One of the best things a writer can do to hone their craft, is read well-written fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and drama. We learn to emulate them, and try new techniques that we see in these works. We learn language; we learn turns of phrases. All of this gets dumped into our “primordial ooze,” as Virginia Woolf called that fecund place from which we grow our stories. We enjoy the reading, and then start thinking about what the writers did and how they did it and we analyze words and sentence structures, paragraph and book structures. We don’t always do it consciously, but we tend to do it all the same. It’s how we are always learning our craft.
But good books don’t teach us everything. We can learn from bad books, but I like learning from books that are a mix of good and bad–which for me, leads to a vaguely dissatisfying experience that niggles and can make me put down a book without finishing because I don’t necessarily want to keep reading.
I’m reading a book right now that falls into this category. Except that I’m not reading it. I put it down and haven’t picked it up in days and I don’t know that I ever will. It’s a paranormal romance set in a really cool place and obviously had promise in the blurb. It starts with some unexpected elements, and then moves into some cliche. I no doubt suffered from the fact that I recently read a much better book with the same early trope, but much better executed.
I realized I was having a mix of reactions to the book. I wanted to know what happened with the two main characters. I wanted to know what kept them apart and how they overcame it. Only as I read on, I found myself deciphering the foreshadowing and not believing the woman’s reasons for being so terrified (terrified is repeated–as in, really fearful). I would expect her response to what happened to her to be anger, humiliation, hurt–but terror? I don’t think so.
Likewise, he’s never noticed her and suddenly she’s his ‘mate.’ (This is a shifter story). He’s apparently been dreaming about her and even though he’s known her previously, never paid attention to her. But what bothers me is that when he realizes he has to work to win her affections, he doesn’t stop to consider what their relationship has been, how they’ve interacted before, and why she might not like him.
The more I read, the less I’m convinced that their attraction is real instead of shoehorned into a situation without enough attention to actually building a believable foundation.
So what do I learn from this? Well, stuff I already knew. The motivations have to be believable. The character interactions have to be genuine and real. That readers want to stick with the story but won’t waste their time if there are significant cracks in it. But I also learned that you can have things in the story that will pull a reader along despite problems. That a reader *wants* to like the characters and will be fairly forgiving if you just smooth out the road a little.
I’ve read books that I wanted to put down because of the problems, but I kept getting dragged along because *something* in the book demanded it. But then I get to the end and I have regrets that the book wasn’t executed better. And those regrets make me sad.
I read another book lately that I didn’t finish because there was no finesse in the language. And by that, I mean it was: She went here. She did this and had fun. He said something obnoxious and she got mad. There was little showing, and too much simplified Dick and Jane stuff. I wanted to like it. I just couldn’t. The main character was super likeable. It just wasn’t enough.