Monday, June 17, 2013

Lessons From a Wasted Hour

Saturday I wasted an hour reading.

Oh, it isn't unusual for me to spend hours reading.  I love reading.  I'd do it all the time if things like eating, sleeping, working and eye strain didn't get in my way.  And in my mind, reading isn't a waste of time.  Except when, at the end of that time, what you just read was a waste.

I hate not finishing books.  What I read Saturday, I didn't finish.  16% in, I gave up.  The book was so poorly written, the characters so cardboard and without redemption, that I couldn't see throwing another minute of my life down that sewer. 

Now I do realize the book was free, so it's not like I spent good money.  The problem is, I spent my time.  And when I woke up the next day I was thoroughly irritated.  I'll never get that hour back.

SF author Larry Niven said it best: "The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He's entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you're in violation."

Maybe I deserved it because the book was free and you get what you pay for, right?  But I've downloaded numerous free books that were awesome.  Right now, my book budget is non-existent and I'm reading a lot of free stuff.  So far, I've only hit two duds.  And the first of those I did read all the way through.  This one?  I'd rather have gnawed off my own paw.

Still... :trying to find a positive here:... I did learn something from this.  I learned things I definitely need to remember in my own writing:

Writing should have a flow and a cohesiveness.  "The novel is not “a crazy quilt of bits”; it is a logical sequence of psychological events..." - Vladimir Nabokov.  If only the writer had read that quote and taken its wisdom to heart. 

Characters should have depth. "The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail." -  Mark Twain.  Little quirks do not make depth. Personal tragedy does not make for depth - not on its own.  A secret love does not make for depth.  All of these things have to be written such that the depth is woven in or I'm not doing to give a flying rat's patootie about the characters.  Or as Ernest Hemingway put it: "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."

And for godsakes, do your research.  RESEARCH.  The tall skinny guy on the ADDAMS Family (spelled always with two Ds) is LURCH not THING.  Her very accurate description of the character was totally undercut by her use of the wrong name.  And saying a guy looks like Thing - who was nothing more than a disembodied hand - is super confusing.  Don't use a pop reference if you're not familiar with it.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm pretty forgiving of little errors.  Typos, proofing mistakes, format errors - I can get past those if the story is good.  If the story's not good?  It's like being rolled across broken glass, dipped in honey and laid on an ant hill.  If you don't get up and walk away, all those little bites can be disastrous.

And now, for good measure, here's a few more quotes to help us writers remember what it is we do - and hold this to our hearts while we hold ourselves to a higher standard:

"The hope and aim of a word-handler is that he may communicate a thought or an impression to his reader without the reader’s realizing that he has been dragged through a series of hazardous or grotesque syntactical situations." - E.B. White

"Life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books." - John Ruskin

"There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can't screw it up." Raymond Feist

So let's all get out there and make sure our brilliant and original ideas don't come across as screwed up.  None of our readers should have to feel they've wasted any amount of time on any of our books.


  1. Well said. I will download free books, but I go in with no expectations lol. My main focus is 99 cent books. I've hit some gems with those, but more often they're duds. Oh well, I try!

  2. OMG the who Lurch/Thing had me choking on my coffee.

    I feel your pain. There are plenty of wildly popular books I haven't finished. Last year I finished one I HATED because my agent had gushed about it....the end sucked as much as the rest of the book.

    At least you got something positive out of it!

  3. Lurch and Thing were almost as different as two characters could be! LOL!

    Sigh. I'm reading one now in a series I love. Or trying to read it. I may just give up. The only character I care about is very minor, I suspect she's about to get killed, anyway. She looks like a red shirt.

  4. Oh, no, Deb! Not a red shirt!!!! LOL The presenter at the writer's seminar I attended this weekend spent a lot of time talking about red shirts and "The Wrath of Khan." LOL It was magical.

    And since none of mine are free at the moment, B.E., I let out a big ol' "WHEW!" at first and then gigglesnorted over the Thing/Lurch kerfuffle.

    Glad you got new words down and queried again. Awesome.

  5. I try not to have expectations, Nat. But I guess I do expect books to be at least worth my time.

    Yeah, JB. That's was a coffee splurting moment. And I do try to find a positive when I can. Some days are harder than others. ;o)

    Exactly, Deb. And it's not like it was a hard fact to verify beforehand. Sheesh. (Not that I've never done anything like that. I just haven't done it in a published work - and I'll never do it again.) So sorry your fav character is a red shirt. :hugs: I hate when that happens.

    Don't get me started on the wonders of Wrath of Khan, Silver. Oh, it definitely wouldn't have been one of yours, hon. You pay way way way better attention to detail than that. All my friends do. This was some person I'd never heard of and won't likely forget (so I steer clear in the future).

  6. I usually give a book the first chapter to hook me. If it's just so-so, I might skip ahead to see if it gets better. If it does, I'll go back and keep reading, but if not, it gets deleted.

    Life's too short.

  7. I use to feel the need to finish each book I started, but don't do that any more. Unless I'm reviewing a book, I'll only keep reading as long as I'm enjoying it.

  8. Exactly, Maria.

    I was the same way, Debs. Like Maria said, life's too short.

  9. I will totally not read more than 20 or 30 pages if a book doesn't pull me in. I'm way too busy for that. So, I feel ya :)

    And yes, doing lots of editing now (I totally rewrote the first chapter of Everdream!) so hopefully I don't suck and piss people off :)

  10. Thanks, Alexia. And you know, you need to send me that. I'll let you know whether you piss people off. ;o)