When You Want To Read a Novel You Know Will Irk You

I read a book the other day that I hated.  But I also really liked.

It only took me a few days to read it because the story kept drawing me back in.  I really wanted to know what happened.  And after I’d finished it I kept thinking about the story and wondering what happened next.

To the point that I went out today and bought the second book in the series for $17.

But I really dread having to read this book.  Because the way the writer wrote the first one annoyed the hell out of me.

I don’t know if I would’ve known why I was annoyed if I’d read this book twenty years ago. (The last time I read anything by this author–they burned me by never finishing a great series and I’d avoided them since then).  But now I know why I didn’t like it.

The POV was atrocious.  I think it started omniscient.  Or maybe just a shaky third-person.  Then it settled into third person focused on one character.  Until about two hundred pages in when it switched over to another character.  Mid-chapter.  And stayed with that character right up until that character was about to do something interesting when it switched back to the first character.  Mid-chapter.

So, the character I had ostensibly started to sympathize with suddenly became a moody, distant person who obviously had something going on in his head, but we weren’t able to see it.  And the second character, who only seems to have taken over the viewpoint so we could see that he knew the first character’s “big secret”, then disappeared just when “the big thing” happened in his own storyline.

It annoyed the hell out of me.

There were other issues.  A book that the main character really wants that is supposed to contain information available nowhere else that he finally finds is dismissed in about two lines.  And there’s a weird relationship dynamic between two of the characters that never seems quite believable.  And another that looked like it would be a romantic relationship that was then dissolved halfway through with a two-sentence reference to one of the characters suddenly pairing up with someone they’d never even shared a scene with.

And yet…It engaged me.  The story itself, however poorly told, dragged me right through the whole book.  And right into the next one. (Lord help me.)

See, that’s the thing.  At least for me as a reader, story triumphs over writing.  Every time.  I can read something that’s well written and not care in the slightest.  But give me a good story and intriguing characters and I’ll struggle through crappy writing to find out what happens.

I’ll avoid that author like the plague after that, because it’s not fun to have to read a novel like that.  But I will devour the book or series before I walk away.

(Sad thing here is I don’t remember this author being a bad writer.  Is it possible for someone to get worse as they progress in their career?  Actually, answering my own question, yes.  I think as people progress in their careers it’s harder and harder to tell them to fix things.  So books get longer and more plot holes slip in and they write about things no one cares about…And no one tells them to fix it because they still sell books.)

Anyway.  There are so many aspects to writing good POV.  And, honestly, I think once you have the basics down the best way to learn about it is to read a lot of novels and see what irks you and what doesn’t.

But, here’s a good recent article by PCW on multiple viewpoint and a recent reading experience she had: George, Ann, and the Firefight – Some things to do and not do

The lessons I learned from my most recent reading experience are:

-If you’re going to use multiple points of view, keep a good balance between them.  Don’t move over to a new POV and drop the old one for a long stretch of time unless you have a very, very, very good reason to do so.

-Don’t hide the big moments.  If something really important happens, let the reader see it.

-Be clear whose head you’re in if you’re in one.  Don’t start a chapter with a paragraph of description before the reader figures out who is seeing the scene.  Especially if you’ve been unpredictably bopping around between different characters and it isn’t going to be a given who is viewing the scene.

So there you have it.  Sorry that my first post in a while is a rant, but, well, intense emotion does tend to lead to action, doesn’t it?

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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