Writers should be readers too. And if you want to be an exceptional writer, you should be an avid reader.
I love to read. And as a sixth grade reading teacher, I’m dumbfounded when my students would rather stare at their phones and tablets instead of investing their time in the glorious world of a well-written book.
Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m a hybrid of two kinds of readers that I’ve called, The Angel and The Devil.
In Angel mode, I’m utterly involved and hooked on a book and will remain faithful to the series, rooting the author and their imaginary friends and enemies onward to resolution! “You keep doing your thing, main character! I’m with you all the way! It’s about time that you told that girl you loved her. I mean, I thought you’d get a clue in Book Three, but no one’s perfect, right? Well, except you of course. Woot, woot!” *Fist bumps cover*
Heck, even if the book has some slow parts or a weak plot I’ll keep plodding through! Why?
I’m a patient, forgiving reader. I know what it’s like for my writing to be analyzed and torn apart. And even when it’s for the better, it’s an exercise in misery. LOL. So, give me your slow beginnings and your unlikable characters! Give me your sometimes cliched plot twists. I will read it, I will bear it, I will endure it!
This book-love at first sight may start with me simply seeing the cover and stopping dead in my tracks to go onto read the back of the book blurb. Interesting characters? CHECK! Riveting plot with just enough mystery and intrigue? CHECK! Infatuation with a book may even begin with a friend recommending it to me. Sometimes, I’ve even read a book based off of a bad review to learn on my own if the book And if my literary palette is piqued, I will immediately rush off to the library in order to possess it spine, pages, and adhesive perma-glue! Come here, you. Let’s have us a hug. Mmmm. Maybe some of your genius will rub off on me.
And then there are the times when my patience has run thin. Incredibly thin . . . until it snapped.
Devil Mode activated.
Moments that turn me off to a book can happen within the first 50 pages of me reading a book. Or even much later. As a rule, my students and myself included HAVE to give any book we read the benefit of the doubt. It’s a mandatory rule that must be followed. Below is table for time frames to abandon books and I sometimes read more than that to make sure I’ve given the writer much courtesy before surrendering to defeat and choosing to not finish reading their precious, literary baby:
|Type of Book||Minimum Length to Abandon|
|Picture Book||After first 5 Pages|
|Chapter Book||After First 5 Chapters|
|Novel||After First 50 Pages|
“The War of the Flowers” by Tad Williams is one of those books that I haven’t been able to finish. I made it to page 64 about five years ago. When I have more time that I’m willing to dedicate to completing it, I may return. I may not. But I didn’t feel invested in it, like my oldest brother, who recommended it to me. The writing is beautiful. The characters are lifelike. The plot is interesting and the setting, like the characters it holds, are believable. Likewise, when writing fantasy those two elements are essential because readers — new to the genre and old — will put aside disbelief for the sake of genre, but the foreign worlds have to resonate with what we know. Fleshing out such a feat is vital to keeping your reader engaged. The primary reason I abandoned “The War of the Flowers” is because I couldn’t connect with the main character, Theo Vilmos, a rocker who is drawn into a magical world while reading a book. Like I said before, the plot sounds so tantalizing.
However, I just couldn’t connect with Theo. I didn’t like him and I didn’t want to care about him or his problems. I felt no empathy for him. I tried. God, did I try. I even tried reading on to see if some terrible fate would befall him and make my reading worthwhile in a twisted way so I could laugh through my tears at his dilemma.
Besides that, I’ve had my share of rotten book experiences. Especially when the author decided to murder my favorite character. “You. Did. What?”
Or the author decided to not remain consistent with who the character is. Heart-breaking. For instance, in one series (that Shall Not Be Named) I adored the main character who started out as a well-rounded individual with a set of rules he/she followed precisely. Eventually, the main character transformed into something unrecognizable with Mary Sue attributes (perfectly flawed in every way and yet still . . . perfect). And for the record, there’s no place for Mary Sues in literature. After all, Mary Sue is place and doesn’t make a believable character.
As writers, we have an obligation to our readers to:
- Remain consistent
- Keep them invested in the plot and the characters
- If you’re going to kill off a beloved character
- Prepare your readers with little hints along the way and never, ever do it for shock effect alone.
- Stay true to the genre
- For example, romance novels have a certain formula and readers are pleased with that. Don’t ditch the formula just because you feel like it and think it’s avant-garde.
This post was inspired by Plaisted Publishing House’s post found here.