Wednesday, February 1, 2017

IWSG: The Writing Reader

Hey Y'all

How's the year treating you so far? January went by so slowly for me, but it seems I never found the time to get back online after last month's IWSG. This may be a long post; never know when I'll post again, but I have several uncompleted blogging tasks from last month. Feel free to skim and read only what tweaks your interest.

This month's Insecure Writers Group question is: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader? That works perfectly with the incomplete tasks from last month because there were a couple book reviews I wanted to post. Lets see if I can make this concise yet informative.

Before I started taking my writing whims seriously (about 10 years ago), I think I was your average slow but voracious reader. I liked series books, mostly sci-fi/fantasy and horror/thriller, but a good adventure with likeable characters was all that was needed to keep my interest. Typo's have always bugged me, but I never cared if the story was believable (plausible), had any structure, was historically accurate, used cliche phrases. I never assessed a book for anything except pure entertainment value.

Would I love to have those happy book reading days back? Absolutely! Its so rare to just lose myself in a story - let alone stick out an entire series. I seem to be in constant critic mode, analyzing everything from POV, writing style, depth of character arcs, plausibility, factual accuracy (creative license only gets so much leeway), genre tropes. But most of all: originality.

I know, there is almost no original story concept to write about. When I wrote my first novel I thought it was unique because I'd never read any fiction like it. Turns out there is a whole genre of fiction dedicated to the concept, I'd just never read it. I've spent a few years reading in the women's fiction genre, and revising the book (now a trilogy) so that it meets the genre standards, but has some original scenes and twists. Its not easy.

Genre criteria is an area I pay close attention to now in books I read. Its an obsession; not always a good one. But it has allowed me to expand my reading into multiple genre's, just to see how other authors tackle the complex issues of being unique yet standard.

For instance, I've never been much of a romance reader - I was in my early teens (1980's) when I discovered ALL romance novels have the same themes. Men are drop dead gorgeous, rich jet setter play-boys (or spies); women are slightly ditzy yet beautiful, usually poor, swept off their feet by nothing more than a stunning smile and expensive gifts; and lots of long looks and life threatening rescues occur to seal the romance. Got boring quickly. I learned not to like HEA (happily ever after) endings.

Then I learned there were several categories of romance (and wouldn't you know, women's fiction nudges into that niche) and I kinda like some of them. A friend of mine gave me a Regency Romance book after learning I sometimes enjoy Historical and Regency's. The book was THE SUBSTITUTE BRIDEGROOM, written by Charlotte Louise Dolan.

I enjoyed the book; a light hearted, humorous, emotional, period romance that doesn't miss a single criteria beat. Yet, from the opening scenes, a curricle race between two English "gentlemen" that ends in a spectacular crash and the scarring of a beautiful society lady, I was drawn in by the authentic language (vernacular) and setting, the strength of the Hero's character, and the smooth and progressive flow of the story. Some of the secondary characters (the villains who strive to keep the two love interest from truly falling for each other) were too obviously written as props to provide character growth for the two main characters; but I did enjoy the banter and devious antics.

And of course, the chemistry between the Captain and his complacent bride when they actually had scenes together. There was just enough tragedy to keep the expected happy ending from being too cloying, and just enough humor to allow forgiveness for over-writing the selfishness of the villains. I recommend this book to true fans of classic romance.

I read several of the other reviews of this novel (after writing mine), and I was shocked at how many reviews stated that this was nothing new, same old same old for its genre. The oldest review was dated in 2011 after a re-release of her novels, but I believe the original publication date was (Signet) 1991. Most of the reviews were dated 2013 and later. I mention this only because it goes with my assertion that some publication criteria for genre's haven't changed over the last - what, maybe 30 years? Maybe more. And I wonder, if general public reviews were as easily submitted in 1991, if this novel would have gotten the same customer reviews?

I suppose this is why there are so many new genre's opening up. Readers and authors looking to expand on the "tried and true" with some new twists.

