Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Being A Writer Can Ruin A Good Book

I'm being generous here - with a lot of work, the book I have in mind might attain the adjective  "fair".  It would possibly make a decent short story. It's a cozy mystery centered around golfing, set in a country club community. I think the mystery itself might be interesting (I'm only half way through the book) and some of the characters are likable.
     I don't want to mention the name of this book or the author, because of some misguided protective instinct. I will say it's published by a subsidiary of St. Martin's and on the dedication page, the author thanks her editor. The editor made sure the book has proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. But the editor is not a writer,or this would have been a very different book.
     I feel that many years ago I could have enjoyed this book despite its flaws, probably few of which I would have been aware of.  Now, however, my inner editor started shrieking in the first few pages: Show, don't tell! Poor characterization. Erratic pacing. Unrealistic characters and relationships. Slow moving plot. Drastic POV shifts. Unnecessary prose.
     (I mentioned in my last post that I had begun reading Fifty Shades of Gray and the writing isn't as bad as I was led to believe. Shades is award-worthy compared to this.)
     While I'm disheartened that my writerly knowledge is making it hard for me to like or get through this book, it is a great learning tool of the "what not to do" variety. (I think this book could be a great assignment for a creative-writing or editing class.) The problems are so glaring that I will not be likely to forget them. In my case, having read this book will help me to catch my own writing mistakes in regard to plotting, pacing, POV and characterization. There is something to be learned even from the worst examples of writing.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Evaluating Opinions Of Books

So, I finally started reading Fifty Shades of Gray. The two main things I had heard about it were that it was badly written and that it was pornographic. True readers, like myself, readily admit to reading at least some of anything we come across, from cereal boxes to Penthouse Magazine. I don't think Shades is any more explicit than much contemporary romance and certainly not as much as erotic romance. I kinda have to wonder what the people who are shocked by it generally read and what made them pick up this particular book.
      I will say that it could use some editing, but it's not as awful as I was led to believe. There are engaging characters and a romantic love story with interesting complications. There are a lot of things about the author's style that I think are unique and good. (This is evidence of my twisted sense of humor, but I'm very amused by how the protagonist relates some of her feelings. I don't remember the exact quotes, but some examples were a variation of this: "My inner goddess was licking her lips." and "My subconscious was huddled on the couch with her head in her hands.")
     I will also be interested to see if I am drawn to read the sequels to this book and if they will show  improvement in the author's writing. As I've said in a previous post, I have seen this in series books from some of my favorite, very talented, series authors.  Wherever we are in our careers and professions, if we keep working at it and trying to get better, we will keep improving in our craft.
     While readers are free to have and share any  opinions about books, I don't think they should base their judgements of any work on personal preference. If they don't like how it's written, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's badly written. If they don't like the characters, that doesn't mean the book has poor characterization.
     It's a fact that writers are compulsive editors. We evaluate everything we read with an appreciation of what is done well and an eye for what could be done better. But I feel that in doing so, and because we have a professional, if not expert view,  we are fair in our assessments. I need to always keep this in mind when listening to both writers and non-writers opinions of books.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

New Ideas For Lucrative Writing

I have heard that movies and TV shows get advertising or sponsorship money for featuring or endorsing products and brand names. This may or may not be true, but as a writer I think this would be a great thing for authors. If I am particularly fond of a product, place or service, I like to mention them - specifically and by name - in my books and stories because I like to promote them. I believe in these places and things and I want to help them attract more customers and I think others can benefit from visiting and/or doing business with them.
     Writers can get into legal trouble if they misuse or misrepresent things that are trademarked. However, if a brand name is used properly and in a positive way, I think the owners of that product should consider sending a check to the writer.
     I understand this could lead to some version of promotional purple prose of the worst kind if writers thought that businesses would send them money just for including a product or service in their stories or books.  While I'm not clever or business-savvy enough to think of how, there should be some way that businesses could make sure such a thing was not abused.
     Perhaps businesses could review books or stories that include their names, product or services and choose to show appreciation to the writer in the form of a book award. Maybe the winner could be chosen for the most interesting or intriguing use of a product, restaurant, etc., in a plot.
     I think I may be onto something here. Who do I talk to about this?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crossover Novels

