I was born with a rare and often fatal heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot. No, don’t feel sorry for me, I’m 48 and still on this side of the lawn. Luckily for me, I was a teen when corrective surgery reduced the chances of death. I’m only telling you this in order to explain my passion for books. You see, when I was a child playtime was restricted. The doctors felt the less I exerted myself, the better. This was way before video games, so really, the only choice I had was to sit quietly and read. And read I did!
Books became my ticket to the outside. They allowed me to “explore” the world and learn about people different from myself. In my young mind I would take the place of a character in order to do things I could never do myself. Reading became more than a habit, books became my friends.
I read so much and so often that by the time I was in the 6th grade, my test scores indicated my reading level to be that of an adult. My teacher told my mom I should start getting my books from the local library because the school’s kid’s library did not have anything that would hold my interest. This was before teen fiction was allowed in school libraries, to be honest, the only “teen” fiction at that time was Judy Blume and even that was too childish for my taste.
After corrective surgery I continued to read. As a teen I read indiscriminately; whatever book my mom brought in the house I would read, even a Danielle Steele (okay, I only read one of hers. One was enough). I read all the popular authors of the 70’s and 80’s, Hollywood biographies, horror and the classics. Some were good some were bad (Stephen King good, Danielle Steele oh, so bad).
All of authors I read had something in common. They came from big publishing houses and had editors who helped with the writing process. The editor would be the first to read a book, be it a rough draft or finished copy. It was the editor who spotted errors, inconsistencies, terrible sentence structure, wooden dialog, glaring omissions or scenes that just didn’t quite cut it. Now, with the move to self-publishing and small publishing houses, editors are becoming a dying breed. To many writers this is a blessing, as they often have a love/ hate relationship with an editor, but for the reader, this is becoming a real problem. Which gets me to the purpose of this post. As a reader I would like to offer some advice to today’s writers, and would like your input as well. Let’s start talking about our pet peeves when it comes to books. Besides bad grammar (that’s a given) what makes you put a book down or least decide not to read another by the same author? I have a list, but for the sake of brevity (I think I just heard one of my literary professors choke. Sari, brief?) I’ll start with a biggie, Lying.
In his book On Writing, Stephen Kings says his biggest piece of advice to new writers is to never lie. This may sound odd, coming from a fiction writer, but what he meant was be true to your story and characters. Don’t have a character do something, well, out of character. Start with the truth of your character’s personality and stick to it. Remember, we readers become intimate with your characters and if we are confronted by a change of personality we are abruptly stopped by this action and start doubting you and the character. Once doubt sets in, it is awfully hard for us to trust you. Once distrust sets in, you’ve lost us. One of the beautiful things about King’s own writing is his ability to take an ordinary person and place him or her in an unusual circumstance, while staying true to who he or she is. Would we have loved The Stand as much as we did if Stu Redmond, the hero of the story, turned into a coward or did something horrible in the middle of the book? I think not.
Any fan of fantasy or sci fi will tell you the best books of these genres are those that are based in some truth. Good sci fi writers stick to actual physics or at least make it sound like they are. They make the impossible seem possible because they don’t lie. They make take us to distance planets, but they don’t do it in hot air balloons
I said I would make it brief, so I’ll stop here. In my next post we will talk about inconsistencies, as this is the showstopper for many of my reading friends. Now it’s your turn, tell me about your pet peeve when it comes to reading.