporated in the former imperceptibly and with an added perspective and emotion.
2) Suspense can be created in any genre.
For it to work, pace your story. Be patient with the answers you reveal. Drop subtle hints – misleading hints – and trust the reader to bear with ‘not knowing’ something until as far as the last 100 pages or so.
3) A character’s voice can make or break the story.
Fermin’s sarcastic sense of humour and crude language distinguish him from the rest and give the novel an unexpected sense of humour. When we are faced with a dialogue, we don’t need clarifications such as ‘Fermin said’. We know exactly who’s who and the author made sure of that by giving his characters peculiar traits, a voice so unique we don’t need anything else to find our bearings.
4) A character is human, ergo it has flaws.
This is difficult without giving away spoilers but I will only say this. Daniel – the young boy and narrator – is naive, inexperienced, obstinate and at times, rather selfish. Every other character is flawed too, in their own special way.
Why do we still care for them? Because they acknowledge their flaws and feel bad about their mistakes. They repent, we empathise. Simple.
5) A character doesn’t have to be human.
Let me explain. By that I mean that Barcelona in itself becomes a character. It accompanies us everywhere we go. It has its own fits of rage in the likes of violent snowstorms and its own secrets which will remain safe with me.
The Aldaya Mansion plays a key role too. It has a life of its own. It has a past, a present and a future. A voice that is all too human and once again, flawed. The doors creak, the windows slam shut, the cold reigning inside is almost palpable.
I could go on but I will leave you with this: read The Shadow Of The Wind. If you’re not impressed, come back here and defend your argument. I dare you. :)