How To Make Me Read Your Book – ETT

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I don’t write reviews about books I don’t like. I don’t think it’s good karma since I’m an author too and I know how hard this person has worked to write the book even if it needs more work. Instead, I come here and tell you what not to do when writing your books.

The thriller genre is one of my favorites. I’ve said that before. I read a lot of thriller novels. I’m okay with the book starting out with a killing. In fact, the book probably should start out with the very least a dead body. But the trick is making the reader care so early on. They don’t know these characters yet. There has to be a reason for the reader to keep turning pages. I don’t recommend starting in the killer’s point of view especially if we know right off the bat it’s the killer and he’s about to make a kill. I just put down a book that did exactly that. Right away the killer is on the prowl. He bashes his way into a professional establishment and starts swinging an axe at people. My first thought was, why should I care about this? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not so cold-hearted that I don’t care about people dying. This is a work of fiction, I hope, and my editor brain never sleeps.

The reader isn’t invested in the story on page two to have the killer describing what the axe feels like in his hands. I’d say if you’re going to be in the killer’s point of view so early on, get right to the point. Leave out the sensory details, blinding lights, smooth handles, the clothing of other people. All the inner thoughts of how he’s moving around the room or perhaps he pulled a muscle while swinging the axe. (I don’t know, maybe the author has a weird sense of humor?) The killer is crazy, he breaks in, swings the axe, the victims try to get away, but fail. Done. Now, get me to the protagonist whose going to stop this madman but not before the end of the book.

All that other stuff? Nobody cares yet. The reader isn’t sympathetic to your villain yet. Remember what I said about three-dimensional villains. You can’t pull that off on page three. I promise. But I tried a few more pages hoping it would get better.

Here’s another tip: Your protagonist, the main character, isn’t going to think about her beautiful hair and how she doesn’t have to fuss with it upon waking up. Do you ever think about that in the morning? Not me. My first thought is usually, why the heck is it so early? Followed by who has to be where at what time? Thoughts of my hair, like do I have time to wash it, are further down on the list. An author needs to hold off on fancy descriptions of hair until there’s a better way to let the reader know what the character looks like. Heck, here’s an idea, let the reader make it up for himself. And if you’re going to tell me your protagonist doesn’t fuss with her appearance, she isn’t mentioning her lovely locks.

I gave up completely a few pages later. The author tells us it’s early winter. On my calendar, that’s December. Anyone else’s calendar have a different date? Okay, the hero, the detective, and his partner and getting in the car. The partner is yapping about a professional baseball game he watched the night before.  NOT IN EARLY WINTER. Major League Baseball finishes in November except for 2001 when a few lunatics flew planes into buildings in this country. Where is this woman’s editor?

I checked to see who published this book. She’s an indie author. That’s okay. I’m an indie author and know plenty of very good indie authors. But if you are going to be an indie author I can’t stress enough the importance of hiring a professional editor. We could argue in circles all the stuff about point of view, caring about the characters, description of appearances, but a professional baseball game in early winter is just too big of a mistake to miss. You’ll lose all credibility if you don’t check your details. A professional editor would’ve red flagged that sentence. And if the editor wasn’t a hundred percent sure when the baseball season was, an editor worth her salt would’ve checked.

I closed that book. I will never recommend it and I will never read another book by that author. Don’t be that author. Be better. Learn your craft. Make me want to read your book until the end.

Any questions?

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9 thoughts on “How To Make Me Read Your Book – ETT

  1. It’s remarkable the way some authors can get so fixated on needless details, like how a character feels about her hair (especially when it has nothing to do with the plot or theme or transformational arc), while casually disregarding other minutiae that go to the very verisimilitude of the story, like an out-of-season baseball game. It doesn’t take more than a couple of pages — if that — to spot a writer that hasn’t mastered his craft and/or a manuscript that wasn’t subjected to proper editorial. As soon as I identify the book I’m reading as one of those, down it goes.

    1. It’s interesting that you brought up some authors can get so fixated on needless details. I have actually said to authors, if you’re going to tell us the heroine is eating salmon make it special. Because honestly, who really cares that she’s eating salmon unless it tells us something about her. Does she drag her teeth along the fork tongs? Maybe that drives the hero nuts. Did she catch that salmon herself? Does she know the exact calorie count of a that piece of salmon and she only eats 1300 calories a day? Her just eating salmon for the sake of having her do something while she talks to the other character is boring.

      1. Details can’t merely be flavoring — they need to be integrated. They need to either be an important piece of characterization, a plot setup, or even a thematic motif (preferably a combo of two or more of those), but there’s no point in telling us “it’s raining” or “he’s six-foot-five” or the protagonist’s “car is blue” unless it’s somehow integrated into the larger tapestry of the narrative, either as an instrument of exposition or suspense or theme or whatever.

      2. Totally agree. This is why we have a first draft. Make all the mistakes you want in that draft. Tell us the car is blue there, but when you’re in rewrites if blue isn’t a theme in the story delete the description. I’m working on my next novel. Just started it. I pretty much let myself write whatever in the first draft. My heroine decided she wanted a doughnut. Then she swept the greasy fast food wrappers off the front seat of her car. And I thought wait a second, could she be a junk food junky? That characterization might be fun to work with. So, we’ll see what I do with it, but if I don’t make her a junk food junky or at the very least a slob, those details will go in draft two.

  2. We have to give ourselves the latitude to try things — the permission to take wrong turns and make mistakes — in the first draft. But when it comes to the rewrite, we need to be critical editors of ourselves. I love that you reverse-engineered a character quirk out of what was initially an extraneous detail! That’s good editing: You didn’t cut it, but you integrated it!

    1. Well, thank you for the kind words. I’m not sure if it was good editing or dumb luck. LOL! Okay, okay, I’ve done this novel writing thing once or twice. If we allow ourselves to just write in the first draft and not worry so much about are we doing it correctly, we’ll surprise ourselves with what we come up with.

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