A Great Book Where Nothing Happens

I get such a kick out of all the different types of writers and books and readers there are in the world. It’s just plain thrilling. The best part is it reinforces the notion that we can all focus on writing the stories we love, and if we write them well, there will be readers who’ll enjoy them.

And, of course, those who don’t, but that’s not the subject of this post and really, does it matter? If we’ve done the hard work and produced a quality book, it’s still not going to appeal to everyone anyway, so why stress about it?

I just finished reading The Goblin Emporer by Katherine Addison. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though nothing happens in the book. Yeah, nothing happens. There are probably 2 pages of action out of 447. I know some readers who would rather spend a night with the stomach flu, bowing to the bowl, than suffer through the lack of a riveting plot.

Yet to me the book was engaging. The pace was graceful, and the main character, a goblin named Maia, was exquisitely real, his emotional life written with meticulous care. I wanted to jump into the pages and hug him. It’s one of those books where you’re pulling and pulling and pulling for the main character. Even without a plot.

Maia is the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor of the Elflands and has lived his entire life in exile, lonely, uneducated, and missing his dead mother, the only person who ever treated him kindly. When his father and brothers are killed in an “accident,” he is heir to the throne and completely ill-equipped for the intrigue and subtleties of court politics. He’s a kind, sincere young goblin, whose gentle approach endears him to some and leaves him vulnerable to others. The entire book takes place during the first winter of his reign and covers the painful steps he takes coming into his own.  Maia’s journey is far from over by the end of the book, but there’s a glimmer of good things ahead.

Yes, there is a character arc, a modest one. In The Goblin Emperor, it’s the only forward progress in the book, because, yup, nothing else happens.

Aside from those of us who live for character-driven books, how did Addison achieve such wide appeal with a book lacking any hustle and bustle? Partly, in my opinion, by making the extraordinarily clever choice to tell the tale with goblins. Goblins characters and their goblin world switched up the entire story into something unique. I wonder if I would have liked the book as much if Addison wrote about an average human boy. Hmmm, probably not.

Addison’s world-building was complex, a whole geography and history, customs and rituals, philosophies and religions backing up the narrative. I got a kick out of most of it, particularly the character descriptions, the precise style of speech, and elaborate clothing. I will mention one significant challenge: the names of most of the places and characters were confusing – unpronounceable and so similar to each other that, other than the main players, I didn’t know who was who. And yet I still loved the read.

For me, this book reinforced a few notions about writing:
1. Write what you love, that story bursting to be told
2. It isn’t necessary to conform to methods and rules
3. Bust the paradigms and be wildly creative
4. Write the absolute best book you can
5. There are readers who will enjoy your words.

Happy Writing!

89 thoughts on “A Great Book Where Nothing Happens

  1. So true, Diana! Hope you’re doing great!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Khaya Ronkainen says:

    Thanks for this review Diane. It sounds like a book I might enjoy.😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sacha Black says:

    fascinating. Sounds like literary fiction disguised as fantasy? I find literary fiction is often slower than other genres. I think you’re right though. I have loved some utterly bizarre books. Books that typically I shouldn’t like but just did. Isn’t that just the wonderful magic of stories? I’d be interested to know what the plot actually was of this story!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sheron says:

    I loved the Goblin King. I felt that the poor half breed Goblin who got yanked from his rural life and thrown into the dangerous politics of the royal court was interesting. He had to adapt to a new life and learn who to trust and who to not trust while making life and death decisions for his subjects.

    Intriguing review. Definitely interest catching.
    Glad your WordPress is back on track. I have no idea if I’ve been compromised. Are you getting my blog?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. E.P. says:

    I definitely agree. Anything written with heart ends up standing out. I think I came across a description of this book somewhere else and it didn’t sound very appealing. Your post made me rethink it. It sounds exactly like something I would love. Thank you for writing such a great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ali Isaac says:

    I’d say something was definitely happening, simmering and bubbling away beneath the surface, judging by your reaction! 😁 We are told how to write these days, to get straight into the action, no one’s got much time to spend reading, hook em with that first killer line. But few of the old classics are written that way, and we all still love em. Sometimes a story needs to be allowed to develop, and given space to ‘breathe’.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Diane Tibert says:

    There are two statements you made I strongly agree with: write what you love and everyone is not going to love your book anyways, regardless of how great it is.