Another book I read that tweaked my reader/writer critic was PERSONAL, by Lee Child. Now I have to admit that I like Jack Reacher movies better than the novels (nope, don't care about Tom Cruise's politics or religion, he's a good actor and that's all that matters to me in a movie); but that's because I have a hard time following all the intrigues and techno writing in the books. I liked Lee Child's books NOTHING TO LOSE and WORTH DYING FOR, even though I thought they were just a tad over-written (wordy), so when I was looking for an audio book on CD, I at least knew I liked Lee Child so took a chance on PERSONAL.

The story hooked me right away, but it did not take long for the writing to become repetitive, and info dumpy. By half way through the novel, I felt as if the author was both dumbing down the writing for readers (like me) who have a hard time following complex plots with over explanations and repeats of plot points (investigation progress) so far. Then, it seems the author was pleased with himself regarding all the research that went into the bullet proof glass that was the main subject of the plot, and several times spent pages and pages explaining every aspect of the technology and its development.

Boring. Had I been reading an actual paper (or electronic) book, I would have been skipping pages. As a reader - and perhaps because I'm also a writer - I'm unreasonably offended by an author who feels they have to over-explain a story concept/plot for the reader to "get it."

Over the summer I beta-read a novel for a friend, and my biggest critique was the amount of info dump on every nuance/scene. Yet, here is a best selling author doing the same info dump and repetitive summations that I advised against for a novice author. As a reader (which influences me as an author) I want to get the gist of the concepts through context. As in, if the author can't give me a basic visual within a couple sentences, maybe a paragraph, then I'm pretty sure I'm not the target audience. What I liked about Ms Dolan's novels - although not totally my preferred genre - is that I could understand all the unfamiliar terminology within the context of the story. She trusted her reader, unlike Mr Child.

Did I get off topic? Sorry. This has taken me several days to write. I spent last weekend in Salt Lake City, and had the privilege of visiting with Michael Offutt, who unluckily purchased a gorgeous home that currently has no internet connection, so he has sadly been offline since November. Always a pleasure to hang with Mike, and of course the IWSG question of the month came up. His paraphrased opinion is essentially: how can it not affect your reading opinions?  We had a lively discussion over dinner at Olive Garden about whether ALL author's reading have been affected by their writer knowledge, or if some authors still read with the same enthusiasm and wonder for the written word as before..

So tell me: How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?

Please be sure to thank your IWSG host (by visiting the blog) Alex J Cavanaugh; and this months co-hosts Misha Gerrick, LK Hill, Juneta Key, Christy, and Joylene Butler.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Cool you got to visit Michael. Yeah, he's rather cut off right now.
Being a writer means we are pickier. And I can tell you from listening to my own audio books, that really shows of repetitiveness in a book.
And I think Tom Cruise is a whack job, but he's still a great actor and I enjoy his films as well.

erica and christy said...

It is easy to get off topic in a blog post. I've done it lots! But I think you stayed right on point. I don't think I'm as critical of the books I read as much as I study them, so maybe my enjoyment is slightly greater than yours. I'm sure you're a better writer for it though! Christy

L. Diane Wolfe said...

A successful book sets a trend that others follow, so when people find the first book years later, it's not so original and fresh anymore. My husband had me watch The Exorcist almost 20 years after its release. I'd never seen it. But there have been so many copycats since then that I have seen that the film didn't have a huge impact on me.

Pat Hatt said...

Yep, sure makes one pickier. I'd like to go back to the blissful days too. Funny how popular authors get away with anything and everything too.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Am I a pickier reader? I guess I am. But when I read one of my favorite authors' books, I find I don't pick them apart so much as I do a new-to-me author. And if I don't pick apart a new-to-me author, they become a favorite. I like it when I get lost in the story, and I like that it can still happen to me, even though it's kind of rare now.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Donna - I admire anyone who writes stories ... but like you I get bored with the same old 'routine' within one person's range of books - enough is enough. I just love a book that teaches me history and a whole range of other disciplines - letting my mind wander off. Not sure books always translate into films ... but I'll watch the film, not knowing the book probably. Good luck with your writing ... cheers Hilary

Lexa Cain said...

