Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reading as a Writer

Sometimes, I hate reading as a writer. I hate when I'm drifting along, getting pulled into a story while admiring its craftsmanship, and then, step by insidious step, I begin to develop serious issues with the plotting and characterization decisions made by the author.

I hate, hate, hate when this happens!  I'd rather begin reading a crappy book and ultimately toss it aside.  I don't get bent out of shape by crappy books because I don't become invested in them.  They're easy for me to dismiss.  But a book that promises to be great -- has polished prose, a POV character with a compelling voice, an intriguing and original storyline -- isn't that easy to dismiss.  So when incomprehensible and/or distasteful turns start to occur, I find myself rewriting the damned book and resenting the author . . . because mentally playing content editor is not conducive to a smooth, submersive reading experience.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to whom this happens.  I'm sure plenty of writers-as-readers (and editors-as-readers and just plain readers) start out loving books and end up . . . not hating them, but reconstructing them out of sheer frustration. 

Here's kind of how it goes for me, how I address the author: 

Wait. Hold on. I don't like what seems to be happening here. If the hero or heroine does this-and-such, it is really going to ruin this story's appeal for me

[I press on, my dread mounting.] 

Damn it, this progression of events is pissing me off.  You set me up not only to expect but to look forward to a certain development . . . and now you're pulling something that's going to destroy the whole setup!  I don't mind plot twists, but twists that preclude an outcome I've been eagerly anticipating?  Trust me, those aren't pleasing.  At all.   

[My dread skids toward disgust as all the wrong things -- at least, "wrong" in my estimation -- begin to happen.] 

Oh, shit! 

[Book sails toward nightstand.] 

What possessed you to do that? In addition to not explaining all this other stuff?  Are you crazy?  You just ruined what could've been a fabulous read, what could've been a fabulous ending!

[By now, the engine of my brain has gone into overdrive, because I'm replotting whole sections of the book and reworking characters to make them more relevant, three-dimensional, and/or sympathetic.]

Okay, here's what you should've done to make this story more satisfying.  Believe me, the direction you chose resulted in a big, sour WTF rather than an "ahhhh" of contentment.

[And away I go!]

I'm well aware I have no right whatsoever to approach books in this manner.  What's more, I have my own stories to write.  It drives me nuts when I start obsessing over somebody else's fiction because my imagination can't/won't go with the flow.  I wish I could flip a switch and instantly turn off all my creative and editorial impulses.  Aaaaarrrrgh! 


Unknown said...

When I was younger, I read scripts for some production companies in LA and I have never been able to watch a movie the same way since. Which doesn't mean I don't enjoy movies now, but like you said about reading, I watch and think about structure, plotting, etc.

A friend asked me to beta read a story for her and I find myself hesitating. Not because I don't believe in her and her writing but because ignorance is bliss, maybe?

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Kel, and welcome! What a fascinating job that must've been.

Yes, I suspect you know exactly what I mean.

It isn't that I don't enjoy books that affect me this way or don't respect the authors' talent -- just the opposite, usually -- but I can't fight the urge to make them better. (Gah, how presumptuous that sounds, and how subjective "better" is!)

Tam said...

Well, I'm able to divorce myself from such things luckily. The only thing that bothers me is clothes, references to clothes and it will jump up and hit me every time. (not that I'm any kind of fashion diva) I just read something where the guy put on dress slacks for dinner and then 90 min. later they are unzipping his jeans. Excuse me? Did he change on the walk from the restaurant to the hotel room? Also I believe one guy took his shoes off at the couch, then 5 min. later took them off again in the bedroom. That REALLY REALLY makes me crazy. Continuity stuff.

Now of course if I thought the story was going towards A and it veers suddenly off towards B, sometimes that's a good surprise even if the ending is not what I expected and other times it seems ridiculous and ticks me off. But I never feel the urge to rewrite it, just toss it. :-)

K. Z. Snow said...

Continuity and consistency issues ... yeah. That's the kind of stuff we rely on our editors to catch. It's easy to lose track of details, because writers are obviously thinking more about what they're going to write than what they've already written. The longer it takes to compose a story, the more of a problem this can become.

Chris said...

I sometimes I wish I could shut off the little editor in my brain that's particularly unforgiving of timeline issues. Gah.

K. Z. Snow said...

Yep, those too. Some authors are so anal compulsive, they make extensive notes and flow charts to keep track of everything. I just let 'er rip, then go back and try to catch any screw-ups (and rely on my editors to catch what I missed).