Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reading and Writing

I was a reader for a long time before I became a writer.  I know. That's a sort of 'well, duh' statement.  People have to learn to read before they can learn to write.  (Don't quibble, just go with me here.)  The reason I make that statement today, though, is I've noticed something kind of curious lately.  I've been reading newly published books and all but one lately felt like the writer wasn't also a reader. 

Or maybe it's just me.  I have been reading an awful lot of old books lately.  Old as in 1940s through 1980s.  They seem to have a different way of approaching the art of writing.  Not exactly sure what it is.  Not consciously anyway.  All I know is something feels right with these old books and something feels wrong with the newer ones. 

With that one exception, of course.  Silver James' books feel right.  Maybe she's just an old reader like me.  I know she's a voracious reader like I am.  Which adds anecdotal evidence to the theory that these new writers aren't readers, I guess.

Of course, it also helps that my editor is also a reader and she keeps me on track when I start to wander off.

Here's an example.  I picked up a book yesterday that sounded deliciously fun.  Great blurb. Awesome cover.  Loads of good reviews.  I opened it and began to read.  The thirty year old heroine was a spazz.  Okay, I can deal with that.  Main characters at the beginning of their stories are often slightly off but they get better.  It's called 'character growth'.  The plot device used to get her to a point in her life where she needed to be to have the plot make sense was forced and unlikely.  I was still willing to move past that.  And then the author introduced the 'best friend' - a mother of two who was so head over heels in love with her husband that the MC wanted to have that kind of life... except after the introduction, the characterization made her out to be a vapid bitch who was mostly interested in ogling man-candy, drinking, and trying to set the MC with hot guys. Then she became totally pretentious and snotty, and I closed the book.

I mean, it's okay to have a character like that.  They have their place in fiction, too.  Except her actions were anathema to the description of her. 

And the author would've known that if they had looked at their book through the eyes of a reader.

I also recognize that sometimes stuff like that is hard to see because writers are too close to the writing.  I get that.  That's what editors are for.  The right editor can catch that crap ahead of time.  The wrong editor can actually insert that crap, but that's a different blog post.

Leaving that book aside where it belongs, I moved on to the next book I'd downloaded.  Interesting premise.  Grabby blurb.  Great cover.  Plenty of good reviews.  It opens with a guy waking up in some kind of chamber with people in the room.  Not something one is supposed to do as a writer, but I'm all about stepping outside the box, if it works.  This isn't working for me.  The sleeping dude's describing all these people, but it's unclear whether he's even opened his eyes yet.  None of the people seem to act like he's awake, that's for sure.  I can tell the author wanted to make sure all the key players got described right off, but it's not working for me as a reader.  Not sure if I'll keep trying with this one.  But it feels like the writer wasn't a reader here, too - at least not a reader of the genre he's writing. 

I seem to remember an older piece of fantasy fiction that started out in a similar way - a character coming into consciousness after a long period of time - and it worked then.  Can't for the life of me remember which book it was, but I remember it working.  It can be done.  Just not here.  :shrug:

And lest you think I'm a bitch typing all this down, or that I'm acting like this could never happen to me, I'm trying to whittle the wood down to something here.  Of course, it could happen to me.  It probably has happened to me.  Maybe that's why my genies books are flopping spectacularly - although several people I trust who've read them love them, so I don't know.

It's just something all writers should be aware of - even if it's back in their unconscious minds.  We write stuff for readers.  All kinds of readers.  Therefore it follows that writers should also be readers.  Readers know what they want from a book.  They have an instinct for what works and what doesn't, even if not all readers have the ability to write.  If you're a writer and reading this, though, I want you to think about it for a while.  Are you writing in a way that encourages people to read your words? 

And if you're a reader, I apologize for any instance where I may have forgotten the very things I'm talking about here.  I try, but sometimes I may fall down a bit.  I'll keep trying. 

Without naming any names, have you read any books that made you think the writer wasn't a reader? 


  1. This is interesting. At the library book-signing over the weekend, I had a conversation with the librarian. She mentioned she'd just been named as the new book cataloger (I'm sure there's a term for this but it slips my deadline-frazzled brain at the moment). The woman who had the position before her was NOT a reader. One, it boggles that this person worked in a library. Two, WTF?!? NYT romance author Gena Showalter's books were put in Science Fiction. Carolyn Hart, a NYT cozy mystery author, was put in romance. The new librarian just boggled. She's been working to re-catalog almost the entire collection. Frightening job!

    So yeah...if you don't love books, if you don't love to read, why would you want to write books? And thank you for the kudos. Much appreciated. I work hard at my craft and it's good to know that readers enjoy my words.

  2. I agree with Silver, this is very interesting. I read a book at the end of last year where I felt suspending belief was required, because of the differences in the character's personality and her actions. You can't have a relatively shy, quiet & introspective girl with body issues jumping a "hot god" guy half an hour after meeting him - it's just not credible. And this was the first chapter! At least give us a meet & greet before the clothes start coming off.

    I love to read but I'm a crap writer, very stilted and wooden. Even I don't enjoy reading what I've written but at least as a reader I can see what I've written is crap and avoid inflicting it on anyone else ... !