Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thursday Morning Coffee

On Reviews and Reviewing, part 3 of 3. And then I'll shut up about it.

Good morning, and welcome to Coffee!

The last thing I wanted to talk about on the subject of book reviews are the books that I don't review.

Everyone's got a story, right? So everyone has the potential to be an author. And with the ease of e-publishing, everyone can be - all you need is a manuscript, a formatting guide, and a Smashwords or Amazon account (Smashwords and Amazon are my choices, but there are plenty of other e-publishing platforms available). You don't have to take my word for it - here's a CNET article about the different places one can self-publish ebooks.

No matter your choice, step 1 is to Write a Good Book.

Ah, and there's the heart of the matter.

Everyone has a story, but skill-level in relaying that story differs. I read somewhere that the typical writer in the traditional query/submit/acceptance publishing system writes a million words before receiving the letter that states, "We'd like to publish your novel..."

A million words.

Good writing takes practice.

There are a lot of e-books out there that are written badly.

I don't review them.

I could. Many of them are begging for reviews, so I could point out errors, insult the writer, and trash the book. But for two things - 1) I can't keep reading that book and 2) that review won't give the author what he/she needs, which is manuscript critique tempered with encouragement.

I'm sure I've mentioned Write Lab and Novel Doc a time or two. It was back in the day when the "internet" consisted of Compuserve, AOL, ListServs and FTP (File Transfer Protocol). Waaaaay back. Like 1996. I joined an online critique community called Write Lab, where my peers shattered my precious words into pieces and then helped me reassemble them into a novel.

Oooh, those first critiques were painful. I expected praise, and received honesty.

I went through several stages of emotion: shock and hurt, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. Once I accepted that my skill-level as a writer was sub-par, I got back to work. I started learning craft on purpose, and my skill improved.

I see myself in manuscripts that needs work, in writers that need coaching and encouragement.

Here are some clues that tell me I'm reading an amateur writer... I'll throw some example around in italics.

1) Passive voice. 2) Telling me how people feel instead of letting their words, non-verbals, and characterization show me. 3) Narrative head-hopping - where a single scene is told in multiple points of view.

"Oh my darling," he said, feeling incredible relief that she was alive. "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," she answered with great joy. She'd waited so long to hear him say those words.

"Marry me," he said quickly, and was terrified for a moment because he didn't know for sure what her answer would be.

"Yes, yes, yes! Of course I will marry you," she said, thrilled beyond belief because all her dreams were coming true.

4) Sometimes punctuation is the mark of an amateur writer - exclamation points tossed around like periods, or even double punctuation. An experienced writer uses punctuation for clarity, not necessarily to emphasize emotion. Here's the above passage again...

"Oh my darling!" he said, feeling incredible relief that she was alive. "I love you SO much!!"

"I love you, too!" she answered with great joy. She'd waited so long to hear him say those words!

"Marry me!?" he said quickly, and was terrified for a moment because he didn't know for sure what her answer would be.

"Yes! Yes! Yes! Of course I will marry you!" she said, thrilled beyond belief because all her dreams were coming true.

An experienced writer chooses the point of view character that will offer the reader the greatest impact and insight, and uses active voice, and includes body language, facial expression, and even some internalization to give weight to the scene.

Here's my snippet scene, one more time, from the man's point of view:

"Oh my darling," he said, but then words failed him, so he wrapped his arms around her and held on tight. If he hadn't found her alive -- but no, he couldn't even bear to imagine it. He let his forehead drop to rest against her wet hair. He whispered, "I love you so much."

"I love you, too," she answered, her voice weak and tremulous, hopeful like a butterfly about to spread its wings. Her hands clutched at his clothes, and she trembled against his chest.

"Marry me," he said quickly, before he lost his nerve. Would she say yes? Oh, but she must. He couldn't survive losing her again.

"Yes, yes, yes! Of course I will marry you," she said, pulling away just enough so when she raised her head, he could see the smile that lifted her lips and spread all the way to her eyes. 

Even the above still contains elements of passive voice (a couple of -ing verbs, an adverb that ends in -ly), but it's slightly better. I don't like the two uses of the word "spread" in a small space, and I'm not all the way comfortable with "tremulous" and "trembling" in the same paragraph. If this were a real scene in one of my books, I'd keep working at it. Unfortunately, if I keep working at it here, we'll end up having Thursday Afternoon Coffee - LOL.

5) One more type of book I that I don't review - the book that is technically correct, but is just plain boring.

Sometimes this is just a matter of the writer choosing to begin with back-story, and nothing really happens.

The best stories tend to give me a paragraph or two, or even a full page, of the character's "normal" life - but then something happens that changes everything. The back story gets trickled into the narrative, the characterization develops as the character makes choices, and as he/she internalizes about those choices.

Sometimes a book is boring because the characters are too flat, not unique, or follow a stereotype or trope.

Other times a book is boring because the character wakes up, goes to the bathroom, takes a shower, gets dressed, fixes her hair, puts on her make-up, eats breakfast, uses the bathroom again, looks for her car keys, drives to work, says good-morning to her co-workers, sits down at her desk, gets up to get coffee, sits down at her desk again, turns on her computer, checks her email...

I've fallen into this trap, myself, detailing the mundane, but for a reader, this step-by-step-through-the-day-process can be agonizing.

But I don't want to write "Just plain boring" in a review. Oh yeah, and there's the part where it's too boring for me to finish reading, and I don't want to offer a review of something I have not actually read.

I do have some writers that I critique, and it is a labor-intensive process, and sometimes I hold my breath because I don't pull any punches - I'm not out to hurt feelings, but I can't get my message across in an efficient manner if I spend a lot of time sugar-coating my words.

When I purchase a book, BTW, my decision to buy is frequently based on what the 3-star reviewers say. Heck, sometimes I buy a book because of what the 1-star reviewers say. I rarely bother to read 5-star reviews because I've found them too-often to be praise-filled blather.

Shrug. That's just me, I guess.

Happy Thursday, darlings, and guess what? Tomorrow's Friday - yay!

***Edited for additional links***

I've run across some GREAT blog posts about author/blogger/reviewer etiquette. Check these out.

Wicked Little Pixie - A Book Blogger's Guide to Etiquette

Author Linda Poitevin - A Writer's Guide to Book Blogger Etiquette

Girl Who Reads - Tips on Thursday: Ratings

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