Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Looking At The Big Picture


I love standing in the bookstore, surrounded on all sides by ink, paper and words, contemplating which book to buy. Love it. Just, love it. The bookstore is one of my favourite places. Recently, my son and I decided on a trip to the bookstore. Being a student his recreational reading time is pretty much limited to summer, the other months taken up with sports and schoolwork. He headed for the Young Adult section and I meandered towards the Romance Section, names of my favourite go-to authors dancing in my head, ready to browse the shelves, pick and choose and generally have a good time.

I started skimming titles.

“Okay, I’m done.”

I looked at my watch. “You’ve been gone a whole two minutes.”

“Yeah.” And he waved a book at me because, duh, couldn’t I see he was holding a book.

“Well, go get another book. After all, one book isn’t going to do you for the whole summer.” And there was a buy three books get the fourth one free promotion happening. Perfect. Two books for each of us.

Déjà vu with the whole two minutes later thing. “Done. Are you ready to go, yet?”

“Fine.” Since I’ve yet to win the lottery I wasn’t going to send him back for another one, so I grabbed two books written by new-to-me authors and brought them home.

Sigh.

Is this a good time to interject with how much I enjoyed reading before I started learning the craft of writing? Because, holy crap, the beginning of each book was a huge disappointment. Seriously.

Huge. Disappointment.

In fact, by the end of the first couple of chapters of each I was searching the spines for the names of the publisher because, obviously, they weren’t that picky. Disgusted and tallying the cost of taking my teenage son to the bookstore, I started a never to be read pile.

Then I came across this blog post written by Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent. In it she talks about story, craft and voice.

She wrote:

When you read published books that don’t seem to “follow the rules” of craft that you’ve worked so hard to learn, instead of getting mad and throwing the book across the room, try to determine if maybe that book got published because of the story, rather than technical perfection. Ask yourself whether the author has a pleasing or compelling voice that makes you want to read, despite technical imperfection.

Okay. That got me thinking. And brought me down to earth. Who I was I to say whether a book was technically proficient or not, anyway? But the story? That I felt able to evaluate. Time to be a reader instead of a writer.

I picked up the first book. I read a couple of more chapters and set it down. I’ll never finish it but not because it wasn’t worth the read. It just turned out to not be my kind of read. The story wasn’t dark enough for me. The chemistry didn’t work for me. The hero didn’t work for me. The historical setting didn’t work for me. The characters didn’t work for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Another reader might love this story, and rightly so. Because I’m no judge of what others prefer to read.

Now, for the second book. Once I successfully convinced my reluctant brain to ignore the passive writing, the telling instead of showing, I’ll be darned if I wasn’t drawn into her world where dragons exist to protect us. Let’s just say, I’ve got a new appreciation for shape-shifting dragons. The author did a great job with her world building. There were lots of interesting dragon details, unique dragon traits, and a very sexy dragon shifting hero. Once I let go of nit picking over the mechanics, I enjoyed a great story. So much so that I’m thinking of reading the next one in the series.

In the end I learned a few things:

1. Do not expect to leisurely pick out books when you’ve brought a male along.

2. Learning your craft is important. Writing well is important. Striving for perfection is important. But don’t stutter over the mechanics and let it hijack your story. Use your craft to enhance an already great story.

3. It’s possible to simply enjoy a book without analyzing it to death, to enjoy being a reader.

Has writing made you view reading differently? Would you consider finishing a book you considered weak on craft but had great story potential? What’s on your TBR summer pile?

15 comments:

Joanne Brothwell said...

Karyn,
I love bookstores too. I go to a bookstore every week, even if it's just to look. There's something so invigorating about just being there, around all the books. Love it!

I recently read a book that pulled me in with the preface, but about ten pages in I realized the writing was terrible! I read the whole thing because the story was okay, but it didn't make up for the bad writing.

In some ways it was easier to be a reader before I became a writer, because ignorance was bliss! But I've trained my eye to catch all the no-no's and now I can't make it go away!

Janet said...

Yes - my reading has changed dramatically since I started writing seriously! And I've had a ton of moments where I say "WT...?" Thanks for the perspective - I try to do that, but usually I just give up and move onto another book. When an author doesn't make me stop to analyze - and I get all the way to the end and close the book with complete satisfaction - I know she is a master craftsman (story, voice, technical writing - the whole package).

Had to laugh about the 'checking the spine' incident. I was reading a cozy mystery and there were POVs all over the place - seriously, changing from paragraph to paragraph - and I thought "No way." Did some sleuthing - Print on Demand! Might have been a good story, but I couldn't continue.

Tons on my reading pile - just finishing up Pamela Callow's (a member of the romance writers down here) debut novel. There's a lot of buzz about it (Damaged) and I'm forcing myself to turn out the lights at night so I can get my run in in the morning! Highly recommend it :)

Karyn Good said...

Hey, Joanne. The bookstore is a very inspiring place, I can't help but imagine my wips finding a space on those shelves some day.

