After reading two highly anticipated thrillers this past week, and becoming exasperated after finishing them, I started thinking about what bothers me in novels. And I’m also curious to know what your hang-ups are as a reader.
Okay, so I read a novel that utilized a novel-within-a-novel technique. Let’s just say that I did not enjoy the book. That being said, does anyone really think a novel-within-a-novel would be a better story if the larger novel containing it was not good? The main plot was dull and sophomoric, and the novel-within-a-novel segments bored the hell out of me. It sucked all the energy from the tepid plot. This is when I started skimming the text instead of reading it.
That being said, I’m not totally against the idea of writing a novel-within-a-novel. But the NWN would have to be as good, if not better, than the novel containing it. I just haven’t read one of these types of stories yet that pulled me in. Wouldn’t it be better to just summarize the NWN so as not to take the reader out of the story? I find it hard enough to write one really good novel, never mind adding a second one inside my plot. I think it can be done; I just haven’t read a good example of it yet. What do you guys think?
My next hang up has to with dream sequences. The second mystery novel I read featured numerous dream sequences that blended seamlessly into the plot. While I admired what the author was trying to do here, interspersing dream sequences into the meat of the story took me right out of the flow. Not only that, but it confused me about what was real and what was not. What I did like was the dark, surreal atmosphere the author created by using this immersive technique. But overall it didn’t really work as effectively as I would have liked.
Despite my hang-up about dream sequences, I must admit that I have written a few of these scenes in the novel I’m currently editing. Have I used it efficiently and in an effective manner? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I have, but I can’t be totally sure. Maybe my editor will deem these scenes unnecessary and ask me to delete them. The dream sequences provide important information crucial to the protagonist’s character flaws. In addition, these sequences bring back old characters that appeared in two earlier books. So in some ways, these dream sequences acts as a recap of the two previous novels, reintroducing old characters that had been killed off.
I find that many authors use dream sequences to fill pages and make their novels seem literate and high brow. Most of the time I end up banging my head against the wall in frustration while reading these plot-killing passages. Or I skim over these parts until I get back to the crux of the story. Dream sequences need to be used for a specific purpose and be relevant to the story. And some authors make these so literal that they don’t even read like a dream. Give me some dark and twisted images in the vein of David Lynch if you’re going to write dream sequences.
Okay, here is my annual prologue rant. I hate prologues. Don’t like them. I dislike them possibly as much as novels-within-novels. Often times I won’t even buy a book if I see a prologue longer than a page.
But if they must be done, the shorter the better. And yes, I’ve used prologues before in my books, but only because I absolutely (honestly) had to to use one (although I probably didn’t need to). I’ve seen horrible uses of prologues that just as easily could have been incorporated into the gut of the story. I’ve read long, mind-numbing prologues that bored the crap out of me and made me slam the book down. Prologues that had nothing, if little, to do with the story that followed. If you’re gonna use a damn prologue, author people, use it only when absolutely necessary. And be as brief as possible.
There’s a show my wife are currently watching called Poker Face. I have to admit that it’s entertaining, but what really bugs me is the way the main character, Charlie, solves murders: she can tell instantly when people are lying. While this may sound cute, it strikes me as laziness. Whereas Colombo and Holmes used logic and reason to solve crimes, Charlie is able to solve the most difficult and complex murders by simply using her gift. While interesting on some levels, I just find this to be simplistic and an easy way out. And we don’t even know if her ability is supernatural or merely an ability to read facial expressions. Are there sociopaths out there who could lie convincingly and trick her? Maybe that will be addressed in a future episode. That said, I do enjoy the show.
Sadly, I have more hang-ups about reading than I should have. I despise shifting character POVs within the same chapter, as well as long segments written in italics, but that’s all I’ll complain to you about for right now. What are your hang-ups when reading a novel? What writerly tics and habits make you want to throw the book you’re reading out the window and shout, to quote the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
And please forgive me when I break my own rule and one day write that novel-within-a-novel story in italics about a woman whose dreams reveal the real serial killer. Oh, and their will be a prologue.
Love the hang ups and I have a few – over repeating of info – and yes, I do grit my teeth with dream sequences. POKER FACE – will check it out – but it does seem WAY TOO EASY. Half of the fun for an investigator is catching the lie – realizing what doesn’t make sense. If that’s all clear from the top – it is just a matter of a suspect line-up, tell your story and she will immediately know who’s the culprit – I’ll check it out.
Over repetition is my hang up. I’ll put up with most anything…just don’t keep hammering me with old news. If you’re using a foreign word, don’t keep defining or translating it after the first time. Use as is or use your translation. Evanovich is good at short recaps to inform new readers of previous events. A sentence or two will do.
Shifting POVs–which I used to do as a baby writer–still happens. If I could wean myself off doing it, so can other writers, LOL. I recently read something that had about 4 different POVs in the same paragraph! Yikes!
I once read a book where the POV changed in mid sentence!!
My favorite mysteries feature a protagonist sleuth, amateur or otherwise, solving a puzzle using clues available to the reader. Shifting points of view — wherein the reader knows something the sleuth doesn’t or the sleuth finds a clue offstage and doesn’t share it with the reader (Louise Penny often does this with Armand Gamache) leave me frustrated. The fractured POV feels like a cheat.
Def shifting POV. It drives me crazy. And what I call “seeing the bones” where I can see the author shaping the plot or planting the clue. I want it to be invisible, folks. I want to be drawn so deeply into story that I can’t see what the author is doing. As for prologues, I am with you. Mostly don’t like ‘‘em but have used them. BTW, the prologue for Mystic River is around 60 pages. One of my books in the drawer is kind of a book within a book…where the narrator comes to understand why things are happening to her by reading her mother’s diary. I think it works but no editor’s hands have yet touched it…
I use dream sequences in my Ya books, but set them off with ~~~. They’re important as far as I’m concerned because they allow my MCs to interact with the deceased. My biggest peeve these days is with books that are hyped, but so poorly edited the first chapter kills my interest. I’ve bought tow of those lately.