From Fiction University: Enabling third party cookies on your browser could help if you have trouble leaving a comment.

Tuesday, March 26

When Fiction Doesn’t Work—What Can Be Learned?

By Bonnie Randall 

Part of the How They Do It Series 

JH: You can learn just as much from a bad book as a good book.

Stephen King said “Unless you read, you do not have the tools to write.”

Books that whisk us deeply into a story, have characters who become dear friends, or use language in such a way that leaves us breathless, are powerful tools for writers, because those elements are replicable and take our fiction to higher, deeper, and more meaningful levels.

What, though, about fiction that doesn’t move you in any sort of positive way? Can writing lessons be gleaned from these pieces also? 

I am currently reading a novel that has me turning pages—but not in a good way. I am so frustrated from waiting for the reveal of the ‘Big Bad Secret’ the heroine is withholding that I am thumbing through and skimming just to get to the place where she coughs it up. The suspense is not working for me at all, and partly it’s because of the ambiguity surrounding whatever this secret is; there are no clear clues or indicators, and what is presented is vague. 

Also, there has yet to be a clear reason why the character is being cagey about her secret in the first place. Additionally, while the character herself is being indirect, the plot keeps getting >thisclose< to revealing The Big Bad…and then being thwarted by convenient twists. 

To add to the frustration, there are also interludes which come in the form of handwritten letters from one character to another—and said letters are heavily implied to be written by the heroine with the secret, and yet (I cheated) actually end up being written by the hero when all is said and done.

(Here's more on What is “Bad Writing?” (And How Can We Avoid It?))

This does not feel like author cleverness to me, but instead like author trickery; it is one thing to not trust an unreliable character, but quite another to not be able to trust an unreliable author.

The take-aways from this reading experience for me are:
1. When employing the device of the ‘Big, Bad Secret’, strike a good balance that leaves your pacing on the side of suspense rather than frustration—and always have a good reason why your character is keeping their secret under wraps in the first place.

2. If you are going to use an ambiguous POV, make sure you do not leave your reader feeling tricked. There needs to be at least one Easter Egg in each ambiguous passage that raises doubt—and maybe even makes it fun—for the reader to wonder “Is this really Character X? Or could this be Character Y who is thinking / doing / saying these things?”
Now: How about you? Have you read a book that was a real miss for you, yet was still able to impart some good learning? 

Please share whatever that book taught you to do (or not do), but do not reveal the title. (Because jeez…what if it’s one of my books?!) Seriously, we don’t want to book-bash, and besides: one reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure; the book I am referring to here, for example, has far more positive reviews than negative, and is selling rather hotly too (which begs the question—what the heck do I know, anyway?!)

Okay, folks. Your turn. And….GO!

Bonnie

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

Website | Facebook | Goodreads |

About Divinity & The Python

Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

2 comments:

  1. I know exactly what you mean! I'm currently reading a highly rated fantasy book by a well known author. The book is just over 1000 pages. I've read a third of it, 350 pages, and am very frustrated for two reasons.

    First, this story contains three completely different strands of narrative only two of which can plausibly be seen to be related. Thus far, the third tale being told within this book has no discernible connection to the narrative. Why in the world would an author write this 1000 page monstrosity rather than dividing it into multiple books, or by completely culling the outlier bits - like that third strand.

    Secondly, I've read 350 pages and am only now starting to feel that the narrative has some drive to it. That's a LOT OF PAGES to wade through with weak narrative drive encouraging the reader forward. Here again I wonder why in the world the author didn't edit ruthlessly to make this book tighter, shorter and more driven.

    I often feel that I'm done with this book. The plethora of positive reviews be damned! Life is too short to plod through a book, when I've fought through 350 pages of narrative that doesn't capture my imagination and inspire me. Especially when there are so many other books out there waiting for me. Then I think, "well this must get better soon" - after all it has all those positive reviews and the author is well liked...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bonnie Randall5:23 PM EDT

      Right?! Life is absolutely too short to trudge through books that don't meet 'code' - especially when the book in question is 1000 pages, cause DAYIM! That's a COMMITMENT!

      Delete