I enjoyed romances when I was young, particularly Regency ones. All those ball gowns, curricle races, and fancy language were fun to read! Then I found thrillers, like Forsyth, Ludlum, and Trevanian, and then horror and I never looked back. But I used to be a patient reader like you, and that isn't possible anymore. I'm totally with you on info dumps. I think a lot of it has to do with male vs female readers. I started a horror novel about an ice cave and a monster. The author spent many pages listing and explaining all the equipment the expedition took, especially the guns. Lots of guns. Although some guys may be into that, it was way TMI for me. Nothing much was happening plotwise, so I gave up after a while. Glad you got to have dinner with Michael & have a good week!

Tamara Narayan said...

The good thing about reading as a writer is being able to spot quality writing quickly. That way we don't have to waste time on junk.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

WILD THING, I'm racking my brain trying to think of something at least semi-witty to write here, but..... I got nuttin'.

So I guess I'll just say...

~ D-FensDogG
Check out my new blog @
(Link:] Stephen T. McCarthy Reviews...

I'm re-posting there, every couple of days, some of my old (and best) writing from yesteryear. I think you'll be entertained by much of it, even if the subject matter isn't always your glass o' wine.

Shah Wharton said...

Tom as an actor is good enough (in thriller roles mostly) but because he's loop-the-loop I find it less pleasurable to watch his movies now. Which isa shame, because he's never going to star in a boob, is he?

Reading as a writer is wearing, tiring and generally irritating. Either you hate it (critically) or you wish you could write like them. Double edged sword!

farawayeyes said...

I'm like totally with ya on not being able to get lost in a story much anymore. Ha! I read a lot and I hate to say this, but a lot of what I read is carp. Is it terrible to say that often I read something (and I mean something published by a reputable big publishing house) and think, stuff is at least as good at this, or maybe even better. YIKES, did I just say that out loud? I hope I don't have to pay in spades for that comment, but there is stuff being published that has me shaking my head, in disbelief. And, don't even get me started on the self-pubed stuff. I'm definitely learning the importance of a good editor and strong Betas willing to tell you the truth.

I'm currently reading a book as part of a 'book club' within a writing group I've joined. This guy has a great story line, with an intricate plot, his characters are well developed, and there is great voice...BUT...wait for it...TALK ABOUT OVERWRITING. He likes nothing better than the sound of his own prose and the redundancy and flowery descriptions are about to drive me insane. I'm 30% in (the book is 170K words - shouldn't known what I was in for when I saw that) and trying to find and make notes about the 'good things', so I can have some positive feedback and write a decent review.

OK, that was harsh. Now I'll never find Betas to trade work with me, but seriously folks if you come in at 170k words it's time for some serious slash and burn. I'm currently working n a short story for an anthology submission (10k or less) and having a hard time adapting it from a full length novel I've already written. I know it's hard, but sometimes it's just got to be done. I think getting into writing short stories has been good for my general verbosity.

OK, sorry for the hijack. Caught me at a moment of rising blood pressure on a topic that is currently a little too close.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm able to lose myself in stories if the writing is very good, and grammar errors aren't easy to spot. Even so, I enjoy most books I read nowadays. :)

Elsie Amata said...

No Internet? *gasp* I think I might go bananas. Truly. I'm not sure how long I'd last. Few days tops. And my youngest child..well, an hour or two at most ;)

Olga Godim said...

Genre rules might be off-putting sometimes, leading to the kind of 'same old same,' but they are comforting too. When I pick up a romance, I'm sure it has a HEA and I'm glad. I don't want to read tragedies. That's why mainstream literature is hit and miss for me. I don't like reading tragedies or real life drama. I have it enough in my life. I want to read for joy, so I shop for books in certain genres. Maybe I'm too shallow but I love happy endings.

Juneta Key said...

I love to lose myself in story, but like you since I started writing stories geared toward publication I don't do as often or as much as I probably need to do it. I miss it.

Great post, so many points. Hopefully this will let me comment.

Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

A Beer For The Shower said...

Yes, absolutely yes. Sometimes I wish I could just shut off my brain and enjoy a book the way I used to, similar to how I might shut off my brain and watch one of those brainless action flicks. Sometimes it's nice to be picky and notice all of these things... and sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Denise Covey said...

