Thursday, March 19, 2009

Put zip in mysteries by Vivian Zabel

I tried to read three different books a few weeks ago, two of which were mysteries or sub-mystery genre. I couldn't force myself to plow through the words between the covers. Another two books, mysteries, too, were sent to me to review. I don't know what to do about those reviews because the books are poorly written, except in a few spots.

I'm a avid reader. When I can't find anything else, I may read the back of cereal boxes. But these books defied my attempts to force myself to read them. So, I decided to analyze the problem or problems as to why the reading was labored and uninteresting.

Using four of the five books, the mysteries, (but not identifying them to protect the poor authors) as examples, I can give several reasons that books can be unreadable, things that an author needs to avoid. However, this time I'll discuss five.

1.Too many subplots can become confusing. Confusing, and thus losing, readers isn't a good thing. That doesn't mean that having subplots is a bad thing, just that too many spoil the book. Too many subplots makes the overall plot too complex.

2. Making "make-believe" world unbelievable. Readers can suspend belief IF authors develop a world in writing that a reader can accept, can suspend belief enough to accept. However, a reader must be able to say, "Oh, yes, I can see how that might happen if such a world or circumstances did exist." Therefore, as Laura Whitcomb states (Writer's Digest, March/April 2009), "Readers need to buy into the reality put forward by what they're reading." An author cannot go too far with a plot point or not far enough as the reading audience is being prepared. The plot cannot become too far fetched, or readers will not be able to suspend belief enough to accept it.

3. Dialogue can't be just talking heads. Action needs to be involved as well as conversation, and conversation with action should move the plot along and reveals character. Also, the reader needs to know who is talking when.

4. An unsatisfactory conclusion should be avoided. A twist or surprising ending that has a good foundation laid in the story is good. An ending that does not "fit" is bad.

5. Forced emotion can destroy believability. Most people do not sit mulling over their inner most thoughts and emotions in the midst of action. Yet, I'm discovering many novels that have a character do just that. Not only does such needless and in depth thinking tell and not show, but it becomes monotonous.

There, five ways that cause mysteries to become targets for the waste basket, when avoided can improve a story. Of course more ways exist, but those can be covered another time.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
4RV Publishing


Morgan Mandel said...

Goes to show - when you write, think about what you like to read. You usually can't go wrong that way.

Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

Thanks for the tips. I'm guilty of too much talking heads/not enough action in dialogue and need constant reminders to work on it. The false emotion almost caused me to give up on the DaVinci Code. there was one point where Sophie was lost in thought for several pages while behind the wheel of a speeding car. I wanted to shout at her to keep her mind on her driving.

Vivian Zabel said...

Morgan, all I can say is if those authors wrote what they like to read, they have very poor tastes in reading material. Ish.

Mark, I have "read" books where the author takes the reader through paragraphs to pages of internal reflections, in the midst of the action in the book. Not only is that poor writing, but it breaks the action of the plot.

Oh, well, what do I know? Many of those are best selling authors, whose names would sell rolls of bath tissue.

Wonder how this author who wants to have books reviewed gathered so many accolades about those books?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Vivian, my journalism background has stood me good stead in as far as leaving out boring chit chat and unneccessary descriptions. On the other hand, I'm probably too terse at times because I like to write fast-paced novels that are hard to put down. And adding humor, although not slapstick, helps to make the books more entertaining.


Helen Ginger said...

Very good points, Vivian. Books have to be good in all areas, not just in a few places.

Libby McKinmer said...

Those are really good points, Vivian! Action, just like in real life, doesn't have to stop because people are talking. Can you imagine how long a golf game would take, if that were the case?!


Vivian Zabel said...

Jean, you manage to insert humor very neatly. Oh, am enjoying your new book so far.

Helen, so true. Who wants to just read bits and pieces of a book to find anything worth reading?

Libby, you mean even longer than a golf game already is? Ish.

Thanks for the comments.

Dana Fredsti said...

Pretty much in agreement with everything here, Vivian. I will say there are times in real life when stuff is happening fast and furious and my mind seems to slow down even as my body responds to the action, as it were. I think there's a way to do this in a story without having it slow the action down or stick out like the proverbial sore thumb (you forgot to mention cliches!), but when done badly...ugh.

Vivian Zabel said...

Ah, Dana, cliches are something else, but cliches are are messed up and used several times a page are even worse. One author, who used to be one of my favorite writers, used the phrase "I could care less" or "she could care less" (meaning I or she couldn't care less according to context) at more than thirty times in less than half the book. I finally closed the book, and I've not read or tried to read another book by her. The repetitious use of that phrase was bad enough, but the fact she didn't even use the correct phrase made the agony for me worse.