Does this sound familiar? You are reading a book and it just keeps costing along. There is no structure. You have no freaking clue what the writer is doing or where the book is going. It goes from event A, to event B, to event C with no logical connection. And it's not a mystery novel.
I find this a lot in contemporary, and there are many times I will point this out and pardon it when I'm reviewing that genre. However, I point it out because despite my acceptance of it in contemporary novels, it still drives me batshit crazy. If nothing else, plot builds expectation and anticipation. It's one of the key ways (the others being character and mood) through which an author makes a promise to the reader.
And no, not having a plot does not exempt a writer from making a promise. All writers, of all genres, make promises to their readers through the text of their books whether they realize it or not.
This is more of an adult PNR thing than a YA thing, thank God. It's actually one of the biggest reason I switched gears and went to YA stuff.
I can understand that authors of PNR and urban fantasy spend a lot of time developing the rules, history, species, etc. of their worlds. (Really, I can. This is my genre.) But when each book gets to a point of repetitiveness where I can tell you what chapter certain things are going to happen in within a series, Houston we've got a serious problem! This happens to long running TV series, too. There comes a point where the well runs dry.
I don't necessarily think there's a magic number this happens at. I'm certainly not suggesting that people shouldn't be able to write stories that go longer than a trilogy. But I am saying that it's something where an author needs to watch their step. You want to stay fresh, current and up-to-date. You want to intrigue and surprise readers, making them want to read you again next time with the same passion they wanted to after your first (or whichever of your books) made them want to from the beginning. In other words: don't get lazy.
I get it. You want your book to be a "stand alone". But here's the thing: you're writing a series, dude! I can understand a bit of this, if the story can be enriched with a little reminder here and there. But (and this may not be a fair example since it's aimed at kids) I remember reading The Baby Sitters' Club growing up and thinking "OMG, here we go again!" when the Club's history was explained in every single book.
I'm sure I might feel different if I was picking up a series part way in. (I'm kinda neurotic about starting things at their beginning and reading linearly, even in things that can be read out of order.) But as a linear, orderly reader this drives me nuts!
Look, I get it. A lot of us who write were nerds, geeks, readers, band people, drama people and pretty much everything else anti-jock / anti-cheer. I'm right there with ya, for the record. Many of us in all of the above lists felt awkward, left out, second class, overlooked, jealous or lonely. Again: sign me up. I never wanted to be "popular" or "cool", but I sure as hell knew I wasn't.
However, our books need not be our platform to seek out vengeance on the jocks and cheerleaders of high school past. The idea that beautiful = bitch and nerd = nice is bullshit. Am I saying "Down with the nerds!". No. But when I see this done over and over and over again it gets old. (And it looks ridiculous and totally cliche.) Something I came to realize when I was writing Sarena, who was *definitely* a "popular girl" in high school, is that she was not sitting there thinking of ways she could put people less pretty / charismatic / etc. then her "in their place". Now, my book is not YA anymore, (she's in college, not HS) but writing her was enlightening.
I am not a fan of Voldemort. Tom Riddle? Sure. Voldemort? No.
Why? Because for all his supposed persuasiveness and able to get people to band together, I did not feel Voldemort had any depth. Snape? Draco? Both well done. But Voldemort did not work for me.
When it comes to villains, I have always loved the rule that "Even an evil man has a dog that loves him." For a dog to love you, you don't need to do too much. But at the same time, and on the same token, if you abuse a dog long enough it will turn on you. In short: likable characters need flaws, and antagonistic characters need to have some redeeming qualities. It makes--at least in my opinion--for much more engaging and memorable fiction.
I must, of course, offer the fact that I *love* villains who redeem themselves later in a series as rationale for what I'm saying here. (Even though that is not what I'm talking about here.) That's one of my *favorite* things in books, and one of the fastest ways to get me to read something. We all have our literary version of chocolate, or cigarettes, or coffee (or any other addiction). Redemption is mine.
I'm not arguing that a heroine should not be accountable for the happy (or not) ending she receives by book's end. We will get to that. What I'm talking about here is this idea that heroines, especially in genres like fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romance, need to be this tough, kick ass now and take names later kinda gals.
Don't get me wrong. This kind of character can (and does) work. They are even very popular. What makes this a problem is that it can get to a point where other types of characters, with other skills, personality types (outside of hard-nosed ass kickers), and other ways of completing a story do not get the chance to have their stories told. Maybe, just *maybe*, I'm over sensitive to this since it would be physically impossible for me to *be* that kind of character? Or maybe it's because my patience is as long as a brand new ball of yarn and I like things like humor, forgiveness and compassion in heroines? (Why all the jaded-ness, seriously? Some of the chicks I find in these books need a therapist!)
