Monday, March 23, 2009

What NOT to write?

I read a book last week that I couldn't put down. Not because of the typical page-turning reasons,, this time, I was turning pages for a completely different reason - because the book was THAT bad.

Story, decent. Craft? Awful.

After several emails and texts to my crit partner about it (I was stunned, seriously the writing was SHOCKING to me!) she suggested that I write a what-not-to-do blog.

Let me clarify a few things first. First, I am obviously NOT an expert writer, and I'm not trying to diss another author or look like a know-it-all. Secondly, I'm still getting started in my own writing career and because of that, I'm usually lenient on other authors, especially fellow newbies. We all have to learn and grow, and we all strive to make our next story better than our last.

But this novel was written by an author who is multi-published in a variety of houses. What was extra confusing was that this book also received mostly good reviews on Amazon! So I'm not still not sure what made all this faults jump out at me when apparently they didn't to others. I'm not going to post a bad review, or tell you which book or author this was out of respect. I just want to share the tips I picked up - things to watch for in my own writing because they obviously bother me so badly! lol

Here we go.


#1. Plausibility. Realism is so important, even in fiction. So when characters show up in the middle of the book from NO WHERE and conveniently solve all of the hero's problems, its just not believable. In this story, the hero was in angst over a certain issue in his life, and all of a sudden, here comes so and so to save the day. I felt cheated. It wasn't a real solution. All that time I had invested with the hero in wondering how he was going to figure out an answer was wasted. And I was mad!

#2. Repeated words. I've been really watching this in my own writing lately and my crit partner is helping me out. Its so easy to use repeated words in a paragraph or even a sentence or two apart. At the time of writing, its the word that comes the easiest so you write it down. But when you go back and read it, you realize there are usually 2 or 3 other ways to say the same thing and avoid that repeated word that jarrs the reader from the story.

#3. Point of view. This author didn't head-hop, thank goodness. The book was divided in 3 POVs throughout, as is common. But then a new character, that I believe wasn't mentioned except once "in passing" toward the begining of the story, suddenly popped up with a point of view chapter toward the end of the novel! I've never seen that before and it was jarring. I still don't think it was necessary, even after finishing the book. I'm completely confused why the author did that.

#4. Voice. Voice is important in a story. Every author has their own voice that shines through the pages. But more than that is character voice. Each character in a novel should sound somewhat different than the other characters. Not just in how they think, but in how they talk.

An example of showing voice in narrative is having a city boy think in terms of city metaphors. A man born and raised and working in NYC wouldn't realistically compare the heroine's blonde hair to a waving wheat field. He would compare it to something familiar that he knows, maybe money - a copper coin. Or maybe he'd think her eyes were as green as the grass in Central Park. (not the best examples, but you see what I mean!) This author in this story had a handle on the narrative voice. But not in "vocals". Each character in the story SOUNDED the same in their dialogue. This made the conversations sound very stilted and out of place. Sometimes the characters would even sound a little too uppity, like maybe they'd sound more realistic set on an English countryside instead of America.

These were just a few of the things that jumped out at me over and over in the story. I hope to learn from this and maybe you can too. And despite all of this, I plan to give this particular author another chance with a different novel down the road! =)


Georgiana said...

Excellent thoughts! LOL, it was still fun texting and learning at the same time. Your examples about voice really hit me in the gut, because lately I've had to double check that my hero isn't sounding like a girl.

GREAT post!

Erica Vetsch said...

Very good post. Sometimes you wonder, don't you? About how a book made it into print with what seems like glaring errors?

Still, it's all so subjective, and they say story carries and makes up for a lot.

Voice is so elusive to me. I just finished re-reading Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker. That has to be the best example of character voice I've ever read. Now if I could just figure out how to implement that into my own writing!

Eileen Astels Watson said...
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Betsy Ann St. Amant said...
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Eileen Astels Watson said...
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Becky Yauger said...

Betsy -- I know published writers can "bend" the rules a bit, however, no writer should be a lazy writer when it comes to their work. I agree with Georgiana about voice. It's so important that are characters are distinctive and sound distinctive. Thanks for an insightful blog today!