mrissa: (thinking)

Sometimes I run into people online wondering whether they gave a book enough of a chance.

These people are often writers, and I think there’s a component of “I want people to give me a chance, or, if possible, an infinite number of chances” in this reaction. But there’s some sense that if you don’t like a book (or even just don’t love it) and quit reading it after a few chapters, you might have been unjust, you might be missing out. It might get better.

I don’t have this. If I bounce off a book on page one, that’s where I bounce. If I read half of it and decide I don’t care about the characters, if I notice that I’m consistently coming up with other things to do rather than reading this book, I’m out. And I’m totally, completely fine with this. Because the beginning of a story has a specific function, and it’s not to tell you what came first. You can write the beginning of a story that’s not the beginning of the events quite easily–it’s done all the time. And why is it done all the time? Because the beginning of the story is there to draw you in and tell you what kind of thing you’re dealing with.

So–take, for example, the movie I bounced off recently from the library. It was filmed in the 1940s, and it started with a racist joke and continued with at least four minutes of sexual harassment. I know, times were different then, different things were accepted by polite society, blah blah blah…but the point is, they were harassing the living shit out of this woman, by the standards of this viewer. And I say “at least four minutes” because I turned it off, I was done.

Did I miss out? Maybe. Sometimes if you dig through a dumpster you find someone’s wedding ring. But it’s still okay to say, “I don’t feel like digging through that dumpster is going to be worth my time even if there is a wedding ring in it.” An article I read (in the Journal of I Read It Somewhere Studies) had the staff of their magazine watch the first ten minutes of movies, write down how much they thought they’d like them, and finish the movies. And if I recall correctly, they were only wrong in a single-digit number of cases.

Here is why: the beginning sets expectations. That’s what it’s for. It says, here is the kind of story you’re reading. Even if it’s a deeply subversive story, it sets out what kind of thing is here to be subverted. When a movie starts with a racist joke that is, as far as I can tell, completely incidental to its premise, that’s telling you something. It’s telling you that this is the sort of thing the people who made this movie find funny. It’s totally okay to say, you have given me this data, and I have learned from it; I am stopping here. This is why the early episodes of House featured some really graphic medical scenes: they were letting you know, if you are going to be grossed out by the medical stuff, this is not your show. Thank those people for their clarity of vision and move on.

What about quitting in the middle, though? Well, look. Sunk cost fallacies are hard. Humans are, generally, neurologically, terrible at getting ourselves out of sunk cost fallacies. Even if you’re aware of this, it doesn’t always help. Last week I caught myself thinking, of the book I was reading, that I heard rumors that the series was almost done, so I would probably only have two or three more books to read before it was over. Not regretfully. Just in the way that you would think, “I have to wash sheets and towels and delicates, so that’s three more loads of laundry before I’m done.” No one assigned me these books. I have read some in this series before. I can go pick it up again if I really want. But if it is not being worthwhile to read now, it doesn’t matter that I’ve already read one or two or six or however many.

Reading isn’t just a process of discovering what happened, because I could just ask someone who read this book. It’s the experience of reading. If that experience isn’t going well for you, go ahead and read something else. Why not? If no one is paying you money and you’re not in love with the author–I mean, literally, actually in love with the author, not “in love with” as a colloquial way of saying you enjoy their work very much–the fact that you are not happy with this reading experience, right now, in a larger way than just one paragraph or scene making you go meh: I hereby give you permission to get out. You don’t have to finish desserts that taste bad, and you don’t have to keep reading books just because you’ve already read a hundred or two hundred pages of that book, or 1600 pages of that series. You are free. Run like the wind. Run to a different book. There are several out there.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (Oh *hell* no!)

I used to make posts about why I quit reading the books I quit reading, and a couple people have poked me about doing another one, so here we are! Why I have quit on various books lately!

1. Stereotyping of thin big-breasted women as stupid. At least, I think that’s what he was, like, saying? I dunno. He, like, used some kinda big words? and there weren’t any men (or flat-chested ladies or fat ladies or non-binary persons) around for me to ask? so I had to put the rully rully hard book down. FOREVER.

2. If you want to compose a novel by putting a prose poem on each page, make sure it’s a good prose poem. A bad prose poem per page = a bad novel. (A good prose poem per page might still = a bad novel, but at least you have a shot at it.)

