It is oft said, that to be a good writer, you must be a good reader. One look at my Kindle and you’d think I was on the New York Times Best Seller List. That is to say I read, I read a lot. I enjoy most of what I read, but not everything. The adage “Life’s too short to read bad books” often applies especially since I can download a healthy sample for review before I purchase. I dislike some books because I disagree with the author’s premise, others, are just not my cup of tea, but there is a third group. The sample shows promise so I go ahead and invest. As I get into the meat of the book, I want to like it, but for a variety of reasons, I can’t. Those are the books I force myself to finish. Those are the books I feel can teach me the most as a writer.
When I talk about not liking an aspect of a book, I’m not referring to hating a particular character. I once read a romance where the hero made me so frustrated I wanted to chuck my Kindle across the room every time he opened his mouth. By the time I got to happily ever after, he had progressively redeemed himself in a way that was believable. When I can get that wrapped up in a character, that’s good writing. It’s the things the separate me from the characters that I notice. Is the character a caricature? Is the dialogue stilted? Is the premise completely unrealistic? There’s stretching a point and then there is over the top. Over the top usually loses me. Has the story line been done before, but no attempt made to alter or interpret the story or the characters in a new way? That’s when I switch from reader to analyst, taking notes in an attempt to learn something.
Once I’ve made the commitment to buy a book, it is rare that I don’t finish it, but it does happen. I read a book recently, that was really good at building the story. I really cared about the characters, I was concerned for both the hero and the heroine. So much so, that I just HAD to jump ahead. I had to know how things turned out. I was glad I did because it turns out the author ended the book abruptly. Notice, I said the book, not the story. I was furious. I went out to Amazon to discover not only was there a sequel, but there was a third book in the same storyline due out in a few weeks. I stopped reading then and there. The Fifty Shades series, (talk about a series that provided a fertile learning ground), did the major cliff hanger between book two and book three, but not to the extent that this author did it. In this case it felt like a horrible breech of etiquette between writer and reader. Note to self, you must give the reader some satisfaction in each book and then leave a carrot for the next story.
Obviously, I don’t only take notes on the things I don’t like, I also make note of the things I do like but it that case, that usually means re-reading the book because I’m too wrapped up in the story the first time through. Thankfully, there are many more of examples of good books in my library than bad.
Do you finish a book like it or not?
Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. Her words have appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.