Heck yes, it was more enjoyable to be a reader rather than a reader/writer. I did manage to turn down the writer in me enough to read the second book which was great because I ended up enjoying the story. It felt like the old days :D

Lu said...

LOL on taking a male to the bookstore. My household is comprised entirely of males, so I feel your pain.

My reading has definitely changed since I've become a writer. I'm much more likely to give up on a book because of the mechanics of the writing. Simply because I now recognize those elements, and can put a name to them. When I catch myself editing the book, I know the story has lost me.

I'm currently re-reading a whole pile of Agatha Christie I got at the library book sale. The Miss Marple books. I love the stories, and the mysteries, and while I'd never diss Dame Agatha, her use of adverbial dialogue tags, "he said menacingly" screams at me! It won't stop me reading these books, but if I saw that in a recent release, I'd drop it like a hot potato.

Karyn Good said...

Hi Janet. I think in a way the reading Ms Gardner's post inspired me to strive to be that 'master craftsman' but also to know that might not happen tomorrow. In the meantime, I can still write great stories while continuing to learn my craft.

Thanks for the recommendation! Pamela Callow's Damaged. Will look for it!

Karyn Good said...

Hi, Lu. I know, what was I thinking! Males and shopping! Plus I was fully aware he only came with me because I was paying!

Too funny about the dialogue tags. But you're right, some things are worth rereading and some things definitely aren't. I think I was determined to finish the books because I'd paid for them. When I get books from the library I can quit the book without feeling guilty. Although, I think now I'd be more likely to give a book a second chance.

Great idea for summer reading. Revisiting the classics...

Ban said...

Hey Karyn - ditto on everything you've written! I could spend hours in the bookstore. I could just plop myself down in an aisle and read 'till closing ... unfortunately, I've got two kids and they won't stand (or sit) for that.
And I hear you loud and clear on being a bad reader. I get thrown out as much from bad characters and plots as grammar and such though :( I think, what helps me most is reminding myself that the story and characters are alive to the author (as much as mine are) and I should try to get to know them, see what it is that made the writter love them so much she/he felt the need to put them on paper.
I am reading a YA series now (I'm no book 4) but I didn't really like the MC in the first book. I had to give her time to grow on me, which I probably wouldn't have done if the plot stunk ... ;)
ps: what was the second book?

Karyn Good said...

Hey there, Ban! Great to see you back! Wouldn't that be the thing - to be able to spend the afternoon in a bookstore browsing, skimming, and losing yourself amongst the books. I'd rather do that than go to the spa. Wait a minute - maybe I'd rather do both :D

I think you're right, it never hurts to give a story a second chance, to dig a little deeper, after all someone else DID love those characters enough to create and develop them...and someone chose to represent and publish them.

I love reading YA. Last summer I read a great YA novel called A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I also read the first three books in the series, which I really enjoyed.

Ban said...

yes, I'm slowly getting back into a routine that will allow me blogging time :)
The third Libba Bray book is sitting atop my TBR pile, I read the first two already and REALLY liked them :)
YA is good to cleanse the palate! I'm currently reading #4 in the VA series and I'm gonna start City of Bones after that...

Karyn Good said...

I'll have to read the next ones in the series. I've often looked at the City of Bones thinking I should read it. Fabulous Cover! You're right, a great way to cleanse the palate!

Oops screwed up the last part of my comment, I meant to say I'd read the first books of the House of Night series. I enjoyed those as well.

Ban said...

are those PC Cast and her daughter? I read the first one and liked it but haven't gotten the others yet. I joke with my daughter, who writes 'stories' all the time that someday we will be a writing team - maybe THEN I will finish one ;)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
Like everyone here, I'm a different reader now that I'm a writer. I'm much pickier than I used to be and I can't seem to turn the editor off!

Reading is such an individual taste. There are hugely popular writers out there that I can't read. Does that make them bad books? No, just books not to my taste. That said, sometimes you've got to wonder how some books got published!

Jana

Karyn Good said...

Yes indeed, Ban. Written by the Cast mother/daughter duo. Good luck to your own future mother/daughter endeavors! Kids have the best ideas :D

Karyn Good said...

Hi Jana. It does make one wonder. Thank goodness there's something out there for everyone. Speaking of hugely popular writers - I recently read the latest book from one of those and about a quarter of the way in it seemed like I'd read the story before only with different character names. I don't know if I'll be in a hurry to pick up a another one of hers anytime soon, might have to give this author a rest for awhile. And now I'm wondering which hugely popular writers you don't care for? :D

Anita Mae Draper said...

Excellent post, Karyn. I love bookstores, too.

Yes, I would consider finishing a book weak on craft and have done it many times. My hubby, who used to be a military policeman and worked with the RCMP on a daily basis laughs at some of the 'cop' shows on TV because of their improbability. He also enjoys reading the Love Inspired Suspense books although on at least one occasion, he's said it seemed the author didn't do any research. However, he said he's learned to ignore all the inconsistencies with normal 'operations' and just enjoy the book for it's main purpose - telling a love story.

Me too!

Anita.