Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Makes a Bad Book Terrible?

Having read my friend Angie Lofthouse's blog post "What Makes a Great Book Great?", I couldn't help but be inspired to write a companion piece, thus my post today.

Having read several great books, I've also read a lot of stinkers. Not to get into a self-published versus small press versus major publisher debate, but many of these have come from the two former categories. And as I foresee the trend to be for more and more authors to begin venturing into those realms, it's going to be important to have your book stand above the pack.

So, what drives a book to be so terrible that it never gets off the ground with readers?

1. Poor editing: Yes, this is a bit of a generality, but it deserves to be said. Books absolutely HAVE to be edited, there is no getting around it. And like it or not, there are a lot of authors out there who don't want to spend the money to get their books edited. Which is perfectly fine, if you have a significant background in editing, and have plenty of honest beta readers, and can look your own work over with a highly critical eye.

That's a lot of ifs, by the way. So, make certain you're not just taking the cheap way out by eliminating an external editor.

And if you do get with a small press, make certain your editor is doing you justice. If they give you back your manuscript with a few spelling and error corrections throughout, then perhaps it's time to start looking for a new publishing home.

2. Major errors with points of view: Nothing is going to drive a reader more crazy than a book that goes back and forth between first and third person, not sticking with the character's point of view you've chosen (head-hopping), or lacing everything with a load of author intrusion. Not to say that it can't be done, because it can, but you definitely need to know what you're doing.

The best advice I had was reading a book on POV, in which they likened it to watching a film. First person is all seen from your main character's point of view, and you can only see what they do from the camera, with that character narrating as they go. Same goes for third person, but the camera isn't being held by any particular character. Thinking of this analogy reminds you that you're not going to be able to tell things to the reader which they can't see from the camera's vantage point (author intrusion).

3. Playing a game of red-light/green-light with the reader: People like fairly consistent flow through their reading. No one likes to be going along and then all of the sudden, the author tells them to "STOP!" This could happen in any number of ways, including making large jumps in the timeline of the story that make the reader stop to figure out where they've just been taken to, and what happened in between then and now. If you find yourself trying to fit a huge timeline into a single novel, perhaps it's time to ask yourself whether it can be condensed into a smaller timeline, and whether more continuity could be had.

There's also the problem of being in the middle of a scene while you're trying to get your bearings, and then the author decides now is the best time to go into a bunch of infodumps, which bring the reader's enjoyment of a story to a screeching halt. Avoid these at all costs. Readers like to find things out about the characters and the worlds you've built, but just like when we take cold and flu medicine, we don't like large doses at once. Sprinkle it around a little, spread the joy, and you'll find people still get the same amount of information, but love every minute of it.

I could go further (and maybe I might for a later post), but for now, I'll let everyone digest this information for now...and as always, I do love comments, criticisms, and other interactions, so feel free!


January Bain said...

Good blog, TM. Definately important points for any writer to make sure they include in their writing if they want readers!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

The time jump you mention is especially annoying. A change of scene is one thing, but 50 years; twice? I couldn't go on. I was running out of time.

T. M. Hunter said...

Thanks for stopping by, both of you! :-)

Sandra Cormier said...

I'm working on a rewrite of a novel recently returned to me. It has a massive time jump after the first chapter. I think this warrants a little 'get to know me' chapter.

Speaking of covers, a friend showed me a bunch of very unfortunate album covers from the Seventies. Most were NOT safe for work.