    I agree with the rest too, but those two points really stick out. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That sounds interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. dgkaye says:

    Great review about a book where nothing happens, yet you still enjoyed it. I highly agree with your last 5 pointers. There is something for everyone, and we must write what our hearts ask us to. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gastradamus says:

    The Gobler Emperor seems like an interesting story, if you have the chance then please check out my blog at Gastradamus, Let us know what you think of our new post, “The Young and the Brestless”. Your input would be awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this review and what you said about enjoying reading and different authors! IT sounds like a very nice read even though nothing much happens! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I have to say that I enjoy the honesty of your review! I agree that if the characters are written well enough then you are going to enjoy the read (or at least in my case that is true).

    Liked by 1 person

    • The main character is exquisite, Christy. Terribly humble and insecure, but the reader gets to see the start of his journey and knows there’s greatness ahead. It was enough to keep me up at night reading. Thanks for stopping by. Happy Writing!

      Like

  13. Erika Beebe says:

    Great review. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. SD Gates says:

    Great review and super advice. It reinforces my thoughts that a story does not have to have some monumental event in it to make it interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Kev says:

    Well, that was new! Can’t knock it for originality! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Nitin says:

    your first two paragraph of this post are highly inspirational -and no surprises coming from an experienced writer. As a writer we can only do one thing -tell the truth, be it our experiences, our feelings, or imagination. We have to like what we are doing, and we can’t like if we are not honest about i. loved this post…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. The creative freedom, for me, is the best part of writing and it’s what keeps me going. We are wise to write the truth of our hearts – the reader will feel it in our words.

      Like

  17. Great review, Diana, and interesting observation. I did a post a couple months ago about using the lesser subjects (i.e. basilisks or Valkyries). Sounds like goblins did it for this book. Love you writing notions! I’ll have to print them out and keep them nearby 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Agree on your few notions about writing! Thank you for sharing. Wishing you a great day ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Annika Perry says:

    Diana, this is a wonderfully unique book review for what sounds a most unusual book. Your heading alone had me rushing to read more – I understand where you – and the book – are coming from and your review is a vindication that character, in this case goblin, driven stories have a definite place in literature. It sounds quietly mesmerising. Only problem I’d have is the tricky confusing names…

    Liked by 1 person

    • The book was unusual! The names were a pain, though, and that’s unfortunate because it’s such a good book. (There’s a name index, but who wants to stop reading to flip to an index). 😀 For me, it was still an interesting read on a lot of levels. Thanks for the visit, Annika. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Sounds like an interesting book, Diana. Great review. 🙂 — Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Nurse Kelly says:

    Really interesting post – love hearing your perspective. And I’m copying down your list of notions about writing – may quote you on that someday! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. reocochran says:

    I have found books like this which capture you and it is because of the details or the minutaie of life. (Poor spelling but no hints on improvement, sorry) I have read books and even wanted more on the same, but not always easy to describe the reason why. You gave us an intriguing review and I may just see this at the library one day and read it! Thanks for this, Diana.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. What an interesting review. I just can’t imagine enjoying reading a book where nothing much happens, but then again that is what makes the book seem intriguing because you want to find out why it’s so appealing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha ha. I know. There are one star reviews too, so it’s not for everyone. Other than all the confusing names, I would say it’s one of the best books I read in the past year. An interesting book. Thanks for the visit, Kathryn 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Steven Baird says:

    Great things for writers to remember. Primarily, write your absolute best. It’s so easy to wander into ‘good enough’ terrain. That said, this sounds like a wonderful book.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Great post Diane!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Your review has intrigued me, but based on the story’s lack of any forward momentum, I’m not sure it has intrigued me enough.

    Nonetheless, I find *your* writing more persuasive than it ought to be.

    Like

  27. Sean P Carlin says:

    I’d be curious to read this — I’m always in the market for a good fantasy novel — though I do sometimes get antsy with plot-deficient books. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, for instance, boasted beautiful prose but ultimately tested my patience with its plotless story, and M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts had a very compelling protagonist — one of the more interesting heroes in recent zombie fiction — but I felt the story itself could’ve only been enhanced with a more eventful plot. But, maybe that’s the screenwriter in me!