One good thing about this travelling gig of yours, Donna, is that you're working through your blogger list. Now I have to wait for California to secede before I can visit you in the land of the free. I love Lee Child's Jack Reacher never-ending series, but I adore picking all the bad writing...'as' all over the page, virtually no 'showing'...let's just tell 'em, boring repetitions, but dang, he knows a plot when he sees one. I think he's like the Readers Digest--aims at the educational level of a 12-year old. Too clever books are boring too. But, well, I would have chosen someone more like Clint Eastwood for Jack Reacher, not Tom Cruise who I don't think can act at all. But you don't have to act to be Jack Reacher--you just need to drink coffee, grimace, drive cars and shoot-em-up. IMHO!!

Lovely chatting!!


Roland D. Yeomans said...

I was able to lose myself in the first three Orson Scott Card audio books in his Alvin Maker series, but the next two made the writer in me scream out loud in my car: SHOW DON'T TELL! Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting. Seeing you there made me smile. :-)

D.G. Hudson said...

I find that I analyze what works or doesn't as I read, but I don't care as much about the mechanics of the writing as the story line. I've never read much romance either, but I don't mind some romance being in the story. How nice that you got together with Michael. PS - how does Tom Cruise get all these parts in movies?

dolorah said...

Alex: I’m starting to think I should put my own writing on the kindle and have it read to me so I can catch more of the errors. Better than reading aloud myself.

Christy: yes, I think I’m learning from the critical reading.

L Diane: Right!

Pat: yeah, makes me not want to worry over “the rules” much.

Stacy: I don’t pick apart a fav author as much either, but I still do a lot of tongue ticking, lol.

Hilary: I love books that teach me something new about history, technology, or the universe. Some of those books even make me want to learn more on the internet.

Lexa: Perhaps it’s a generational thing – I think we all go through that dreamy romance phase. A good plot can help forgive a lot of poor writing.

Tamara: lol, this is true.

St Mac: Yo Baby!! I’ll visit now and then I’m sure.

Shah: Hello, nice to meet you. No, I doubt he’ll ever star in a dud. And I’ve had my share of jealous times when I’m reading a book in a genre I write in, and think “why can’t I write this way?”

FAE: 170k? I can’t believe you agreed to read it at all! I’ve had occasion to email an author and tell them outright that I could not continue reading a book when it is such a chore. Of course, if your group is small it could strain relationships; but I’ve always been of the opinion the truth in these matters saves worse ill feelings later. Tell him the good things you’ve already listed, and gracefully bow out. Well, that’s what I’d do. You are nicer than me though, lol. Don’t worry, I’ll beta for you. Many people prefer honesty though, so I’m sure you will still have lots of readers.

Chrys: Some readers are avid readers and can forgive most writing errors. Cool that you are this type. I’m a little jealous.

Elsie: lol. I know. My son and I got through two hours of a black-out once. Sheer torture.

Olga: I agree, rules can be comforting. Nothing wrong with enjoying that HEA; the genre would not have survived so long and gained new readers consistently if most of the world didn’t need that staple feel-good. I don’t consider it shallow at all. I’m a closet RomCom fan. Shhhh, our secret.

Juneta: Glad you were able to comment. I think turning off that inner critic during reading takes practice.

Beers: So far, I’ve been able to lose myself in your stories. Both of them that I picked up.

Dx: I don’t think I’ll like living in THE STATE OF JEFFERSON, lol. The shining plot of a Reacher novel is what keeps me reading/listening on. Maybe I enjoy tsking at his writing errors too. Eastwood is too old for the role, but his constant “swell” would suit Reacher’s character. Wouldn’t mind seeing John Travolta in the role though.

Roland: lol. I’ve had those moments in my car too.

DG: Yeah I’m not much of a “romance” reader, but I do want some romance in the story. I imagine Tom keeps getting these awesome roles cuz he can still rock the action scene, even at 60. He may be a religious nut, but he’s still hot!

Lynda R Young said...

