Monday, March 24, 2014

Stop, Drop, and (Eye) Roll

What pulls you out of a book? Are you able to stay immersed in the fictional world no matter what happens, no matter how farfetched?

I love a good book. I love losing myself in a mythical world, becoming the heroine in an adventure, being scared out of my wits, or remembering the whole falling-in-love process.

What I don't love is when my fictional-world-immersion is brought to a screeching halt by bad writing, whichever form that bad writing takes. This can happen in a variety of ways.

  1. The obvious: mispeelings, badly grammer, and punct'uation issues. Ugh. That even hurt to type. I'll bet it hurt to read, too. "Then" and "than" are not interchangeable. People don't "shutter," nor do they keep their eyes "pealed" for danger. Your girlfriend's "bear" arms are not sexy, trust me. I see it once? I hope it's a typo. More than once and I'm closing the book.
  2. Characters who don't stay true to their personalities. A tough-as-nails FBI agent melts into a puddle of goo when her apartment is broken into. A young girl gets pregnant, has the baby and raises it alone while putting herself through medical school, and yet falls right back into the arms of the deadbeat boyfriend as soon as he comes back to town, years later, even though he's still a jerk. A tough guy suddenly can't make a decision, eat, sleep, or work because a hot girl came into his life for one night and disappeared. A snotty teen who is suddenly comfortable with the geek gang at school because . . . oh, I don't know why. The list goes on. People change, but they don't change instantly and it should actually look like a struggle if they're trying.
  3. Impossible scenarios. Two people "in love" have a misunderstanding and somehow, one of them manages to move out of town without the other knowing it—in a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business (and everyone assumes, of course, that Person A knew about Person B moving away SIX MONTHS AGO). Two people hate each other for decades but get locked in a building of some type overnight—implausible enough—and suddenly realize they love each other deeply after eight hours of conversation.
  4. Emotionally abusive/stalker behavior portrayed as intense love. Sorry folks. Not love. Not even close to love. This is even worse when it's in YA novels and intense jealousy and controlling behavior are played off as protectiveness. Don't teach young girls this is what to look for in a relationship.
  5. Finding "true love forever" . . . at age eleven. When characters fall in love only to have circumstances separate them, and then meet up after twenty years apart, I expect those characters to be older than thirty. I can't count how many NA books I've read that employ this plot line.
  6. Too much street slang. It's dialogue. It's "real." It's gritty. I get it, I do. But if the dialogue is so slang-y that I can barely decipher it, I'm quitting. I want to read, not struggle with a foreign language. What's the point of being so "real" that nobody knows what the heck you're talking about?
  7. No research done by the author. If you're writing about high school kids, know that the football captain doesn't have practice in April. iPhones don't "snap" shut. People in Victorian times didn't use phrases like, "Oh, crap." Someone who is failing every class with a month of school remaining is not likely to graduate on time. Children in medieval times didn't make parchment paper airplanes during playtime. Well . . . maybe DaVinci did, but that's why he was a Renaissance man and not stuck in the Middle Ages.
I've seen all these things and more (in published books), and they've jarred me out of a book as effectively as my alarm clock drags me from sleep.  The only way to survive is to follow the drill:

STOP reading.
DROP the book.
ROLL your eyes and move along.

38 comments:

  1. Ha! These are all great. That first one is a killer, especially with self published books. One of the biggest "compliments" we always get is, "This book was really well edited, which was a pleasant surprise." And I just think, what kind of Indie books are you reading that proper spelling and grammar isn't a given?

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    1. I feel slightly guilty for being "pleasantly surprised" when I read an indie book that has no editing issues, because that should be the standard, not the exception. And it's probably insulting to the better authors to know people are surprised they got it right.

      One of my favorite book moments was when a character yelled, "Ludacris!" when it was obviously supposed to be "ludicrous." Seriously, did NOBODY look at the book before it got published? It did give me a good laugh, though, so it was worth the zero dollars I paid for it.

