Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lessons Learned.

I read a book recently.  (Big surprise, I know.)  While I did finish it, there were many times throughout the thing when I wanted to add it to the rejected stack and move on.  I kept going because I wanted to see how things turned out, and the ending was kind of disappointing.  While I wouldn't say the book was bad, there were a lot of things about it that kept me from really enjoying it.

But when I sat back and thought it over, I realized that all the things I didn't like about the book were things I had to learn not to do.

It's a weird thing to realize that I can look at a book as ~430 pages' worth of a lesson.  (Especially when the author did a bunch of things I've learned not to do and still got published.)  But I thought it would help to take a good look at the three big things I had trouble with and go into why they're so important.

First: deliver on your premise's promise.  The first chapter promised a heist story with a lovable rogue main character, and I was completely in after a page and a half.  The story went on to delve into political intrigue, the main antagonist's revenge plot, and the main character's buried past.  The actual heist made up at most a twentieth of the story, and the lovable rogue didn't even do it - the antagonist did.  This left me feeling like the book was one big bait-and-switch.  But I recognized this because I did it in BoLR - I started with the premise of blackmail and revenge, but swerved into a plot involving ancient magic.  It's a dissatisfying way to structure a story, and it makes it seem like the book's trying to be too many things at once.

Second: you need to love your characters and your world, but make the reader love them too.  I've been dealing with this for I don't even know how long, which probably comes from writing the same characters over and over and not understanding why readers don't connect with them.  >_<  But I could tell, in this book, that the author deeply loved their characters and the world around them.  It read like I was supposed to find it all interesting and fascinating, but it just didn't work for me.  The villains that showed up in the last quarter or so of the book struck me as the most interesting people, and I found myself wondering why they hadn't shown up much earlier.  I know this is very subjective, but making the reader care about your characters is essential, as it gives them reason to keep reading.

Third: don't be vague about what's happening.  Many times in the book, I had to reread passages and figure out what characters had actually done, because the text didn't explicitly say it.  This is the big one for me; I know this because I've caught myself doing this and caught it in others' work as well.  It's frustrating to see it in a published book, especially in the rather complicated endgame, because having to stop and say "Wait, what just happened?" yanks the reader right out of the story.  Mystery is good for backstory, history, and other such things, but if a character is taking an immediate action, it needs to be clearly stated.

What about the rest of you?  What lessons have you learned from something you read?  And were they lessons in a "do this" way, or a "don't do this" like what I just read?  :P

Next week: IWSG.


  1. I think the only real lesson I've learned from reading unsatisfactory books is that whining characters set my teeth on edge and will likely make me chuck the book across the room.

    Your mention of loving characters brought up memories of a critique I got almost five years ago. Sometimes, we just don't know what to do to make other people love the made up people in our mind. What ended up working for me was taking tips from Save the Cat! and later focusing on character deservingness.

    I don't think the premise's promise is much of an issue for me. I have a tendency to immerse myself in the story as its happening, so veering off doesn't bother me as much if it feels natural. Of course, that might mean my own writing will drive people nuts. :D

    And vagueness--yeah, I totally get you there.

    1. I hadn't heard about character deservingness, but that's a really good article. I'll definitely keep that in mind when working on new people; thanks. ^_^

  2. Frustrating when you see mistakes you now avoid in someone else's published book.
    Lesson I've learned - no info dump. It's boring to read. And on a personal level, no anti-heroes - I really don't enjoy them.

    1. Agreed about infodumps. I've learned to weave info in when the reader needs to know it, and not before.

      As for anti-heroes, I agree - too often they seem like someone who we're supposed to like because they do bad stuff supposedly for the right reasons and get away with it, but it usually just seems too much like some edgy 1990s comic "hero" to me, and I outgrew that a long time ago.

  3. I have a problem connecting with my own MC usually, and always adore my side characters more. Although frustrating, it's a huge accomplishment to see your writing problems and identify them in other books. That really brings those issues to the front of the mind and probably easier to avoid in the future.

    1. It did feel like a weird sort of accomplishment, now that I think about it - like I could recognize these things instead of doing them by accident. But yes, it was frustrating to see that they were present in the first place.