I think a lot of it comes back to writers wanting to be up to date. To us wanting to prove that we don't need to be "saved by a man" and that if "they can do it, we can too". And both of those statements are true. I'm *not* defending characters who don't play the lead role in their own story. What I am suggesting is that there are other, equally important (and interesting) ways that things can potentially be resolved. (Heck, even having a more 'up' and less 'snarky' sense of humor in an ass kicker would be a welcome change now and then.)
Want a book to get tossed against the wall in under ten seconds? This is the most surefire way to make that happen. Forget that last line I just wrote about redemption. I hate, loathe and detest cheating with the fire of a thousand suns. I think everyone has something in books that just flat out pisses them off. Cheating is my thing. And the scale of it does not matter. I dropped hearts from Anna and the French Kiss for it. I DNF'd Splintered (even though it was recommended by Marie, who's opinion I deeply value and still trust.) because of it, and it made me like The Vincent Boys far less than The Vincent Brothers. I've gotten smart enough to know that if I can see there's gonna be cheating in a book, I'm best not to read it. Because it totally makes me see red and it throws my objectivity straight out the window.
Remember how I said I like villains and redemption and all that jazz? Yeah, well I like it because it's tough to pull off. And when that goes wrong, it goes really wrong, people. See, there's this thing called character growth and if a book doesn't have it, I'm probably gonna stop reading the book. Because as much as I love a cool plot, that plot doesn't mean squat if the characters it's happening to are people I care about.
Now, you probably know my blog is "the blog that rates in hearts". Meaning: I read a *lot* of romance. Like, a lot, a lot. From that, you can probably guess that I love happy endings. And I do. But what I don't love is when we take one jackass bad boy, put him with a mousy girl, let him abuse her verbally, emotionally, stalk her, etc. for 90% of the book and then have said *moron* decide he loves her.
No. Just no. No, no, no, no, no. That enough no's for ya?
Bad boys are like violins. When written (played) write they're beautiful, but when they're messed up they have all the appeal of a cat trying to claw its way down a chalk board. Not pretty.
Okay, I'm *cheating* a little here, but I feel these two things sorta go hand-in-hand. Authors: you have never been Tolkien, you are not Tolkien, and you will never be Tolkien. Please, for the love of readers everywhere, quit writing books that don't have an ending. It's frustrating!
I understand if a story needs several books to be told. I'm writing a series myself. But I think it's just lazy when things just abruptly stop on a dime, like the novel I've been reading for 8 to 10 hours is a weekly TV special where I'll only have to write a few days to find out what happens next. In trade publishing authors generally release a book a year. And to put it blunt? I don't want to wait a year to find out if a love interest is dead or not (just as an example, and it's not from any one specific book).
I'm all for leaving things open. But make sure there is some form of a complete story for me to read or I'm going to be annoyed--not anxious to get your next book!
As for the Craptacular Middle Syndrome... All I can say is what's up with that? Is it the second book jinx? Is it just me? Or does anyone else ever feel like just skipping the second books of trilogies until the third come out so the damn things will make sense? I get it: it's the middle. Things are in flux. But again: if I'm buying your book, I want a book. Not just a random chunk of story. Beginning, middle, end. This is basic stuff here, people! :O
There are so many ways this can go horribly wrong. I can think of two main ones, though. Either (a) the heroine of a novel does not have any real part in resolving a novel's climax, even though she's been narrating it for the past 300+ pages, or (b) the resolution of a novel has nothing to do with anything that has been shown to the reader up to that point. (This is generally called Deus Ex Mechana, or God from the Box; it's when the cavalry comes, rather than the hero(es) having to solve their own problems.
Endings, for me, are the hardest part of writing and this is actually a BIG part of the reason why. Finding the ending the fits the story and characters I have created, and making certain I present it in a way where the reader will feel no other resolution would have fit, is a big challenge. Especially when there are multiple characters involved in the ending, where I am concerned people won't necessarily "get" how important my heroine was to it's outcome.
In simplest terms, an ending must fit naturally into the story it's placed into. But that is far easier said than done.
So, what are your bookish turn-offs / pet peeves? What will make you stop reading? Toss a book across a room? Roll your eyes? I'd love to know, so feel free to leave a comment or link me to your Top 10 Tuesday. :)