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  2. "Children in medieval times didn't make parchment paper airplanes during playtime."

    That's priceless on more than one level!

    So... not even da Vinci?

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    1. Well...okay, da Vinci. But he's the only one who's permitted.

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    2. Nothing is real, everything is permitted...sorry been playing too much Assassin's Creed.

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    3. Brandon, you're allowed a little leeway. You have a new baby in the house, and that means grey cells are at a premium.

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  3. These are great! I've seen many of these, and they certainly make me want to Stop, Drop and Roll!

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    1. As long as you know the drill and are faithful to practice it, your reading time will be so much more enjoyable.

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  4. Lol! Yes! Stop, drop and roll! But please do not expand energy and write a long review of negativity on it!

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    1. But...but...the negativity is the fun part! lol It helps my eye muscles relax from all that rolling.

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  5. It can be difficult doing your own editing. I can read something back three or four times before finding a mistake. One day driving along in my car I suddenly thought of the word 'complementary' and remembered to check this when I returned home. I had written 'complimentary' instead. It can be terrifying to realize such a simple mistake is so easy to make.
    I have decided to rewrite my first novel, mainly because of the content. Starting to read it again made me feel embarrassed. I knew I could have improved this in many ways had I left it to settle for some time before publishing on Amazon, and I'm not talking about typos, misspellings, grammar etc., it was just poor.

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    1. Heck, I can't even edit my own blog posts half the time. I'm much better at noticing other people's mistakes because I'm not familiar with every phrase already. And I get you, with the complimentary/complementary thing; that's the type of thing that wakes me up at night with the "did I miss that?" feeling.

      Good for you, that you're rewriting! It takes time and effort, and a lot of courage to admit a book needs redone. In the end, though, you'll be satisfied and proud of it.

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  6. Hi Lynda,

    First of all, delighted to make your acquaintance over at my site :) I've tried to link into your blog, but alas, Google Friend Connect is having some serious issues and I cannot sign in.

    You bring up a number of notable points. I really appreciate what your wrote because I can very much relate. I have worked in the background with a number of authors who have sent me manuscripts. As mentioned by you, one of my biggest aggravations is when they have not properly researched. If I read an error in a book, I get fixated with that mistake and may not read any more of the book.

    Ideally, I like to think that a good writer makes you feel like you are involved with the story. The characters talk to the reader. I also like the intimate style where it's just the reader and the writer. I would never type to an audience.

    Brilliant post, my friend. I shall return.

    With respect,

    Gary

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    1. Thanks, Gary! I think I'm more intolerant with research issues because with today's availability of information at the click of a mouse, there's really no excuse for not doing your homework. I also get fixated on the mistakes more and more to the point where I'm not able to read without waiting for the next one to show up...much like waiting for a fight to break out at the hockey game.

      I do love feeling involved. When I feel excited for a character, or a wrenching feeling in my gut when things are going bad, I know the author has done his job. Some of my favorites are the books where I can't help but read a passage aloud to whatever family member is in the room at the time...too good to keep to myself.

      I'm not sure what's up with Google Friend Connect; I've heard a lot of bloggers expressing their concern this week. I'm hoping it will be resolved soon!

      Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment so thoughtfully.

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  7. Stop, Drop, and EYE ROLL! Hahaha...oh my! I think I hold on to the book and roll my eyes AT it so it knows...

    Great points made, as usual. Your #4...what's so wrong with creepy love? It's what makes it unique...so unique you're finding it in way too many YA books. and of course I'm kidding with my question, I do hope girls are not reading them and thinking it makes for a dream relationship. Goodness, imagine the future or our world?

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    1. I knew you'd enjoy this post, because you are the undisputed Queen of the Eye Roll. I have been known to look directly at the book while eye-rolling, just so it knows I mean business.