3. If you have to pick a subculture to endure forever, despite major (MAJOR) social upheaval and major (SERIOUSLY MAJOR) technological change, make it something more fun than whiny pretentious hipsters. Complete with the word “hipster” meaning identically what it means now.

4. Pacing. Pacing, pacing, pacing. And more pacing. When people talk about something needing to be faster-paced, they don’t actually mean that it needs to have a fight scene or a sex scene closer to the opening of the book. Sometimes they mean that something central to what is going on needs to happen closer to the opening of the book, but if the action (of whatever kind) is not central to what is going on–or you don’t have any reason to know that it is–that’s not going to help. No matter how many action verbs a scene has, it can bog down the pacing of a book if it seems irrelevant.

4b. More pacing. Putting more things central to what is going on towards the start of the book does not actually fix all pacing problems, or even most pacing problems. Starting with an opening that goes whiz-bang-boom is only a good idea if your book goes whiz-bang-boom. You’re allowed to have a quieter, slower-paced book. Having a quieter, slower-paced book that you have set up to go whiz-bang-boom at the beginning is going to give me whiplash.

5. When I said my tolerance for sexual violence in SFF was pretty low, I really meant it.

6. When I said my tolerance for sexual violence in SFF was pretty low, I did not mean “so you should give me a protagonist who merely pretends to rape people, who lets his friends assume he has raped them in the next room but does not actually do the raping. NOT HELPFUL, DUDE. NEXT.

7. Addiction does not fascinate me the way it does some people. After about the twentieth consecutive page of how much someone wants a fix, I am ready to read about something else, particularly if the book purported to be about something else. No matter how future-cool you think the drug you came up with is.

8. Zombies + Mris = no. There are a few exceptions to this. Vanishingly, vanishingly few.

9. Making sweeping statements in works of nonfiction about What Repressed Homersekshuls Do is bad enough. But when you are also arguing that the historical figure in question has had same-sex affairs with everyone of their sex they come across, you may wish to consult a dictionary regarding the meaning of the word “repressed” and rethink how much these theories apply.

10. If you are going to claim in a work of nonfiction that an historical figure has molested another historical figure (who was a child at the time), you need some kind of footnote. Seriously. Citation of some kind. This is a major allegation. I understand that sexual abuse is hard enough to prove in a court of law with the actual involved parties on hand, much less a hundred years or more after the fact. But you should be able to complete the following sentence: “I believe this because ________.” Biographers are not speaking ex cathedra. Your claims can, should, will be evaluated. If you have better evidence than “I have taken a dislike to this historical figure,” it really behooves you to produce it. Really, there is behooving here.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (nowreally)
Okay, here is my new rule which is actually an old rule:

You do not get a free pass on being interesting by being in a genre with interesting things. Specifically, you do not get to say, "Hi, I'm a spy! Now, the weather report." "Hi, I'm a spy! Here are several pages about my shoes. Or possibly my car." Unless your shoes do things. By which I mean spy things, not shoe things. Being a particular color does not count as doing things. Disabling enemy agents from thirty paces while emitting a particularly pleasant cherry-wood fragrance? Okay. Being purple? Not okay. Not okay for more than, like, two sentences, tops. How interesting can the purple of your shoes be? Not very.

You may be asking, what if I am really brilliant? And I can make my purple shoes interesting for four or possibly five sentences? Knock yourself out. Knock yourself out with the knockout drops emitted by your fascinatingly kitten-heeled shoes. Go ahead and be just that brilliant, and I will write you a personal apology here on the internet for all to see. Ready go.

But for all the rest of you: default to doing stuff. Please? Thanks.
mrissa: (Default)
I quit reading five different books yesterday. You'd think this would be fodder for another "I can in fact quit you" tagged post, but most of it was just tired stuff--poor prose, sexism, stuff I've ranted about before and do not need to do another chorus of.

But there was one thing. One author was giving us his character's thoughts. And the character thought: No! No!! No!!!

And I thought: no. Quick flowchart of choices: are you 12 years old? And has the calendar year passed Anno Domini 1922? If so, don't do that. If not...still don't do that, but we'll maybe excuse you.

Today is my 33 1/3 birthday. My first third of a century! I am going to have an ice cream cone. Well, and a new dishwasher I didn't really want, but these things happen. The ice cream part is the birthday part.
mrissa: (Default)
Now supplied by both the library and WFC! I am alarmed by how many of these apply to more than one book.