I can't break the critic mode when I'm reading too. I even edit newspapers in my head when I'm reading them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I wondered where Michael had gone. That's cool that the two of you discussed the IWSG question. I read the Reacher novels too. I like them better than the movies, but I'm starting to feel like the books are all the same. Perhaps he's stretched the series too long.

VR Barkowski said...

Yep, it’s much harder to get lost in book these days, but I agree if the story and writing are compelling, flaws fade into the background. And no book is perfect. I’ve never seen the Reacher movie, but I’ve read a few of Lee Child’s books. He’s a very nice man, and I accept he’s the gold standard for thriller writers everywhere, but for the life of me. I can’t figure out why. Major yawn.

VR Barkowski

Elizabeth Seckman said...

When I read to try to study why a book is selling, I'm pickier. But if I'm reading for fun, I will overlook the flaws and just enjoy the book.

N. R. Williams said...

Good points all. It is super irritating sometimes when a best selling author resorts to things the rest of us are rejected for. I suppose that with success means they must put out more and they think they can do anything.

If you like unusual voice, Francine Howarth is regency romance and her voice is unlike any I've encountered. She has an extensive family library dating way back and say's that she is copying the way they spoke.

dolorah said...

Lynda: oh man, I think newspaper articles are deliberately written with editing errors for dramatic effect.

Susan: I think that happens with books, just like it does with TV and Movie series.

VR: lol, I was yawing at some parts too. Not good when you're driving.

Elizabeth Nice to just get lost in the story.

Nancy: I've read some of Francine's snippets. She does have an intriguing writer's voice.

Donna K. Weaver said...

And if you don't write that romance formula some readers gets upset (I don't). However, I've had a lot of readers comment about the surprise of reading a romnance that didn't follow the formula.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I have to check out that romance. It sounds great. How cool to get to visit a fellow author/blogger.

Michelle Wallace said...

I just can’t read with that same abandon that I used to before I started writing. On a certain level, it makes me sad.
The thing is, I’m a reader first. I've been reading from the age of five-and-a-half. The writing started very, very late (just under 7 years ago)and maybe that's the reason I can't sink into a book like before. Almost as if the 'writerly brain' is in competition with the 'reader brain'? If that makes any sense? Probably not. LOL

Arlee Bird said...

I like to read--when I do manage to read. Sadly I'm not as voracious as I'd like to be and I am often a tediously slow reader. Reading gets my mind to wandering much of the time as I go down whatever paths an author might distract me to take. Reading also has a tendency to put me to sleep.

That being said, when I do read, I tend to usually be a very forgiving reader if I like the author's style and content. Errors will elude me and as long as I understand what I'm reading then how it's written might not bother me much. When doing Amazon reviews it's rare for me to assign less than 3 stars to a book and most of the time I'll rate a book with 4 to 5 stars. Most authors deserve at least that much for their efforts.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Ellie Garratt said...

Fab you got hang out with Mike!

I used to have certain favourite authors who wrote standalone books. Those books worked and sold well, but do know what I noticed? They ALL had the same basic plot. Now I guess that works for most readers - you know what you're getting. As a writer, I got bored. I wanted the author to surprise me. To take me in a direction I wasn't expecting. So, while I expect genres to follow the rules of that genre, I do want the author to give me something more. Of course, whether as a writer I achieve the same myself, only a reader can answer.

Deniz Bevan said...

How fun that you got to visit with Michael!

I used to avoid romance books too because after reading a handful I assumed they were all the same, and some are so badly written and trite!

One author in that genre that stands out head and shoulders above the crowd is Jo Bourne. The first book is called The Spymaster's Lady. If you see one of her books, get it! They're so, so good, and the writing is top notch.

Nick Wilford said...

Yeah, I think once a writer gets to a certain level of success they can get away with doing whatever they like. Not all of them do that though. I don't get as easily lost in a book now but if I do then that's a testament to the writer's skill.

Cherie Reich said...

That's awesome you visited Mike! There really is nothing new out there, but finding your own twists is what is important. I must admit I really notice things in books that I've been told should or shouldn't be done in a novel. It just goes to show that there are no rules and different things work for different readers.

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