I call myself a ‘book gobbler’, as when I get into a book I can finish it in a day, even if it is as large as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. My book appetite, I’ve discovered, is a pretty good yardstick for how much I’m going to enjoy a particular book. For example, I finished Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White and Fallen by Lauren Kate quickly. I liked them, though I could see flaws in each like I can most books I read. On the other hand, I have a number of books that took me a long time to read or I never finished because it felt so much like a chore to read them. I won’t name names, because I don’t know exactly who reads this blog and I prefer not to be offensive when I can help it. Suffice it to say, however, that I strongly disliked those books.
The books I disliked had a few things in common:
- Too much backstory dumped at once early on
- Too much description (generally bad, at that) and not enough action
- Anticlimactic endings (for the ones I did finish, of course)
- Boring, flat characters
- Slowly unfurling plots that gave nothing else to keep things interesting (this one often relates to the first two points)
That’s just a quick list. I’m sure there are other problems to pick apart. I also see these problems in a lot of writing by unpublished writers, myself (sadly) included. Of course, those who just want to write for the pleasure of writing will argue that they are artists and should not have to pander to the desires of other people. Fair enough, but for those of us aiming for publication we have to remember that the reader comes first. If there were a ten commandments of writing, number one would be “Thou shalt not bore thy readers”. This is especially true if someone like me reads your work, with our lovely short attention spans and even shorter tempers.
An interesting example of a book I didn’t expect to like due to complaints like slow beginnings was Fallen. The beginning was, indeed, slow but there were plenty of subplots and little mysteries to keep interest. The big reveal did come later than it does in most paranormal romances, but the pieces were there for the readers to put together themselves so they wouldn’t be left floundering for answers. (What a word, “floundering”.) So of course your writing may not be perfect and, since we human beings believe it to be so, no one else’s is, either. However, it’s important to learn to grab your readers and hold them there for the duration of your story, right up until the last word. I didn’t have a good grasp on that when I first started writing, until I realized I wanted to be read and enjoyed by others.
And to think this whole post was prompted by a positive review of my first chapter from a writer who was hesitant to read unpublished writing due to problems that, funnily enough, often crop up in published writing. Such moments make me feel better about myself and my writing. I’m going to leave it there, before I go off on another tangent.