Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What happened?

Here are some prickly questions that crop up and that I don't have good answers for:

1)   We’ve all read them-books that start out with a great premise, interesting characters, intriguing setting…and then the book runs off the rails. So what happened? I’m pretty sure that the author didn’t say “oh good, I’m done, I’ll just write anything from here on to the end. And I’m also pretty sure the publisher doesn’t stop reading and say, “okay, we’ve hooked the reader, who cares what happens next?” So what did happen?

2)   You have a great idea for a book. You are super-excited. You start writing and the story roars along. The characters are alive, the plot thrills you. Every time you sit down at the computer, your heart is racing with excitement. And then one day you stall out. The plot seems silly, the characters empty. You try for a while to resurrect your enthusiasm. You take advice about how to move forward, but the book feels dead. Eventually you decide it’s better to put it away in favor of something else. What happened?

3)   You pick up a book in your favorite genre, one that everyone likes, and for you it falls flat. You keep reading, hoping to discover the magic that has enchanted everyone else, and by the time you finish it, you are shaking your head, wondering if it’s you are “them.”

4)   You pick up a book that all your friends made fun of and you love it. You find a sly wit at work, the characters remind you of people you know. Your imagination is sparked and you can’t wait to read other books by this author.

5)   In your writer’s group there is an author who has worked for years and has written a couple of books you think are terrific—and the writer can’t find an agent or a publisher. On the other hand, the person in the group who has just dashed off what you secretly think is pretty thin stuff comes in with a glowing report that she has just landed a three-book contract. Not that you begrudge her good fortune, but you can’t help wondering what gives.

There are a number of ways to answer each of these questions, but the common denominator is that tastes differ. What speaks to one person doesn’t necessarily grab another.  In fact, what may have initially grabbed you about something you were writing may not have what it takes to go the distance. One of the hardest things any writer has to learn is that not everybody is going to like your work—including you. And as a reader, not everyone is going to adore your favorite books and authors.

I’d love for readers to share your ideas about what happened.


Priscilla said...

Much is about taste, Terry, as well as time of life, how much reading one has done, and even mood. Books I read as a teen were all over the map from trash to classics. When I was working 10 hrs a day, six days a week, I wanted something "easy". Now, I rarely read anything on the NY Times best seller list. Does that mean something? Probably not, other than my tastes have changed, I am not "in the mood", or I have read so many books about "x, y, or z" that I am not easily surprised into delight.
As for the writer with talent who can't get into print, luck and timing have something to do with that. That is why indie publishers and self publishing have a lot of merit. Not big bucks or a presumed cache but far better than a good book gathering proverbial dust on some hard drive...

Terry said...

I agree Priscilla. Who would guess that in my young reader years I was absolutely besotted with "nurse" books, and that in high school only classics would do, even for fun. And then science fiction consumed me. Now I read most everything, but have no problem putting a book aside if it becomes tedious--unless the writer is David Mitchell, and that's part of the deal. But what always really troubles me is that first question. What happened to a book that opened with great promise and then ran off the rails?

Peg Brantley said...

OMG... I thought your questions were going to be so much harder. And then you answered them for me.

But what the heck... when my plot falls apart I go back to my characters. Somehow I've screwed up. When my characters begin to feel blah, I go back to my plot. Somehow I've screwed up.

There's a crime fiction writer who is uber-loved. I keep trying to read the first book in her long series, but I just can't get through the huge cast of characters. Obviously that's my problem and not hers.

If I've ever loved a book that others haven't, I've been too in love with it to notice. Or truthfully, care.

I just passed a book onto LoML that has received rave reviews and even has a movie coming out. While I like a lot about the book, I found myself skimming paragraphs. At a little more than half-way through the book I quit skimming and skipped... all the way to the end. I was interested enough to want to know how it ended, but not interested enough to care how it got there.

Terry said...

Regarding your last paragraph, okay so there's a lot of math in it...I loved it anyway. LOL

Mysti Berry said...

I think maybe writers get bored with a series character, or have committed to an aggressive deadline that they can't meet, or are so focused on one aspect of the story that they don't go back and look at the rest of it as carefully as they did the parts that excited them. It's a miracle whenever a novel comes out largely free of glaring flaws. As fans we can natter on about the strengths and weaknesses of a work, but as writers, we know just how hard it is to tell a timeless story and tell it well.

I have some movie friends. When we go, one of them is focused on the mise-en-scene and angles and lighting, another is focused on the performances, and I'm focused on the story. We seldom find a movie that we all agree completely on. Because near-perfection is rare, even for the most talented artist or writer.

Mysti Berry said...

Also, story structure is very hard, though the problems in Act 1 often don't show up until Act II or III.
Also, for beginners, that first 30 pages has been rewritten more times than anything else!

Terry said...

Mysti, I think that's right. Each of us reads through a different lens, and it's hard to get it all Right." I'm sometimes surprised when I mention to someone an author whom I think is brilliant or a book I think is damn near perfect, only to find that the other person is left cold by that author.