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.