    I’d like to check out one of your books, Diana. Which one do you recommend I start with?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oooh, Sean. You’re putting me on the plot (I mean…spot). Well, I get lots of feedback that The Melding of Aeris would make a good movie – action and visuals. And The Sorcerer’s Garden is a nice fast pace and sort of wild. Either of those is a good place to start. Thank you! 😀 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sean P Carlin says:

        Excellent! I just made a note of those in my ledger, and I’m going to check them out soonest! I’m so envious that you have multiple candidates to choose from!

        Do you have any articles on your blog about your creative process? The reason I ask is because I am fascinated by that subject — whether writers are “planners” or “pantsers,” whether they are formally trained or autodidactic — and I’d be curious to learn more about the way you approach the craft. Perhaps after I read one of your books, we could even arrange for an interview or something on my own blog…?

        Liked by 1 person

        • See if you like the book first! Ha ha. I would love to do an interview. I’m self-taught (with the great advantage of writing full time) and I have many posts on my process which usually start with everything I did wrong! Your question made me think I need to organize my website a little better. Everything is lost in the black hole. I’ll do that an write a post about announcing the reorg. Thanks for the great idea!!

          Like

  28. Carrie Rubin says:

    It’s not likely something I’d read, but as you say, there’s something for everyone out there. That’s the beauty of books. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Sometimes a story is left to the reader’s fantasy. I will always read a book!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. balroop2013 says:

    If a book can hold your attention even when nothing is happening that itself speaks for its power and characterisation. Some characters are so appealing! Your review is quite inspiring Diana, not just for the readers but for the writers too.
    Thank you for the poise that goes into your words. 🙂 Have a nice week.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. I find your review very encouraging, Diana. I have another one of those stories, an unusual one, which, so far, I have not published, but maybe I should … 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  32. babbitman says:

    Interesting… Sounds like a weird combination of Gormenghast and Raising Steam (one of Terry Pratchett’s later books – a must read for any fantasy fan on creating a believable fictional minorities).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like I should give Raising Steam a chance. I tried Pratchett’s Small Gods (because everyone loves his work) and I just couldn’t connect. Clearly, I have no sense of humor!

      Liked by 1 person

      • babbitman says:

        I loved Small Gods (but that may be the anti-church element in me). That book was one of the turning points where he shifted from being a fantasy-comedy writer into more satire and examination of people rather than Discworld as a magical place. I highly recommend you read all of the Sam Vimes books (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Vimes) within the Discworld canon (which ends with Raising Steam). I think you’ll really get into his character! He moves from being a washed-up drunk in charge of a couple of cowardly & incompetent cops to enforcer of the Law and protector (& employer) of all beings in Ankh-Morpork, whether they are human, vampire, dwarf, werewolf, troll, zombie or goblin.
        The Night Watch is my particular favourite (vague similarities to Sunwielder too!). But make sure you read them in order to really understand the progression of both the man and his city.

        Liked by 1 person

  33. I like your five notions on writing and agree. The book in your review sounds interesting and unusual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Jack. The reviews of it are generally glowing, but there are definitely some readers that found it “boring to the point of torture.” I really do love the diversity among readers and that we don’t all have to conform! 😀 Are you still blogging? I’m not getting a blog address for you on my reader.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yup, still blogging, D. My WordPress site was acting up last week and I couldn’t get on to it; otherwise, I’m still at it…spending most of my time working on my wips and poetry. I agree with you that writers should write what they want and do it well. Embrace those who enjoy the work and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ll try to find you. Just know that reader isn’t giving us a link to your site. Might be an adjustment with your gravatar (? – I’m clueless with this stuff).

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’m equally clueless, D. but here’s the website link: jackronaldcotner.wordpress.com
            As I mentioned, I had trouble accessing any WordPress site last week so maybe they’ve got some kind of glitch. I know I had to reset almost all of my followed sites in Reader because they were mysteriously shut off by WordPress. I had to manually go into Reader and redo the settings. My viewership seems way lower than usual so maybe I’m blocked from other folks, too. (sigh) I have no way of knowing. I guess it will all work out or it won’t. Thanks for posts!

            Liked by 1 person

  34. Al Lane says:

    Great takeaways there

    Liked by 1 person

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