Monday, July 02, 2012

The Wretched Ruination Of A Once Happy Reader

Okay, maybe ruination is a bit melodramatic and over the top, but reading is a different experience for me now that I am a writer. Here are some of the things I notice as a reader that I did not notice before:

1. Flashbacks and dream sequences. Once, I paid them no mind, but now they make me impatient. I was a big fan of FALLING SKIES last season, but the season opener really put me off, because most of the first hour was a flashback!

2. POV. I am fascinated with how other writers handle POV. I don’t mind a little judicious head hopping, especially between the H&H in a love scene, but too much head hopping makes me nuts now, and I never noticed it before. IMO, J.K. Rowling handled the whole POV thing with extreme cleverness, using devices like the pensieve and the cloak of invisibility to allow Harry to see what other people were up to without jumping POV. As for Mr. George R. R. Martin, A GAME OF THRONES is written in multiple POVs to great effect, changing with every chapter. And he makes it work!

3. Pacing and character development. Don’t you love a story that pulls you right on through, from beginning to end, and characters that grow during a story?

4. Villains. I now dissect villains like a frog to find out what makes them three-dimensional.

5. Snappy dialogue. Sookie Stackhouse and Stephanie Plum are two good examples.

6. Tags and physical movement to identify the speaker. Nod, nod. Wink, wink!

7. Plot holes—Gasp!

8. Idea twists—how a writer takes an old story and makes it new again.

9. World building—See Rowling and Martin above. Also, David Eddings BELGARIAD and HUNGER GAMES.

10. Conflict—the bane of my poor Libra existence. Why can’t we all be happy? Because no one wants to read happy, that’s why! 

11. Sexual tension. Brown chicken, brown cowww!

12. Alpha and beta characters.

13. Foreshadowing—whooo ooooh.

14. Beginnings and endings—I now peruse books to see how the writer begins and ends a story, two things that most writers find challenging.

What about you? How has writing changed you as a reader?


M.V.Freeman said...

You are so right!

And when I find myself swept away in the story--I stop and go back and see--what was it that swept me away.

I'm also concious of how much I love beautifully written prose. It also makes me squirm. I'm the flip-flops and capri's showing up to the black tie affair type of writer.

I love how you made me think! ;) Thanks Lexi!

Lexi said...

Love your description, Mary! Why does it make you squirm? Is it impatience or envy? I confess, when a writer uses words that put me squarely in a scene, I am awed and envious. Here's a passage that made the writer in me pea green: "The hill jutted above the dense tangle of forest, rising solitary and sudden, its windswept heights visible from miles off. The wildlings called it the Fist of the First Men, rangers said. It did look like a fist, Jon Snow thought, punching up through earth and wood, its bare brown slopes knuckled with stone." George R. R. Martin, A CLASH OF KINGS.

Can't you just see it?

M.V.Freeman said...

AH! yes I do Lexi! Excellent passage--that is what I'm talking about.

Prose that is eloquent makes me squirm, because I so want to write as beautifully---to have those words flow like water.

That's why I read--I see mistakes, and I see the beauty. But it also humbles me.

Which keeps me working/striving to improve. So, in effect--writing does change the way you read--but it also helps you write. LOL

Lexi said...

I understand what you mean, and how! Good writing does inspire me to do better. And I like to see how other writers handle things. So much to learn and so many ways to improve!

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Lexi!

Like you I never really noticed all of those things before I started writing.

And like Mary when I read a passage that sucks me in and makes me forget where I am I go back and read it again and again to try and figure out how they did it.

The first couple of times I read through a particularly well-written passage I do get that teeth-gnashing feeling (Will I EVER learn to write like that!) but eventually it becomes a learning experience and I try to remind myself that the authors who write these amazing passages started out just like me. The only limit to what I can do as a writer is the limit to what I am willing to learn.

Lexi said...

Amen, Louisa!

Chris Bailey said...

I look at those things, and at the things that I know I don't do well--like how did the author make me share the protagonist's emotion in that scene? Or how did I get to the feeling that I was there?

Also, I have to ask: brown chicken, brown cowww? If I act like I get it, I'll never learn anything new. ; )

Lexi said...

Chris, according to the Urban Dictionary's definition it is "An onomatopaeic imitation of the guitar riff commonly heard in
1970's porn movies." Bowng chicka bowng bowng=brown chicken, brown cow. See what an informative site this is?

Carla Swafford said...

I'm so glad you asked, Chris. I was wondering too and love the explanation.

Just as everyone, I enjoy a pretty turn of phrase, but that's not my style and I recognize it. If I started writing that way, it wouldn't be true to my voice. One of the things I learned (for myself) is if you can SIMPLY show a reader what is happening and what the characters are feeling, you'll forget that you're reading. The movie plays in your head instead.

What I call fancy writing is okay in historical romances. To me, they most often spoke more eloquent back then and that would be expected. But in a contemporary, unless they're an old creature in a paranormal, it doesn't always work.

If the book is good, I won't realize what they're doing until I finish the book and then I can go back and pull the scenes that strike me the most. But if I find myself tearing the book apart as I read, then I know the book isn't doing its job.

I certainly read most books differently than before I became more 'experienced.'

Great post.

Lexi said...

Thanks, Carla! I love what you said about being true to yourself and showing what the character is feeling! So true, but hard to do!

Suzanne Johnson said...

You are absolutely right! I've been struggling through what should have been a perfectly wonderful apocalyptic cannibal story (a girl's gotta lighten up on the romance every now and then) but the author's head-hopping like a bunny rabbit. I finally had to put it down before I picked up any bad habits.

Cari Hislop said...

The curse of awakening the internal editor! It rarely shuts up except for when I need it most - when I'm writing. I think there must be something in writing a whole book that throws a switch in the brain. When I was writing short stories as a teen it was quite rare for me to be disturbed while reading, but now it's like I've grown a second head that won't shut up (and can't be removed). When I read a story that sucks me in and drowns out the editor I know I've found gold. Last year I discovered Aldous Huxley. I just love the way he paints pictures with words and his dialogue is genius. I may never write that well (though I'll give it a go) but I think the upside of the internal editor is that when we find something we enjoy, we really enjoy it!

Lexi said...

Suzanne, the head hopping drives me mad now! Can no longer read one of my formerly favorite romance writers because of it!

Lexi said...

Cari, when I find a writer that takes me away from my internal editor I soak them up! And dissect them, too. ;-)