      Oh, creepy love. I wish I could say it was rare, but sadly, there are more and more YA books filled with the creep factor disguised as "protective" love. I don't think YA writers need to weave a life lesson in each book—and more often than not, the lesson-teaching books are annoying—but they should at least consider what they're portraying as "normal" and "good," and whether those things are actually good or not. Nothing dreamier than when you're not allowed to have friends of the opposite sex because your boyfriend can't handle it, right? True love, baby!

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  8. The impossible scenarios remind me of Hallmark channel movies.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Really. I've never been caught in any of those situations (snowed in, locked in, dressed as a cabin boy on an all-male ship), so therefore they cannot happen in my fiction reading.

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    2. I must admit guilt where the "snowed in" approach was used.

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    3. No guilt necessary for "snowed in." That could actually happen. But have you ever known anyone to be locking in a school/work building overnight with no option to leave? Please say no or all my eye-rolling has been for naught.

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    4. Hmmm. Technically, I'd have to say yes. (Sorry!) Some Walmarts used to lock in their third shift employees without benefit of a manager or other person on the premises holding a key. Click here to read about it.

      However, those stores are pretty darned big. I don't suppose we could expect a scenario where two bitter enemies were forced to be in each other's faces long enough to become bosom buddies!

      I know, I know, I'm giving this far too much thought. Just messing with you! I really didn't set out to be an apologist for bad writers. :)

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    5. If I were ever locked in a WalMart, you could find me in the Ben & Jerry's section or sleeping it off on the Dove chocolate shelf. Anyone locked in there with me would have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.

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  9. The fourth one is just creepy. And we wonder why there are so many stalkers out there.
    True love at eleven? Yeah, if it's ice cream.
    I think just plain corniness, either in actions or dialogue, ruin it for me.

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    1. Ice cream, lol. YES. I didn't know boys were even any different from us when I was eleven. Our neighborhood ran around in a pack like the Charlie Brown kids.

      Corniness or stiffness in dialogue is a wrecker for me. I picture two awkward people standing still, like robots in a school play, delivering their lines. Danger, WIll Robinson! (Only without the flailing.)

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  10. Just found this now in 2018, and it's hilarious! Love it. "I want to read, not struggle with a foreign language." XD

    Admittedly, I don't read fiction; but I personally feel there are numerous parallels between fiction writing and fiction movies (which I like). I've long held to the notion that our level of interest in any kind of fiction directly correlates to how that fiction relates to the real world.

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    1. Hey, you're right on time, Darrell. I've been doing some reruns of older Editor's Notes posts, and this one was supposed to go out next week but I accidentally scheduled it for today. So when you see it again, just say déja vu and move along.

      Glad you enjoyed my foreign language commentary! I seriously struggled through the beginning of a book that had so much street slang, I finally had to give up. Stopping my reading to consult the Urban Dictionary every other sentence allowed no continuity to the reading. Plus . . . Urban Dictionary, haha.

      I like your theory on the level of interest. How many times have you seen a movie and thought it would have been just that much better, had it been a little more believable, even as a fictional story? My boys make it a point to watch terrible movies together, for the sole purpose of narrating their own observations over the most ridiculous parts. The only difference is that they're not doing it in print on an Amazon review. (It's actually pretty entertaining, as you may guess.) I like my fiction, but there's always the issue of how much disbelief I have to suspend to enjoy it.

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  11. Hopefully my editor has caught all my bad writing, and I've learned a few things in the process.

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    1. Pfft, I didn't even get to roll my eyes once while editing your MS. I feel ripped off. :D

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  12. ALL OF THESE! And the other one I've been noticing recently is unusual phrasing. I find it very odd when someone has tried so hard to be original and avoid something that feels like a cliche that they come out with something that pulls you out of the story while you stop and think about what they've just written. My friend sent me an example the other day - "his eyebrows widened". They - they what? They moved to the sides of his face? They got bushier? I had to go look in the mirror and see if I could widen my eyebrows.

