Maybe it would be better to title this post – The Things Other Authors Do That Make Me Want to Grab Them and Shake Them.
Quick disclaimer – it is not my intention in this post to lessen the importance of shaken syndromes and rest assured, no authors were shaken during the process of this writing.
A writer reviewing the work of other writers is on shaky ground. I admit that I don’t read the way I used to before I had struggled through the many hours it has taken to plan, write, revise and edit two novels. But when I read with reviewing in mind, I try to read as a reader, not a writer. I think about the genre the author has listed the book under and I read with that context in mind. I don’t expect a romance to be a literary novel or a thriller to be a comedy.
Though I’ve said this before, I think it bears repeating. I would never claim any kind of expert status as a writer. But I’ve been reading novels since I was eleven years old and I do feel I’m as close to being an expert reader as I’ll ever be.
So – lengthy preamble or what? What follows is an abridged list of the rants that have never made it into my reviews. I either don’t review the book because I can’t give it four or five stars on Amazon or I let a particular rant go because the book turns out to be so much more than that one thing.
Okay, here goes. The use of an unusual word – use it once and I’m thinking, oh, that’s fresh and new. Use it twice and you’ve disturbed the flow of my reading. Use that word a third time and watch out. I really want to shake you.
Then there is the case of endless pages of dialogue written phonetically to resemble a particular dialect. I get that you want to set a tone. I get that people speak a certain way. Give me a taste of it; go ahead and set the scene with a broad brush stroke. But please, for the love of all that is sacred in writing, do not slap me in the face with this stuff. Or, you guessed it, get over here so I can shake you.
A big rant of mine is irrelevant (to the story) bits and pieces that are clearly the author’s agenda jammed into his or her characters’ mouths. It’s the writer’s job to make the reader believe that every single thing a character says fits with who that character is. I don’t have to like what a character says but I better be able to believe those words would come from that character’s mouth. If not, right – you know the drill – let me shake you.
Information dumps can come in other forms and are no more acceptable to me. Like the chunk of irrelevant material that drops smack dab in the middle of story like a piece of space debris. There was this book I read a while ago. Out of the blue an entire chapter on dog breeding was wedged into the narrative. What the heck – come on over here and let me give you a good shake.
Then there is endless repetition. I read a book in which the author told me so many times in the first chapter that the main character was tired, I thought I would fall asleep myself. How about you just give yourself a shake on that one?
Point of view issues can be problematic. I’ve had a couple of reviews of my books that said my style of writing, with multiple point-of-view characters, results in a complicated and at times fractured narrative. Fair enough. I want the lens focused from a number of directions. But it’s my job to make darn sure that readers are aware of whose point of view they’re reading. Head hopping within paragraphs is a big no-no. Throwing in a sentence that indicates the internal feelings or thoughts of an obviously non-point-of-view character is bad form. Writing an entire book from one person’s point-of-view and then adding in a paragraph or two that switches things up – no, no, no. Do not do this, unless of course you want a good shake.
I don’t want to forget to mention my rant about the police procedural in which the author introduced me to a serial killer and then described this maniac’s crime over and over and over. I get that serial killers kill multiple times. I get that serial killers use the same MO, but seriously? Do you really want to write that grisly scene time and time again? I’ll tell you one thing – I don’t want to read it again and again. Figure out a way to make it fresh or guess what? A good shake is coming your way.
Let’s talk about the likeability of characters. There are no rules that say an author has to write likeable characters. Believable – yes, but likeable – not necessarily. You’re taking a risk, though, if you go out of your way to make your main character totally irritating by repeating and elaborating every bad habit, picky phobia, and selfish trait they possess. I can only take so much of this before I am convinced that you want me to detest this person. After that happens, don’t ask me to feel sympathy for this character’s fate because if you do – that’s right – here comes a good shake.
And another thing about your characters – if you decide to write an elaborate description of a character, tell me what this person thinks and feels and cares about and then you kill this character off after the first chapter – what can I say? Unless this person is coming back as a ghost, shake, shake, shake.
A word about words – they matter. The English language is chock full of words. Have you ever glanced through a Roget’s Thesaurus? That book is thick. Given the number of words a writer has to choose from, answer me this question, please. What were you thinking when you used the same word repeated in every one of your first three sentences? And I’m not talking the regular, run-of-the-mill words that I expect will be repeated. I mean something like using the word freighter three times in a row. I can’t really give you a shake because I didn’t bother to finish your book.
Alright, already. Enough is enough. I’ve ranted on and if you’re still with me, I thank you for your endurance.
Here’s your chance to weigh-in. Though of course you would never give into such a base emotion – what makes you want to shake an author?