1. It turns out there is no one single "way black people talk." So you can't throw in Southern Urban African-American, Louisiana Creole, Caribbean, and I Swear I Heard A Guy Say This On The Bus into one character within four pages without the person deliberately imitating anybody else and have your readership nod sagely and go, "How vividly urban," Whitey McWhiterson. Even if your readership is as white as you, it turns out some of them will have met actual black people! Personally! And heard them speak! Also, going straight to the absentee black dad trope does not make you groundbreaking and edgy. Particularly in combination with the black youths in gangs trope. It makes you...well. Let's say it makes you not a writer I want to read, whatever else it makes you.

2. It turns out that historical personages from non-European countries do not always think that Europe is the be-all and end-all. So having your non-European protag go on, in the first person, about what awesome things are happening in Europe in their time period--things that will be Sir Not Appearing In This Book--is not really very realistic. Or interesting, given that history happened elsewhere also.

3. Stop wibbling! If it might have happened this way and it might have happened that, do something meta with it, but don't just drone on about how you're not really sure. You're the writer. Be sure.

4. Stop wibbling! If your character spends the first five pages whining about how she can't make up her mind and doesn't know what she wants, the reader may decide she doesn't care if the character gets what she wants, or what's coming to her, or a bright blue lollipop with a bow on.

5. When you are already describing demons, layering adjectives and metaphors to tell us how really truly darkly demonic these demons are will not intensify my sense of forboding. I will not think, "Oh no! I had hoped that our heroine might be menaced by a dim demon from the shallow pits of hell! Not a midnight black darkety dark one from the deepest pits of hell dark dark scary ooh!"

6. If your protag is a jerk, they had better be an interesting jerk fast. I don't have to like all the protags. I do have to want to know what happens or care about another character or something enough to overcome the "wow, this person's a jerk" reaction. This can happen. You just have to work for it.

6b. All right, your protag is a lovable loser. You forgot the lovable part. Done now.

7. Suspension of disbelief has its limits. "But that's impossible," can be overcome much more easily than, "But that's stupid."

8. Kids These Days will at some point be the right age of people to read your book. Heaping scorn upon them for not having the totally wise and awesome generational conventions of your generation is not going to make them adore you. In fact, very few things date a book faster than the certainty that the current generation of young people is wrong about everything.

9. I know the temptation of Gratuitous Capitalization. I do. But resist. Seriously.

10. I can do without a plot. What I can't do is do without a plot when you've got a plot. If your plot is, "And there was totally obvious innnnnncesssssst"? You fail.

Wait, I didn't quit reading that one. I'm looking at you, Antonia Susan. Your novella is bad and you should feel bad. Sheesh.
mrissa: (think so do ya?)
Dear people writing books that have anything to do with war, fiction or nonfiction:

You do not absolutely have to have epigraphs from Sun Tzu. Truly, you do not. In the history of humanity, other people have written about war. As you seem to hope to be among them, this should be clear to you. Please read more broadly in future, or at least make your friends read more broadly so that you don't blend in with quite such a huge crowd. I know he's pithy. Other people are pithy too.

[ profile] mrissa

PS Switching to the "all Tacitus, all the time" channel is not a solution to this problem.
mrissa: (think so do ya?)
I have put another library book into the return pile without reading it, and there were several reasons. (Oh, several.) But there's a particular prose tic I've seen from underedited works before, and I wanted to speak out against it:

"That was the word for it."

If you are ever, in authorial voice, using this phrase, stop and eliminate it. You are the author. You don't have to tell us that was the word for it. We only have your words for it. If you say that the love interest was brooding (please, for the love of Pete, do not say that the love interest is brooding), then following it up with some self-soothing is not the thing. "He was brooding. That was the word for it." No. Stop. Simply do not.

See also: "There was no other way to describe it." You are the author. We have to accept your descriptions (or reject the book entirely, which is, as you see, always an option). So if you say, "Her room was a mess. There was no other way to describe it," well, I immediately think of other ways to describe it. There are lots, actually. There are hardly any things in this universe with only one way to describe them. Even lone electrons have both position and momentum, not to mention charge and mass and like that. They can be described in many ways. So can your characters. Telling me there was no other way to describe it will simply make me wonder why you need to reassure yourself so.

