Jilly: TMI

What have you been reading lately? What did you like or dislike? Did you learn anything?

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?

4 thoughts on “Jilly: TMI

  1. This isn’t about what I learned this week, but an add-in to what you’re talking about. There’s an important balance to parsing out needed info/backstory. You can’t throw it all out at the beginning, but waiting too long is also a bad strategy. I referenced an new author I’d read in a recent post (https://eightladieswriting.com/2018/04/19/michille-caples-favorite-characters-3/) who has the absolute worst black operatives on the planet. In addition to completely inept cover operators, she also save a big reveal for very nearly the end of the story. I killed your brother. I killed your sister. When that isn’t the case at all and by then, the reader knows this but you spend the entire story with The Big Misunderstanding. Argh.

    Done venting. Good luck parsing out your info.

    • I’m pretty sure I’ve read your black ops book. I had the exact same problems, recognized it immediately when I read your post last month. Yep, I hate the Big Mis, and really hate withheld information.

      Wandering happily on to the black ops tangent, did anyone else see this fabulous story starter snippet in the news recently? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/stories-43702764 A real holiday resort, in Sudan, set up and run for almost 4 years in the 1980s by Mossad as a front for a covert operation. Tourists got windsurfing and diving lessons from undercover Mossad operatives. The place was so successful it got fantastic reviews and even turned a profit. Whoo! When I read this article, I SO wished I wrote romantic suspense 🙂

  2. Jilly, I know just what you mean about a potentially good story that starts things off with lightening fast information overload. I’ve read a few books lately where I felt I should be taking notes so I could keep track of everything. That does not, for me, make for enjoyable reading.

    In some cases authors are clearly trying to set up their stories/ characters for a series, but I think many do themselves and their readers a disservice by front-loading so much information so fast. I’m more a fan of the “only include the minimum information that you need to get the story going” method, where all those other details are woven throughout the story. I have seen a lot of writing blogs and post advocating the fast / info- heavy start, so I guess it’s a mater of preference.

    Regarding the news story you mentioned above – what a great story premis that would be. I love the fact that the place got great reviews and turned a profit.

  3. LOL, the last book I read is STILL Ivanhoe, and yes, I’ve been complaining about the front-loading to anyone who will listen. Sir Walter Scott loaded the first several pages with history and culture lessons. AND, if one was dumb enough to read the introduction first, the one by Scott was just FULL of excuses and arguing with critics that we (the modern readers) never get to see. Entertaining, yes, but so put-down-able.

    Two things save it: 1) maybe in the time before Google, he needed to give readers that info, and 2) once people on the page started speaking (LITERALLY! the second after that dialog quote showed up in my consciousness), the book became interesting.

    It’s a constant struggle for me, too. You can’t really google my universe because I’m making it up. But too much exposition is so damn boring. I guess the only thing past it is constant practice with beta readers who call me on my exposition.

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