Over the last few weeks I’ve sampled a number of new-to-me authors and had the same problem with several of them. I always read the blurb, Look Inside excerpt and a few sample reviews before buying, so none of my purchases was a disaster. They all had interesting characters, an intriguing premise, and quality writing, but either I didn’t finish them, or I skimmed to the end to see how the author wrapped up the plot.
I gave up on these books because I got overloaded. It seemed clear that all the information stuffed into the opening chapters would be used at some point in the story, but the pacing was lightning-fast and data was thrown at me until I wanted to beg for mercy. I was too busy trying to remember everything to care about the main characters. In the end, the read became too much like hard work and I quit, which was a shame.
In one book, we learned about the heroine’s traumatic backstory and the effect it had on her present behavior; her family’s tragic history; her current circumstances; her skillz; her new community, each with thumbnail sketches of their own challenges; her present mission; and a greater threat to her community. And that’s all before we found out about the hero.
In another, we had competing paranormal worlds, mixing magic and sci-fi. The writer had a great imagination and everything she wrote was fascinating and well thought out, but, but, but… The hero had one superpower, the heroine had a couple, the bad guy had another, the heroine’s community had others and there were elements of the hero’s backstory that brought in something else. Again, some pretext or another was found to introduce every single member of the heroine’s community with a character sketch, I suppose with the expectation that they’ll get their own book in due course.
I’m trying to be a little vague because the problem might be me. The stories were well written and cleverly imagined, and since I had the same reaction to all of them, maybe this information-heavy, adrenaline-rich style is sought after and enjoyed by other readers, even though it gave me a headache.
The best thing about reading these DNF books is that it’s given me a new perspective on my own writing. An English writer friend recently read the opening scenes of my Alexis manuscript and had exactly the above reaction: literary dyspepsia. I understood what she was saying intellectually, but I didn’t really get it until I experienced it myself.
When I read authors I really enjoy, the characters and challenges, plots and subplots, are introduced and set to work in a pacy but streamlined manner. This week I’ve been thinking about my pages and wondering how I can simple them up without losing the important stuff. I already found a couple of early scenes in Alexis that I think I could delete.
As Jenny Crusie used to tell us in class at McDaniel, It’s A Process. There’s always something to learn.
What did you learn this week?