Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lessons from Bad Books


So I'm reading a disappointing book at the moment. No worries, not by anyone I know... I just finished one and went to my pile for a 'quick read' and pulled out a mystery, as I am meant to be revising a mystery and so am trying to keep in mind what works and doesn't. Sadly, I've found a COUPLE 'doesn'ts' recently, so maybe I will include lessons from more than one book...


SHOW SHOW SHOW.

One of the most annoying things about the one I am reading is it all feels like summary. Even the DIALOG feels like summary. I'm not sure if it is the choice of narrator—the author SORT OF changes perspective, but is not terribly DEEP in any of them, so I'm not FEELING IT and so all of the PoVs end up feeling just descriptive.


DIALOG, TAGS, and NAME CALLING

The thing that is REALLY driving me crazy is the author keeps having the characters call each other by name instead of using dialog tags. This is something I did a lot in my first book and I felt very clever, but I have since read enough WATCHING for it that it comes across as melodramatic. Watch Supernatural some time—Dean and Sam use each other's names a lot and it is just so much silliness (but they look good enough to make me watch anyway—not so with no moving pictures). Once in a conversation or LESS is much more realistic. Granted, there are people who do this, but making it a tic for ONE character is a far cry from making all of them do it. MOST people DON'T do this.


TENSION Must be SPECIFIC

This book keeps using vague threats and expecting me to keep reading. I am irritated. Sadly, I am also a person who usually finishes what I start. Tension should be tangible. Maybe it is because they haven't attached me to the characters—maybe if I cared more this vague tension would feel more tense—there HAVE been attacks, but the characters aren't well drawn and the incidents don't have any sort of build or tease. It is more 'this person does something stupid and this bad thing happens'


AVOID TOO-STUPID-TO-LIVE

Or if you can't, kill them. If you need a character to do something really stupid, give them a compelling reason (like cut off their other options, or increase the stakes so they think they have no choice, or MUCH earlier give them a compelling flaw that this situation fits so the reader thinks, well sure, it's stupid, but it is her only real flaw). I get SO ANNOYED with characters who seem set on their own destruction unless it is part of a complete profile that is on a danger course. You CANNOT convince me that an otherwise competent, mentally stable person is that dumb. Seriously.


Oh, for Pete's Sake, DUMP the DAMSELS in DISTRESS!!!

I like a hot guy as much as the next girl, but I am SO not interested in reading about a woman who needs to be saved all the time. Maybe ONCE. After she's saved a bunch of people herself. But habitual victims are NOT interesting.



So there. Read any bad books lately that have taught you what not to do?

10 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Too stupid to live - sounds like most horror films.
I used name calling too much in the past. I know it. I confess! Making it better now.

Andrew Leon said...

I hate that continual usage of names. Oh my gosh! I almost never use anyone's name. Which works wonders when I've forgotten it.
"Which child are you again?"

Ted Cross said...

I recently read the worst fantasy book that I ever finished (there have been worse, but those I never even got through). I guess I kept going because so many famous authors had quotes in the book raving about the author, so I kept thinking it had to get better. Really it's those quotes that make me mad, as I feel they are willfully deceptive. The writing was so bad that I can't imagine any serious person saying good things about the writer.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Every book I read either teaches me what to do or what not to do, sometimes even in the same book. Right now I'm reading The Hobbit, because I needed to just relax and enjoy perfection.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

I'm sidetracking here but have you ever noticed that there are some names that people like to say. So everybody says their name when they talk to them. I mean in live-action real life, in a book it would probably be boring.

Carol Kilgore said...

I heartily concur with all of this. I've been guilty of all of it and been called out by critique partners and editors. And I thank them very much.

Diana Wilder said...

You mean you don't like it when the girls go out in their nightgowns, carrying flashlights and walking barefoot to tip-toe down to The Black Lagoon even though the old hag and the wizened old peddler and the mysterious Knight in Black Armor tell them not to?

What's WRONG with you???

Helena said...

Love the Too Stupid to Live idea -- reminds me of the Darwin awards, which actually can make for pretty grim reading.

Damsels in distress in this day and age? They were common in old TV shows when I was growing up, and even as a little kid I couldn't believe how ditzy and useless they were.

It sounds like the writer of this bad book came up with a plot and then tried to squeeze the characters into it. And if the dialog doesn't work then the author doesn't know how to listen to people.

Sigh. I wish the writer well, but it sounds like he or she needs to start over.

CA Heaven said...

If I start on a really bad book, I tend to get tired of it and not finish it.

I read a bad short story yesterday, but I had written it myself, do there is still a chance it can be improved. If I'm happy with the end result, I will share the story on the Internet, and drop it in my neighbours' mailboxes >:)

Cold As Heaven

G. B. Miller said...

I think what I come across is not so much as what you describe, but more of like springing the solution 30 pages into the book.

I recently read a book by a writer who won a few literary awards (pet peeve of mine) and because it was in genre that I like a little (mystery/crime) I checked out of the library. Roughly 30 pages in the solution to who the murderer was was revealed, and I'm assuming the other 150+ pages were simply exploring the what the characters were all about and having them examine themselves based on the murders in question.

I say assume because I never finished the book.

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