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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading in the Modern Era

Many sources with advice for writers say an author should read other writers in their genre to learn from what gets published. I have often suggested that writers pay particular attention to first novels since those always get the highest scrutiny from publishers. But now we are in a different sort of publishing world, where anyone can publish their work and have it available to the masses. While this is a boon to creative minds who once would have been squelched by the big publishers who judge works based on what they think will sell, it also serves to flood the marketplace with books of questionable quality. I've read a few. Editing can be sloppy to non-existent. Formatting errors abound. And there are entire websites devoted to bad cover art.

I recently purchased an ebook because the book trailer attracted me. On, there were a number of reviews praising it, and no reviewer gave it less than four stars. I won't give the author or the title since this is not a review. One thing I didn't do was check out the sample pages, and if I had, I wouldn't have bought it. Anyway, I began reading, and rather than being immediately entranced as many reviewers claimed to have been, my first reaction was annoyance. I'll get to why in a moment. I put it aside for a few days and then tried again to give it a second chance. I also gave it a third chance, but a fourth may not be in order. Then I began thinking about what could be learned from such a book. I don't claim to be an expert, but I'm addressing my reactions as a reader in the hopes of providing some food for thought for other writers.

First annoying thing: the story drops into the middle of a tense situation of which the reader knows nothing. There are intimations of threats of an otherworldly nature and of some ally who might be of assistance, but none of this is understandable. The subject character has only a first name and little else to help us identify with her. After the brief opening passage, the next chapter begins with a statement that it is now two months earlier. Personally, I hate that. The opening of a book should be strong enough, or the character(s) compelling enough, that one should not have to resort to jumping ahead into the action to tease the reader into becoming invested in the story.

Second annoying thing: the sentences are often too long and combine disparate bits of information. For example, while indicating an uncanny aspect of a newly arrived character, the appearance of that character is described in fair detail, down to what she is wearing. The problem with these jam-packed sentences is that I had to keep rereading them to make sure I understood what the point was, what main forward action they provided. Some provided none at all. Simple rule of English: a sentence is an idea. Sometimes we combine two ideas into one sentence with a conjunction, but each should contain one idea if it were to stand on its own.

Third annoying thing: anachronisms. This term pertains not just to things or events that should not appear in the time frame of the story, like the appearance of a revolver in King Arthur's court. In this case, in the early paragraphs, the character crawls to a new position and then soon after fears for her safety because she is too ill to rise from her bed and flee. Huh? And then she prepares to hold her ground and fight the threat. Double huh?

On my publisher's webpage, Write Words, Inc Authors Guide there are two major rules: (1) Never confuse your reader, and (2) Never made work for your editor. The book under discussion above broke Rule 1 and made me want to give it up. If the manuscript had seen the attentions of an editor, it would have broken Rule 2.

I don't think I'll be able to finish reading this one. Just considering it gives me a headache.

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