Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bad Books Have Value

This past month I've read two quite dreadful books. They were what I describe as skimmers because I wanted to get through them, but I'm just not such a good person that I can bring myself to read every word of stuff like this. Why did I bother reading them at all? Well, I think it's important for writers to read books they believe are bad. It's what they used to call a learning experience.

Book Number One was an adult mystery, English, a series from a few years back that I'd never heard of before. What did this book in, as far as I'm concerned, was the third person omniscient narrator. The book illustrated the problem my editor brought up when I was trying to use that sort of narrator for my second book. Unless the author is very skilled, jumping from one character's mind to another can be very off-putting.

In this case, the book was described as "A Joe Blow Mystery." However, we are in Joe Blow's mind for, I'm guessing, less than half the book. Well less than half the book. We jump from Guy B to Guy C and we even get into the head of a guy who turns up about the mid-point for the sole purpose of being killed. If the book hadn't said "A Joe Blow Mystery" on the cover, quite honestly, I wouldn't have known who the main character was because he often isn't even on stage. The constant movement meant we never knew anyone very well, never had anyone whose thinking we could follow. It also meant we weren't getting a smooth story.

The second book was YA. It probably wasn't a very unique story to begin with, and I got the feeling the author was trying to be instructive, both in terms of life lessons and history lessons.

Plot Project: I forgot about my plot project, in which I try to determine if the plots of books I've read could have been built around giving protagonists something to want and then dropping roadblocks in the way of them getting it. There's no time like the present for picking it up again.

With the Joe Blow Mystery I'd say yes. Joe Blow wants to find out who has been killing young girls. The obstacles to him finding the murderer are so big as to make the story unbelievable. With the second book, I'm guessing we could say yes, too. However, it wasn't something she was aware of wanting or working toward. It was something instructive that a writer might have wanted her protagonist to want in order to write a problemish book.

So I need to try not to do any of those things.

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