Even in character voice, this should be used sparingly--but the character, at least, has some excuse to be a wibbling doofus. You do not.
mrissa: (think so do ya?)
I have just quit reading a Native American history published in 2010, because in the first five pages, it directly equated civilization with white people at least five times and referred to the First Nations people in question as "primitive" at least twice.

And it's not that I believe all cultures are equally civilized. But when you're making the Europeans/civilized, Indians/not civilized assumption, that has gone so badly wrong in so many cases in the past that I feel it needs some pretty thorough justifying in the specific case you're discussing, or I am likely to wonder what else you have a cranial-anal interface issue with, and I will stop reading your book.

Seriously. It is 2011 now. No more referring to Native American women as squaws. No more assumptions that anybody whose ancestors are not recently European must be dirty savages. No. More.
mrissa: (Default)
Sometimes when I quit reading things, I have little pithy snarky posts about it. This time I wanted to highlight a factual error so that none of you will repeat it, because I've read this wrong, wrong thing more than one place:

It is, in fact, possible to remember and/or imagine a smell.

No, really. It is. I checked with [ profile] timprov, who doesn't have nearly the nose I do, and it is not just me being a mutant superhuman. You may not be able to imagine or remember a smell, and that's fine. Some people can't process faces. Some people can't tell red from green. Some people apparently can't have smells in their brain without external scent stimulus. People vary, and that's cool.

But starting with the (supposedly nonfiction!) premise that humans cannot remember/imagine a smell and basing large swaths of social theory on it is just not on. I will be done at that point. I don't go around telling you that you can't possibly make up recipes without imagining smells if you don't go around telling me I can't do it my way. Among other things, it looked like a clear sign that this person had not so much researched his book as assumed his own universality. Not a win.
mrissa: (reading)
1. If you want to write a memoir, write a memoir. If you want to write a book about something else with memoir bits in it, you have to make sure that the memoir bits are roughly on a par with as interesting as your topic, or else really really short. Or else I will run away and read some other book on your topic whose author is not convinced that their own life is the most fascinating thing ever.

2. I remember being a teenager. It was not a built-in excuse for being an asshole. So whining that your parents are mean because they're poor? No. Sometimes it's not enough that the narrative be aware that the character is an asshole--you're still sticking me with a big chunk of text all about this asshole, and if they're not an entertaining asshole, I'm going to read something else.

3. Hockey is not everything. I mean this in a philosophical sense, but also in a very literal sense: hockey is not the building of Hadrian's Wall. Hockey is not the Silk Road. Trying to argue that various historical events were the True Beginning Of Hockey is likely to make me roll my hockey-loving eyes and move on.

4. Unrelieved doom. Next.

5. I know and care about several people who stammer. They do not go, "Th-this s-sentence is s-stupid." That is not how it works. It's not cute, it's not funny, quit doing it.

6. If your entire plot/premise is predicated around someone learning not to worry their pretty little head about big hard questions, go directly to hell and take your book with you.

7. If you have convincingly portrayed a protagonist everybody hates, you may consider that there's a good reason for this.

8. If you're going to compare your parents to Hitler--as an adult writing nonfiction--you need to be aware of the scale differences. No, seriously. Unconscious hyperbole is not our friend.

9. You had no respect for yourself, your reader, or your characters. Next.

10. Women do not constantly think of ourselves as though we were describing ourselves for phone sex purposes. I promise. Even lesbians and bisexual women, who may quite rightly be assumed to be fonder of women's bodies than the average straight gal, do not get their Rice Krispies while thinking of the pertness of their own breasts. In fact, I am a bit skeptical that any woman ever has gone around thinking of her own breasts as pert. Or lush. Mostly I think of mine as...mine. Like my ear or my elbow. Because...follow me carefully here...when you've had breasts for decades, you sort of get used to them, almost like they're a body part a person might have.

11. If you're going to hit a dozen genre conventions on the first two pages, you need to do it in a way that tells me that the story will not simply be a string of conventions. Three pages later, you still hadn't left the stencil. Fail.
mrissa: (reading)
1. Fantasy did not actually need to be structured more like basketball. No, really not.

2. If you'd published your fanfic online like everybody else, I would not have had to read an entire chapter to determine that your Mary Sue was stupid and obvious, because I would never have gotten there.

