For the last couple of decades, I’ve traveled during the holidays, enduring the long lines at the airport, the crowds, and the bad tempers that the season seems to bring out in revelers. This year I stayed home. I went to a small dinner party, I had a couple of people over, and on New Year’s Eve, I stayed home and watched most of Good Omens with David Tennent. I thought I’d probably get the new year off to a good start if I had good omens.
Alas for my other activity, reading. I spend two weeks reading. A lot.
No good omens there.
Pretty much everything I started was a DNF for me. I didn’t finish it. Couldn’t. Every book was boring, too long, too pointless. Meh, if not downright yuck.
I blame Jenny.
When we poor, unsuspecting students enrolled in the McDaniel class on writing romance some years ago, I had no idea that my reading life would be forever altered, just because Jennifer Crusie was teaching us how to write a better novel.
“Story is your protagonist in conflict with other characters,” she’d say. “What does your protagonist do to pursue her dream? What does her antagonist do to stop her? Whatever it is, it’s a life-and-death struggle!”
Or this: “What does your character want? What is her goal? Her motivation?”
Or this: “Escalate your turning points! Raise the stakes!”
Or this: “When the conflict stops, the story stops!”
There was a lot more like that.
By the end of the year, we pretty much got it. We might not always be able to see a problem right away, we might have trouble executing our story to our satisfaction, but when we wondered why something wasn’t working well and someone pointed out our error, we pretty much got it.
Which brings me back to my holiday of reading.
With great anticipation, I started with an ebook I’d bought on sale. It was a best seller, and I could see why. It had a clever opening. The protagonist was a worry-wort. Two secondary characters were hilarious. The setup was intriguing. The danger was palpable. I was hooked until about 15 percent in. Then the protagonist thought for a while. At the end of the chapter, he was still thinking. Into the next chapter, still thinking. At the end of that chapter, still thinking.
I was bored and impatient. When was that guy going to do something? Try something? Fail at something?
What would Jenny say? I could hear it in my head: No action = no conflict = no story. I closed the book and set it aside.
I started another. This one was also promising, and there was action galore! The protagonist had strengths and foibles I could relate to. The antagonist fought our heroine at every step. The battles! The intrigue! Every chapter was a tour de force of derring-do!
At about 50 percent in, I thought, this is fun, but what does she want? What is her goal? All this fighting is nice, but there’s no conflict.
I closed the book and set it aside.
There were more books, but not any greater success.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy I attended the McDaniel class on romance writing. I got a lot out of it, and I’m a better writer because of it. Thank you, Jenny.
But my reading? That seems to have taken a deep dive into the Land of No Return. I’m not enjoying books the way I used to, uncritically and enthusiastically. I spot flaws. I lose patience, I get bored, and I quit reading. I blame you, Jenny. (But thank you just the same.)
Folks, help a person out here. What books would you recommend whole-heartedly, so I can start the new year off right? I’d be grateful for any suggestions.