Tuesday, July 9, 2013
I bought a tomato today at Sav Mor. I didn't go in to buy a tomato, although I love tomatoes, because I dislike how quickly they go mushy in the fridge once you slice them. But this one was sitting in exactly the right spot to catch my eye as the toe separator on my flip-flops gave way and I caught my balance on the display case to keep from falling. It practically jumped into my hand, and since it saved me from an embarrassing fall in the middle of the store with everyone staring/snickering at me and possibly snapping pictures to post on their Face Book pages as the joke of the day, I decided it deserved to be rescued from a slow rotting death amongst the rest of its peers.
So, what does my shopping have to do with writing, you’re probably asking yourself now. (My question being are you still reading, lol.)
Depending on the genre of book you are shopping for, the above paragraph could mean something different to every reader – and especially to every writer/reader.
- A cozy mystery reader would be looking for whatever sticky spot on the floor caused the flip-flop to stick and come undone and possibly expecting the clerk that assists the POV character to her feet – or “checks her out” to be eventually suspected love interest/murder and the tomato to be some sort of dead give away clue.
- A Chic Lit/romance reader might be expecting the handsomely rich love interest to be met in the vege isle, tomatoes to eventually become the object/concept that finally makes the HEA happen.
- A scy-fy/horror reader would of course ignore the tomato altogether while looking for the laser blast/time jump/gun or kitana shop/zombie or Wookie to manifest so the MC could open a can of whoop-ass with the broken thong.
My point is that I never actually judge a story by its first line, or first paragraph. That’s probably because even as a dedicated reader before I became a serious writer, I’ve always felt the opening was pretty much just a place to start the novel. Sacrilegious concept for authors, I know. We’re always told the first line of a story must sell the entire manuscript – to the agent, editor, or publisher the author is submitting to.
I’m questioning this author logic. My last IWSG post was about author integrity – be true to your writing concept. This is a hard road to follow though, a fine line to tread between author vision and getting the story out there for the reading public to view. Does anyone except a writing professional or creative writing teacher scrutinize a first line that hard?
Before I started my first novel – just a short story that kept needing some details filled in until it was over 80k in a rough draft – I read books in many different genre’s. I’m fond of series novels, which is probably why high fantasy is my favorite genre, but I’d also get stuck on an author and read everything until I had to start on something else just to have something to read before the next publication comes out.
I started writing my first novel in June of 2005, and had completed it as a trilogy somewhere about October 2007. I had no writing aspirations prior to the first novel and knew nothing about the craft of writing except what I learned in some high school and college Reading and Composition and Creative Writing Composition classes. Several rejected submissions, a bad experience with a vanity press, and a valuable one-on-one consultation with a reputable literary agent at a writer’s conference; and I decided to purchase some writer’s self help books and join a writers group. That last was the best decision I could make for my writing career.
But it effectively ended of my pleasure reading days. The more I learn about what makes a good novel – and novelist – the less I’m able to ignore story reality questions, and to stop that nasty critique voice that asserts an opinion on every line/paragraph of text.
Not long ago I was reading a novel by a favorite blogger/author. I like to support my writer friends by reading their books/short stories and then writing a review if I liked the story. I've read several stories by this particular author and enjoyed them; but with this novel I found myself losing interest long before I hit the 25 percent mark on the Kindle. The writing wasn't bad – it had his unique flare for detail, intricate world building, and vivid characterization, all of which appeals to me – but the genre wasn't quite my style (though I've read and enjoyed a few books in the genre), and the detailed first person POV was tedious to read.
Now, clearly I’m not the target audience for this novel, but as I said, I like the author – personally and professionally – and determined to soldier on through to the end. Well before the end I contacted him and said I just couldn't write a review – which he had not asked for – and I felt bad I couldn't finish the novel. He laughed and said he was surprised I even started reading it. I still worry I offended him with the blunt phrasing, even if he understood the sentiment.
So here I am reading Under The Dome by Stephen King (I’d like to say I’m his #1 Fan), and at less than half way through I’m ready to give up. The writing is everything I love about King as an author; but the mostly omniscient POV with all the back story details of everyone and everything that is repeated from several perspectives, the number of throwaway characters with said detailed back story, long posturizing (author intrusion) from the narrator, several noticeable spelling errors . . And I’m thinking “I should quit this novel” as I’m skimming through paragraphs to get to something not a repeat of info dumps or a description of a wood chuck contemplating the universe.
Even worse, I've critiqued writers for many of these same mistakes, and more. Distance/special consistency is another of my pet peeves. I was watching The Walking Dead Season 4 preview marathon on Sunday, and suddenly it dawned on me: why does it take them less than half a day to walk anywhere, but they drive for hours and hours? Or they start a scene at daybreak and end in darkness? How did it take only a few hours for Rick, Carl and Michonne to drive from the Prison to Rick and Carl’s home town, and for Angela to drive (and walk) from Woodbury in just a couple hours – yet they drove across, and walked across the state for over a year and had no idea where they were? How come the graves are dug for group members that have been eaten by Walkers? Who shaves Carol’s head?
And I wonder, would I have noticed these mistakes if I hadn't became an author and started learning the “craft” of story development? Will I also put a story/book down based on the first line/paragraph if I continue to learn to be a best selling author?
How do you separate your author self from your reader self?
Tuesday, July 9, 2013