3. It is entirely possible that people who are unpleasant to their romantic/sexual partners are interesting in other ways, but when you don't show me any of their traits but being unpleasant to their romantic/sexual partners, it makes it hard for me to summon up any damn to give.

4. Do you know why we sometimes write dialog instead of paraphrasing it every single time? Go away and find out before you write another book.

5. I know that it is not unrealistic to write a completely self-absorbed character, particularly one without much life experience. But that doesn't make them any more fun to read about, particularly when you, the author, don't seem to realize that this is not how everybody is. When your protag moans that they have no friends and I think, "Give me $5 and I will tell you why," this is not the road to a long and happy reading experience.

6. You know what's worse than writing alternating viewpoints where I only care about one of the viewpoints? Writing alternating viewpoints where I don't care about any of the viewpoints.

7. Biography is an art form. It is an art form that does not require the writing of twee, precocious dialog to put words in your famous subject's 10-year-old mouth.

8. Have you met any actual New York street toughs like the ones in your book? No? This "write what you know" thing: it is not perfect advice. Its limitations are rather severe. But "write what does not make you look like a complete idiot" is a good place to start.

9. It is your prerogative to hate people like me and think we are all awful. It is my prerogative not to read about it. Neat how that works, huh?

10. It turns out I don't really care what Famous Historical Personage #1 wrote to Famous Historical Personage #2 about the food at a party they both attended and I didn't. I thought perhaps my dislike of collections of letters was something I had outgrown. Nope.

11. This is a personal idiosyncratic thing as well: I am a really, really tough sell for books about tiny people. I don't mean human beings of medically abnormal stature. I mean people 3-12 inches tall. As fantasy conceits go, I can't think why this one is such a loser for me, but it really is.

12. If you are going to write an historical novel for teens, the fact that it is historical fantasy does not excuse you from doing your research. (Do I even need to say that the fact that it is for teens does not? I had better not need to say that.) And if you got the street names right and the basic gender roles and limitations of the period very wrong, you did not do your research. It's not just the bits you think are important about the period. It's the bits they thought were important about the period.
mrissa: (think so do ya?)
I just picked up the library's copy of Sarah Dessen's This Lullaby. On page 12 is the line, "He turned it [the narrator's hand] palm up before I could even react, and pulled a pen out of his back pocket, then proceeded--I am not joking--to write a name and phone number in the space between my thumb and forefinger."

And in the margin, a very teenybopper hand has written in black ballpoint ink, "Why doesn't that happen in real life?"

1. Princess, this? IS NOT YOUR BOOK. It is the library's book. Nobody cares where you swooned.

2. You know why it doesn't happen in real life, sugar? Because you live in Minnesota, and even at your presumed age, even many of the most clueless males already know that if they go around grabbing body parts of women they have just met, they will a) happen upon one like me who will make sure they do not get back the pen or the hand they grabbed with or b) happen upon one who has a broad-shouldered relative happy to provide the same service at a moment's notice. There are lots of broad-shouldered relatives in these parts. Both sexes, or did you think the fella was kidding?

Seriously. This is my body. That out there is your body. If you get confused, I will be happy to give you a reminder that the bit that hurts is the bit that's you.

I am so glad my teenaged friends have more sense.
mrissa: (Default)
"You are hot, my prince." != "You are not my prince." Um. Very different story, that.
mrissa: (winter)
What better time to write fiction about someone dealing with an unplanned pregnancy than when the vertigo is making me nauseated and anxious all day long? Go team vertigo!

Also, people: when you are recommending books to me specifically, do not recommend books that will have "A Supernatural Romance" on their cover or title page. Seriously! It's me here! Me, for whom the Luna Books symbol on the spine indicates, "Back away from this book; it is not for you." (Am I claiming that there are no good paranormal romances? Not at all; I am claiming that they and I are not suited. And will claim it again as many times as need be.)
mrissa: (Oh *hell* no!)
1. "Boring person becomes interesting" is a really hard plot to accomplish: if the boring is too well done, I may not stick around to see whether the interesting ever comes around. If it's not well-done enough, I may not believe that the plot is actually going to function as intended, but somehow this latter case is rarely the problem.