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    1. Hahahahaha I'm dying at the idea of someone's brows being able to widen. I read a (completely terrible) book years ago in which the author continually misused the word "wince." As in, "He winced me." There were many, many issues with that book—in fact, it's the very same book in the first point mentioned above, where the author mentioned "bear" arms and "shuttering" when something was repulsive. Not surprisingly, when i gave it a pretty scathing review on Amazon (something I don't usually do, as I try not to be mean-spirited but as factual as possible), someone claiming to not be the author (lol) scolded me for being cheap and expecting perfection for a low price. The thought was that only expensive books should be properly written, I suppose, and that I should be thankful for what I got for my $2.99 ebook. When I pointed out that the commenter had the same grammatical issues as the author and the same writing style, the not-author commenter mysteriously disappeared. I still go back to that review and read it for a laugh every year or so.

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    2. "When I pointed out that the commenter had the same grammatical issues as the author and the same writing style" made me laugh. I had a commenter on my blog several years ago who used an assumed name, but she was the only one I'd ever known whose spelling was so horrible. Plus, out of the entire population of the planet, she also "just happened" to live in the same town in Massachusetts? Not too transparent!

      I bought a self-published book from an author at a flea market. The storyline had me intrigued because it involved one of my favorite presidents. The author misused "waive" twice, as in "He waived goodbye." But what really bugged me was that the author created a centuries-old secret society which had members in every government, and fingers in every proverbial pie, yet one of the "good guys" in the book was able to totally cripple this organization by juggling some figures in their bank accounts via his home computer.

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    3. Some people really think they're untraceable because they're on that mysterious thing called the internet. Your experience cracks me up. And that book plot . . . those types irritate me in movies as well. Some inexperienced noob can take down an organization that thousands have attempted to take down (and died trying, of course) by using only a toaster and knitting needles borrowed from an elderly neighbor. Grr.

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  13. Loved this post, Lynda!!
    Earlier, I used to suffer through the books despite bad writing/grammar, unrealistic stories etc. There was this guilt of abandoning a book. But not any more. It the book simply didn't grab me by the first 100 pages and has all the scenarios you mentioned, I dump it. STOP reading. DROP the book. ROLL my eyes and move along. :D

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    1. Good job, Shilpa! You know the routine. And NO GUILT should come with it. Life is too short, and time is too precious to waste on bad writing.

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  14. I know this is aimed at fiction writing, so I don't mean to hijack the comments, I have a question for all who happen to see this. Are there equivalent problems in nonfiction writing? Obviously, #1 and #7 apply, but I'm guessing there are other issues that could cause a reason to be "pulled out" of a nonfiction book. Thoughts?

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    1. I'd love to hear what anyone else thinks on this one as well. For me, I find it hard to read non-fiction if there is a lot of attitude or sensationalism. I love snark as much as the next person (as you are well aware), but if someone is dealing with serious subject matter or trying to sway me to their point of view, they lose all credibility by trashing the other side. I always think of Jack Chick publications and how hateful their "Christian" books are, or political books that can't argue the case with facts, and instead resort to slanderous gossip and speculation.

      Humor, on the other hand, will keep me reading otherwise-dry material unless it's too forced.

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  15. I agree with the checklist but I have to admit I have read many of the cliched books you have mentioned here. I guess I did have a lot of time to waste earlier. Now 50 pages in and the book is out if its not keeping me turning pages.
    With Indie publishing and vanity publishing really coming up in India I have been getting a really large number of badly written books to edit and read. So many of them actually need a rewrite.

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    1. I'm with you on all counts, Inderpreet! When I first got a Kindle, I got every free book available. Most of them were awful, which is where I got the examples for my post. Even so, I made myself finish them. Now I have no tolerance for bad writing and most books don't make it past the "look inside" test.

      I went through a period when it seemed that all I received from authors was truly bad writing. Each person was sure they were ready to have a "light edit" and hit the publish button. Most, as you've observed, need rewritten completely. Thankfully, I've had a trend of really good stuff lately that's a joy to work on.

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