Monday, March 20, 2017

Always A Lesson To Learn

I'm stubborn and persistent, which means I don't give up on things easily. This includes reading books I'm not fond of. When I pick up a book, I usually finish it no matter what. It once took me a five years to finish reading an anthology. I have a friend who keeps telling me that life is too short to read books you don't like. While I do agree because there are so many books and never enough time, I find that I'm actually learning from those books as much as from ones I enjoy.

I don't want to call the books I'm not enjoying "bad" books because they aren't necessarily. Just because a book isn't for me, doesn't mean someone else won't enjoy it. That's why when I leave reviews for books I didn't enjoy I try to point out some positives.

Because I write and edit so much, I read much differently than I did before my brain became rewired to watch for things. I'm pickier about things, though I do forgive a lot when I'm reading for enjoyment as opposed to critiquing for a friend or editing my own writing.

But sometimes, there are things you can't get past in a story. Those are things I try to learn from so I don't do them in my writing.

I recently read a thriller that I didn't enjoy. It was mostly conversations explaining things. Mind you, it's better than just plain telling, but this one went over board. The story started with a murder (great way to get things off the ground) but the rest of the first hundred pages were mostly a conversation explaining things that could have been woven into the story better. The rest of the book was the same way, light on action, high on conversations explaining things. Lesson: Telling is telling, info dumps are info dumps, even if they are in a conversation and they slow your story. Hopefully I can note these better in my own work.

The same book also had graphic scenes, which I don't mind. Though when you're being graphic just for the sake of being graphic it stands out like a neon sign and is a turn off. Lesson: Make sure your violence, graphic scenes, etc. have a purpose and aren't there just for shock value.

If I don't like the main character, it's hard not to abandon the book. If I like the main character, I'll follow her/him through (almost) anything. I often try to figure out what about the character bothers me. Lesson: This one is really subjective but I think the lesson is to use beta readers. If you're hearing from lots of people that they don't like your main character, it could be time to tweak him/her.

I'm listening to an audio book that is an older fantasy and makes me realize how different story expectations are now. The backstory in this book seems to go on and on and I'm left thinking, Can we please get to the point of the scene? There are times where I've forgotten what the point of view character is actually doing. Much of the backstory isn't necessary, could be worked in more naturally, or could be condensed. This is probably why this audio book is about 20 hours long. Lesson: Backstory has it's place, but if it's jarring the reader out of the forward momentum, then cut it. We all love telling our characters' backgrounds, but too much will slow the story down and possibly lose your reader. If you have trouble judging in your own writing, this is again where beta readers and critique partners help.

These are just some things I've learned while reading books I didn't really enjoy. Though they may not have been my cup of tea, they've pointed out what doesn't work and how it affects someone's reading experience.

Do you often finish a book you start to read no matter what or do you put it down and move on?

1 comment:

  1. Good post and refreshing coming from an editor/writer. I'm married to an editor. In general, I find editors to be perfectionists. Perfection is a great goal for a writer, but not so good for a reader. There are more good than perfect books.

    I, too, always finish a book I start, even if it's imperfect.

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