2. I know that people date other people who are vastly unsuitable for them. I do know that. Really. And I have not been immune from screeching, "Why is he with her? Why?" or, "What in God's name does she see in that loser?" But usually when I calm down and it's been more than twenty minutes since I had to deal with my awesome friend's ill-starred sweetheart, I can think it through a bit. The bottom-feeder in question has some redeeming qualities, or has faked some long enough to fool my astute and interesting friend. If the main character (usually heroine) has a significant other with absolutely no visible redeeming qualities, I become extremely suspicious of how manipulative the rest of the book is going to be. And whether I'm going to want to spend it kicking the protag repeatedly.

3. Similarly, if the main character is supposedly awesome but has reached his/her middle age without any of the Philistines anywhere around him/her noticing it on any axis...yah. Possibly not so much with the awesome. And while I have some limited sympathy for poor little friendless waifs of 16, who have not had full control over where they were or what they were doing, poor little friendless waifs of 46 are significantly more suspicious to me. One friend. Just one. Or a mentor. Or somebody. Anybody, really. If you are truly that awesome, I really think that by the time you reach the age of majority, at least one person will be willing to speak civilly to you.

4. People in French novels speak French. People in French novels translated into English speak English, but are understood to be speaking French when they appear to be speaking English on the page. Okay so far. Yes. And there are words that just don't translate; fine. But there are words that are perfectly translatable into English, words like "oui" and "un petit peu" that in no way could be called inscrutably French. And! If you are writing a book filled with French people speaking French in France! Having them speak random bits of only high school French is really obnoxious! And you should stop doing it! Right now now now aughhhhh!

The High School Guide To Foreign Speech method of writing annoys me enough when the characters are meant to be speaking English and somehow can remember "labyrinth" and "conjunction" but not "thanks" or "apple." (I am looking at you, Gregory Benford!) But I read Le Ton Beau de Marot at a formative age, so when they're supposed to be speaking another language for the whole conversation and then have simple words of that language tossed in, my head explodes. And not in a good way.

5. The Norse gods are not varm fuzzy nice-nice. If you think they are, you are dumb. And not paying much attention.

6. I like competent protagonists. I don't mind supercompetent protagonists if they do interesting things with it. But I refuse to pant adoringly up at supercompetent protagonists just because the author wishes she had a really awesome weapon stuck in her garter. Stores sell garters. There are carry classes (where they will probably teach you that a garter high underneath a long skirt is perhaps not the best place for your only weapon, but never mind that). Go take such a class, get your cool weapon of whatever type, get it out of your system, and then go home and write characters with more than one dimension. Sheesh. Swashbuckling: yes. Mary Sue on a chandelier: no.

7. Terminal failure to care. This keeps showing up in these lists.

8. Small children, like Norse gods, are not varm fuzzy nice-nice. If you think they are, you are dumb. And not paying much attention.

9. Whimsy is like enthusiasm: if you have to fake it, it's not likely to come out right. Light touch. Light, light touch.

10. I have known several 12-year-olds in my time. Very few of them are consistently trying to sound like younger children. Most of them are trying to sound like older teenagers or adults. Keep this in mind when you're writing a 12-year-old protagonist, lest I set my 12-year-old friends on you.
mrissa: (stompy)
1. Some people whose taste I really respect loved this one. I got halfway through and caught myself thinking of it as a chore, really along the lines of "if I put the towels in the washer now I can have the darks out before lunch." I bounced off the characters, but I also suspect that the people I really respect have a great deal more interest in and background in the setting than I do, and that they were able to bring a great deal more to the book than I was. Or than I am interested in being able to do later. Sigh.

2. Okay, so here's my theory: choose whatever person/tense/voice combination you want. Fine. Go with it. I hate the second person, but I have read at least two second person novels in the last year and have not had to quit. But when you choose a nonstandard mode, such as first person limited plural, you need to own that choice. If you're writing from a specific "we," you're not limited in the same way that you would be if you were writing from a specific "I" or a specific limited third. But the limitations are there. If you start going outside them at random so that it's a first person limited plural book except when it might be inconvenient, that's going to throw me further out of the book than the initial choice of first person limited plural in the first place. Fail.

3. If you are going to depict edgy, tough, rebellious teens, you need to realize that edgy, tough, rebellious teens do not in general remain constant in the details of their speech and dress over the decades. I know you were really impressed by the punks you saw in 1978, but that's the year I was born. Sure, there are still punks now, but they are not the same punks. I promise. Giving your 1978 Tough Girl Archetype a cell phone is necessary but not sufficient to make her the 2008 model.

