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.