In an effort to better understand what separates “good” writing from “bad” writing, I’ve been taking advantage of free ebook offerings via Amazon, iBooks and Wattpad. It’s helping my understanding considerably. It’s not just mechanics and word choice, it’s consistency (ever read a 25-cent word thrown in like the author just learned it and was determined to use it even if it disrupts the flow?). It’s not just the characters and background detail, it’s how you present them.
The story formulating in my head is still spitting images and scenes at me at irregular intervals, but at least it’s slowed to a point I can process some of it before it hits the page in my notebook. It’s still insistent so when I begin thinking on the story before I go to sleep, I know won’t be sleeping for a while yet. Mostly everything is still notes and scenes in no particular order that wouldn’t make much sense to anyone other than me. Now that I have most of the groundwork laid out, I’m struggling some with how exactly to present it all. Some stuff practically writes itself, some is in desperate need of more direction, fleshing out, and some things I feel are incredibly important to the overall story yet can’t decide if it needs to come out first, thought about, discussed, or be thoughtful flashback later on. Yeah I’ve got a ways to go.
In the meantime, here are my thoughts on some random fiction writing I’ve been reading…
I came across an ebook being offered on Amazon that sounded interesting enough to give it a try, Breakers by Edward W. Robertson. Set in present day, the story outlines our world just before a major disaster, in this case an unstoppable virus, that threatens the existence of the human race. Not zombie-like but apocalyptic, and probably leads to post-apocalyptic scenarios. I’m guessing on that because I didn’t make it that far. The writing is technically proficient, but characters, the scenes…ugh. The only parts that seemed to be painted with a realistic brush were flash-fantasies of unnecessary violence. Don’t get me wrong, this sort of story is bound to have lots of violence in it. I expected that, but when a stranger makes a flippant comment and the character fantasizes crushing the stranger’s throat in a flash of rage the comment provoked, I’m led to wonder about the character’s sanity. When several, different characters have similar, frequent, flash-fantasy violent thoughts, I begin to wonder about the author. Add to that the scenes felt flat, very flat, like what you might expect of a TV or movie script. There was nothing to hold my interest. There’s no depth of understanding to any of it. I did try to hang in there hoping it would get better (after all, this was the first in a series of six so there had to be something to it to keep it going), but when one character, in particular, took up so much time on what I can only define as sociopathic behavior then decides to off himself, I felt like I just wasted hours of my life. What was the point?
A free ebook series worth mentioning, Rhyn & Rhyn Eternal series by Lizzy Ford, on Wattpad is only being offered for a few more months while the finalized version is getting published. I congratulate the author for getting that far! The story is intriguing and engaging, though I almost clicked off in the first chapter of the first book. In fact, I did click off but then decided to at least give it a few chapters. Why? Because when ancient creatures as old as time refer to the final death as “dead-dead” I have to wonder about the author’s ability to weave an imaginative story at all. She could have made up an entirely new word to describe it and it would have been better. Turns out the story is engaging, detailed and fairly well-written, but every time I came across “he became dead-dead” or “suffered his dead-death” or “going to die-dead”, something turned over in my stomach and I couldn’t seem the help the involuntary sneer. One would think with that much imagination, the writer could have come up with something better. Somehow the reader is expected to believe that characters as old as time, who also admit that English is not their first language, would grab such recent (and sad) slang to refer to something so serious in their culture? Especially when other colloquial terms mystify them? I’m not buying it. Thankfully that was really the only big complaint I had. Otherwise I could’ve done without quite so much romance and a little more action or intrigue, but the series puts in a fair amount of everything. The characters and scenes are well-developed.
Another ebook series offered for free on Wattpad caught my attention out of a mild curiosity what this author might do with a fairy-elven world closely linked to the human one. The Dark Prince by LaDameBlanche is a four-book series with an additional spin-off I’ve opted not to read. Of the four “books”, the first three were more like short stories which turned out to be a very good thing since the first two were plainly school-girl romance of the “boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy and girl fall in love anyway in the space of about a week” variety. Those two, thankfully short, romances had hardly any characters besides the main ones, but a few tidbits of possibilities were introduced so I kept reading to see where the author would go with it. By midway into book three, it finally started getting interesting with deeper intrigue, court politics, and awe-inspiring magics. Although I wouldn’t recommend the series, it was interesting to me to see how the author developed her writing in taking the story from so little to something interesting. Judging by her comments at the end of the chapters, I gather she just sat down one day to write without really considering where the story would end up. I think if she were to go back and work on them, the first two could easily be combined with the third for a relatively decent, romantic-fantasy novel. The fourth book actually won a Wattpad award last year.
By the way, I really can’t stand author’s notes like “uh oh! He’s in trouble now! What will happen next?” Seriously? I need that sort of commentary from the author on her own story? Another irritation, though minor, is the frequent “sorry it took so long to get this chapter posted but…” I’m reading the story for the sake of what the writer has to say in story here. Personally, I don’t believe any writer has reason to apologize for their available time as if life doesn’t exist outside their story posts, even if it’s been months since their last entry. But, apparently it’s common on Wattpad so I try to ignore it. I realize these writers are putting themselves out there to be critiqued by total strangers when most of the story entries are very rough. Good for them! That takes a certain amount of bravery, much more than I have at present, so whatever they feel is necessary to communicate to their readers…
A few days ago, I decided to pick up a series I have long loved, read and re-read so many times my copies are coming apart at the binding. The Black Jewels Series by Anne Bishop is a highly detailed, engaging, riveting, magical world entirely different from our own, complete with person-to-person and group dynamics foreign to what we generally see in human society. Respect and honor are valued above all else, at least to the good guys. A couple of the bad guys are brought about in such a way that readers can at least understand some of their motivations even if we wouldn’t necessarily agree with them. It’s a good vs. evil scenario in a well-developed fantasy world that captivates sci-fi-fantasy readers who can appreciate a strong female lead with equally strong male support. My husband loves it as much as I do, I think. He’s read it almost as many times as I have.
Reading Black Jewels now with the focus on writing style, it’s easy to see how and why the story is so gripping – and it’s not just because I think it’s an excellent story! Instead of lines like “he walked down the long road toward home”, it’s “he strolled, relishing the ability to once again walk down a road on a summer morning and see the sun-kissed land.” How much more does the second simple sentence tell you about the character and his frame of mind in the scene? The first sentence by itself is bland. It does give the reader some semblance of information but mostly is just tasteless filler. “Actor exits stage left…” Seriously, wouldn’t you rather every sentence in a book, at least as much as possible, had a purpose to tell you something more?
Books have the ability to be so much deeper and enthralling. The reader can be enlightened on the details of a character’s thoughts, feelings, memories and reasons behind what they do. It’s what makes the written story more engaging, characters more real, and impressions more lasting than in film. Little details spun throughout the story are what keep me from skimming paragraphs just to get to the next relevant bit. I’m interested in all of what the writer has to say when all of it tells me something about what’s going on. Story not fluff and as a reader I’m not bored! I’d say that’s important.
So what have I learned so far? A lot actually, but the biggest thing I realize is that I really do have a long, long, LONG way to go before any part of my story will be ready for critics. sigh