4. I don't know to what end you were going to hector and harangue me, author, since two chapters of stern didactic tone to no particular point turned me so thoroughly off your book.

5 (twice, different authors). If a book has been translated from Norwegian, it should not read like it went through Japanese, Greek, and Navajo along the way. Norwegian direct to English. By someone who speaks both languages. This is not too much to ask.

6 (twice, different authors). Your characters all hate each other. I can see why. Bye-eeee.

7. When Mike Ford wrote the Harry of Five Points stuff, he was being funny. It was not that all English monarchs before the Restoration talked that way accidentally, mixed in with thees and thous more or less at random.

8. Everything stood for something. In case you weren't sure what it stood for, the author was willing to tell you in some detail. It made no sense as an actual detail, only as a symbol. Next.

9. Why must people continue to shun the humble quotation mark? Why? Why? You can't say you didn't know, because I brought this up last time with a completely different author. Possibly the time before that, too. Use it! Love it! It is your friend! It is not a newfangled corruption!

10. I don't know everything about military service, but if everybody in your army is completely corrupt and stupid, a) you will probably lose, and b) I don't care to read the chronicle of your losing, and also c) I will not consider it a trenchant criticism of actual military personnel, some of whom I actually know personally, so I can vouch that they are not all venal idiots. Fail.
mrissa: (reading)
1. Already read Remains of the Day. Did not need to read another author's attempt at The Day: Now! With 33% More Remains ABSOLUTELY FREE!

2. Am bored stiff by tales revolving around infidelity of dumb people. If I can't tell why anyone would ever sleep with any of the parties at any time (including motivations like "fate of world depended upon it" or "last [person of preferred gender] on earth"), the intricacies of who did what to which are unlikely to enthrall me.

3. Just plain bored.

4. Tired of historical protagonists always having all the convenient modern virtues and all the picturesque historical ones.

5. The quotation mark: use it. Love it. It is your friend. I don't care if you use the single or the double. I can parse either way. But an entire novel of indirectly reported dialog makes me go like this:

I am not reading another one of those again. Why not, she said. Because they suck, I said. Oh. They do suck. Lots. I don't know who's saying which line any more, she said. Or what is in authorial voice. Or what is thought by one of the characters. Yes, I know.

6. Drugs may or may not make you interesting to yourself. They do not make you interesting to me. Something additional is required. I am really not as picky as I might be on this; an obsession with terns might do.

7. If you're going to retell a famous novel, pick one that didn't suck in its original incarnation, so that when I realize, "Oh, they're retelling X," I don't think, "That's why I don't like this book! I hated X!"

8. Animal narrators who sound like humans: bad. Animal narrators who don't sound like humans: upsetting when something bad happens to the animals and they totally don't understand why because they are just animals. See the catch-22 here?

9. "I have too much money and time on my hands," is a problem that requires extremely creative solutions to be interesting. Lying around the house all day and occasionally whining to shallow friends: not creative. (Psssst. Writing a booka bout lying around the house all day and occasionally whining to shallow friends: still not very creative.)

10. I am okay with children's/YA books featuring bad parents, abusive parents, or parents who Just Don't Understand. I am not okay with children's/YA books where the narrative seems confused about the line between abusive parents and parents who mildly frustrate their children. In either direction, this is not a good spot for confusion.

11. Cutesy wittle pwose style. Tonstant Weader wead somefing else.

12. Really well done, except that I found that it was making me sad without actually making me care who murdered whom, when, and why. So I stopped.
mrissa: (reading)
There are a couple of memes going around the friendslist wherein people indicate which books on a list they have read and which they haven't finished reading. And in the, "Dance for me, monkeys!" school of lj posting, I just want to say: talk about it! Tell me why you didn't finish the ones you didn't finish! Did they bore you (and if so, how)? Confuse you (and if so, how)? Require returning to the library? Get left on a train or in a coffeehouse or an airport lounge or your cousin's backseat? Get dropped in the bath and rendered too crunkly to read? I'd far rather read why you didn't finish one book on one of those lists than have fifty of them marked whether you did without explanation.