I am not referring to works of fiction that cross genre boundaries - well I am - but specifically the boundary of Young Adult fiction and Adult fiction.  And I'm thinking more specifically of YA fantasy novels: Rick Riordan's Novels, JK Rowling, The Hunger Games, etc.
     I am a huge fan of all kinds of YA books (and middle grades and even younger). It takes a whole different kind of talent for authors to write for teens. This is something I appreciate and admire and I love that many books/series like the ones mentioned above are also enjoyed by adults.
     I am intrigued as to what it is about these YA books that is so appealing and different from adult books. They have amazing settings, characters and plots, but so does most bestselling adult (genre/fantasy) fiction. I cannot pinpoint what would make adult readers become so caught up in the adventures of young people.
      I discussed it with a book loving friend and she said that well-written YA books appeal to adults because we remember being young and can relate to characters, certainly in a way that teens might not be able to understand the motivations of adult characters in adult novels. This is a really good point, but I don't think it's the whole answer.
    I tried to imagine placing an adult cast in some YA books, and found it's difficult. How would that change the perspective, thoughts, actions and emotions of the main characters?   It isn't that the characters are not mature, have never experienced hardship, or don't have responsibilities of caring for loved ones. Most of them have all the same problems with insecurity, family issues, and personality flaws as grown people. So, why is it so hard to see a grown person in these roles?
     The fact that I can't find a satisfactory response to this question may show that I just don't have enough imagination. And maybe that's the answer. It could be that older people have grown away from using their imaginations the way they did when they younger.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Always Encourage

I've been regularly attending poetry meeting/readings at Landmark Booksellers and gotten a bit familiar with the regulars. Not everyone is at every meeting, but those that miss one are generally at the next. Occasionally there is a new face and voice.
     Last night there was a woman who had made nearly an hour's drive to join us. She mentioned that she had been "thrown out" of another group she'd been meeting with. It's possible they didn't actually ask to her to leave, but being driven out by negativity is the same thing. She told us the other group members had criticized her poetry - which is different from critiquing - because her work wasn't ready for publication (perhaps because she wasn't aiming for publication) and even made negative comments when she chose to use unusual font she thought was appropriate for a particular poem.
     The Landmark readings are just that - readings. The attendees don't critique or discuss what is read, although appreciative comments and occasional questions are encouraged. In fact, appreciation and encouragement are one of the main reasons for the meetings.
     This woman, who had not been to a Landmark reading before, did read some of her work and it was quite good. Several listeners commented on aspects that we liked and I hope she recognized that we were sincere and not patronizing. I hope she will join us again and realize that those who criticized her work lacked the ability to appreciate her poetry.
     I am always dismayed when I hear stories of writers (or artists of any ilk) discouraging other writers. True writers and artists should - and I believe most are - be positive toward others' work and art, whatever the level (or lack) of expertise and whatever their personal feelings about it may be. We need the support of others like ourselves, who know and understand our struggles and triumphs in a way that non-creative types can't.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I'm not really sure what the criteria is for a book to be called a classic, but I can recognize ones that are, usually by title or author. Another way to know: If it is a book I read, I hated it; If I haven't read it, I tried - and couldn't make myself finish it.  This is not entirely true for all classics, but there are so few classics I've read and liked that it might as well be.
       I'm also not really sure why I hate them.  I don't think I hate them all for the same reason. For many, like Shakespeare and anything written pre-1900, the language and structure make them too much effort for me to enjoy reading. As much as I love books, I can't enjoy anything I have to spend a lot of time and energy to decipher. I have read Children's Classics versions of many books -several Dickens novels, The Count of Monte Cristo, Swiss Family Robinson - and really liked the stories. I just couldn't read them in their "classic" form.
     For many of these books, my problem is either a lack of romanticism or lack of empathy. As much as I love history, I would not have survived living in the world of Jane Austen or the Brontes. I just cannot and do not wish to relate to those times and cultures.
     I'm trying hard to think of classics that I do like, and it's a challenge. Black Beauty, of course.  Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi and Jungle Book and Just So Stories. (But I recently tried to read a collection of Kipling's horror and fantasy stories and couldn't get past the second story.)
    I love all of Agatha Christie's books and stories. And I enjoy Mary Roberts Rhinehart, although some of her stories and many of her protagonists - who I'm sure act realistically in accordance to their time and culture - try my patience.
     While I was in school, I thought my problem was that I just wasn't mature or educated or worldly enough to appreciate the works that it seems everyone else thinks are the epitome of literature. As I've grown older and doggedly continued my quest to read classics and understand and enjoy them, I've gotten no better at seeing what everyone else sees. I've begun to suspect maybe I'm not intelligent enough to get it. I also suspect I will keep trying and hopefully one day figure it out.