And in the spirit of dancing for you, monkeys, I give you the reasons I have quit reading library books recently:

1. Chatty piece of nonfiction went from elementary to oversimplifying to flat-out wrong.

2. Point of view issues: the first-person omniscient is extremely difficult to carry off without making me run away, far away, very quickly. If you want to know what someone's aunt was doing at every second of every day, give a mechanism or don't use the first-person.

3. Total contempt for characters. On the author's part, not on my part. I read 50 pages and thought, "If she's so sure these people are all tiresome, petty people, what am I still doing here?"

4 (multiple examples). Mystery novels that started in the following format:
CLUNK: corpse.
CLUNK: some random trivia about our detective, such as her opinion on lima beans, Greenpeace, or the musical career of Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Sorry, folks, but, "Here is a dead body. Mary liked gorgonzola," is just not a way to get me into a book. Even though I like gorgonzola, and even though I have been known to bring it up more or less completely out of the blue (as a few people can attest from this weekend) if my need for gorgonzola overcomes my social filters. But I don't do it in fiction, is the difference.

I'm a little alarmed by this pattern showing up in more than one book. If I wasn't reading mystery novels with far better beginnings than this, I'd begin to think it was a genre convention and despair of my ability to ever write a mystery novel. As it is, it reminds me once again that I don't have book-selection protocols set up for picking mysteries the way I do for picking science fiction and/or fantasy novels. Not a surprise, since I've been working on the latter for much longer. I keep plugging away at it, but I'm not sure I'm seeing much progress.

5. Bad sex between characters. Bad sex can be all right if it's needed in context, but as the opening event of the book, I am going to need to see some reason why I should care about these people who, in this particular case of bad sex, don't care about each other. That context is going to be difficult to establish right out of the gate, there.

6. Main character is a shining gem among Philistines who do not truly understand the deep beauty of her soul but are interested in shallow, worldly things. No irony apparent. Next.

7. Author believes that beautiful imagery excuses her from making any sense whatsoever. Bad enough if I agreed with her on what images were beautiful.

There really are lots of good books I'm actually finishing; it's just that it doesn't take much time to discard the bad ones, or even just the ones that strike me wrong, so I can go through them rather quickly and send them back to the library with no harm done.

Also I have quit work on a particular short story for the time being and have picked up a different story in a different genre. It's going much better than the previous one. Hurrah for quitting.
mrissa: (helpful nudge)
Dear Other Writermonkeys,

Let me check my calendar. Why yes! It is! It is 2008! I thought it might be. And therefore, is now the time for dismissing characters as "hysterical, like that kind of woman always gets"? Not really! Not so much. And if you do it, surprise! I will stop reading your book. ("But you already gave me money for it!" Haha, no I didn't! It was free!)

You know what else? Bodily fluids? Not inherently interesting. In fact, you have to work pretty hard to make most of them interesting. You don't need two per page, with one in the gratuitous background description in case a page has slipped by under quota. They do not serve to epater les bourgeois so much as to ennuyer les bourgeois, by this late date. And you know what? A bored Mris will -- surprise! -- stop reading your book! ("But you already gave me money for it!" Haha, no I didn't! This one was free, too!)

Oh, and one more thing: it turns out that having a pseudonym is not the same thing as having a superhero name and secret identity. It doesn't actually make your book cooler. It is a net neutral. Look at K.J. Parker. She doesn't prance around going, "You should read my books! Because K.J. Parker is not really the name of the person who wrote them! And that makes them cool!" Or look at Robin Hobb. Almost no singing of, "Nyah, nyah, that's not my name!" Robert Jordan? Did not, in his lifetime, have jacket copy about how he could tell you his real name, but then his Very Powerful Enemies would get him. You are neither Bruce Wayne nor Rumpelstiltskin, so write the best book you can, slap whatever name you want to on it, and get on with your life.

I'm so glad we had this little talk.

[ profile] mrissa


Dec. 27th, 2007 09:02 am
mrissa: (don't mess with me today)
I have had a run of reading about protags who treat other people like objects lately, and I am tired of it. I understand that many people do this, and that protagonists do not have to be admirable people, and all that. I know. I just don't care to read all that much of it. And I particularly don't care to read all that much of it when the author does not seem aware that they are doing it, and that it's a bad thing.

Luckily, there are books in my bag that are guaranteed not to do that to me. Whew.

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