Thursday, June 20, 2013

Literarily Annoying

Opinions aren't knowledge, facts aren't opinions, and knowledge, well, is a combination of the two antonyms. Lately, I've been reading the one star reviews on my favorite and not so favorite books on Goodreads, and I'm...I don't know, frustrated? Confused? 
One problem I have with non-writers is that they're NOT WRITERS. They don't understand what it takes to write a novel. That said, readers expect to be pleased with the books they read, which is not unreasonable. Everyone is allowed to not like something. I just wish some people were a bit more educated so they can correctly identify why they didn't like something. So many of the reviews I've read are conflicting and unclear, so I've put together a little list of some examples I saw and some I came up with on my own on reasons not to like a book and my responses to them. (You will notice that I get progressively lazier as this post goes on. Sorry.)

Not Well Written
This is the most frequent description I see in reviews, and possibly the most unclear a reviewer can be. I hate it when this is all they say. Is it targeting the prose itself or the plot? The characters or the author's voice? It's okay to say that you just didn't like the book. I don't like a lot of things for reasons I don't quite understand. But if you don't know exactly why you didn't like the book, don't use the excuse that it was not well written without an explanation, because alone, the phrase implies that there are many things wrong with the book that may not be true. 

Love triangles
Ugh. These piss me off too. Not only do I usually not like whichever love interest comes into the story second, but it also makes me hate the main character. The main character in these situations are usually so selfish, bouncing back and forth between two different relationships because they can't bear to make a decision. They don't want to hurt anyone. They can't fathom the idea of not having either person in their life. Honestly, though? Cheating just makes the pain that much worse. It implies that the initial person the character was with wasn't good enough for them. Just freaking chose one guy or the other. If he's not good enough for you, then he's not good enough for you. If you don't like him, then you don't like him. If you still have feelings for him, but you like the other guy too, keep in mind that you have history with the first guy (which is the most important thing, in my opinion) and that the new guy is probably just a short term fling. But whatever the situation is, just make a decision and cut your losses. 

Unhealthy Romances
This is a bit of a problem in YA literature. Usually, when an author tries to pull off the whole bad boy image for the love interest, it goes awry and you get Edward Cullen or Patch Cipriano. They stalk their girlfriends, physically and mentally abuse them, control them like they're property, among other things. I mean, okay, the stories are alluring. Some girls find bad boys sexy, and they like the attention and devotion they see in these boys. It's fine to read about, I guess, but it's worrisome how many girls will get the impression that that's how a relationship is supposed to be. I was in a relationship once where the guy did not allow me to even speak to other guys, didn't want me hanging out with my friends anymore, only wanted me to shop at a specific store and wear specific things, implied that I wasn't good enough for him (I do not kid, he once said, "You need to join a sport and start losing weight because all the girls I date are star athletes." And I'm not even slightly overweight.), and would constantly try to force me to do things I did not want to do. It's a dangerous path, and when we already live in a society where girls put so much pressure on themselves to be like the models they see on TV...well, we need better examples of how real relationships are supposed to work. 

Purple Prose
This is a toughie, and very opinion based. For example, I think the following quotes are beautiful, and other reviewers said that the quotes made them want to throw up.
"I always wonder about raindrops.

I wonder about how they're always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It's like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn't seem to care where the contents fall, doesn't seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors." Tareheh Mafi, Shatter Me. 

“Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star." Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“This time of year, I live and breathe the beach. My cheeks feel raw with the wind throwing sand against them. My thighs sting from the friction of
the saddle. My arms ache from holding up two thousand pounds of horse. I have forgotten what it is like to be warm and what a full night’s sleep feels like and what my name sounds like spoken instead of shouted across yards of sand.
I am so, so alive.” Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

Is there the risk of being too pretty? Yes, most definitely yes. This, for example, would make my eyes cross if I read it in a novel, "He wrapped a long, thin finger around the sturdy handle of the shiny black receptacle. Slowly, he hoisted the ceramic vessel to his pale pink lips. The steaming liquid rolled acridly around his sensitive tongue, evoking an involuntary reaction to the South American beverage's bitter taste. The liquid was a stark black, reflecting the pale glow from the screen of his rectangular computer monitor. His concerned green eyes darted from one serifed letter to another, drinking in each words meaning as purposefully as he drank in his coffee."

I guess I don't have too much to say on this topic. People just don't seem to like it when authors experiment with their voices. 
no, but seriously, worth it

Annoying Main Character

If you don't like the main character, it can destroy a story for you. However, be careful how you say this in a review because you could possibly end up offending someone. 

When you read a lot of novels and watch a lot of movies, you become very good at guessing outcomes, so it's hard for authors to slip one past you. Be happy when they do, and don't be mad when they don't because what you  were able to predict may be the big shock someone else. But yeah, sometimes you can tell if a writer didn't try very hard with her plot twists. 

Slow Pacing
Pacing is one reason why I don't get along with very many classics. If a story has a slow build up, I expect it to have a killer climax--and if it doesn't, I feel like I wasted all that time for nothing. Sometimes slow pacing is just necessary to give the story the perspective it deserves. I think it took me several weeks, if not months, to read The Scorpio Races and Beautiful Creatures because they moved slower, but they were both worth it at the end. If the book is moving too slowly for you, I think you should still give it a chance. Slow build ups usually have killer climaxes. 

Bad Resolution
I read this book, the first in a series, where the author ended the book in a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are usually good, but this author did it wrong. See, she didn't resolve anything. It felt like I was reading a book and then lost the last 150 pages that were supposed to explain who the bad guy was, why the main character was like that, and what happened after the climax. To me, a cliff hanger is supposed to be a new development. Like, after the climax you start to think everything is okay again, and then BAM. The author hits you with a new development, which leads into the plot of the next book, and then ends the story. 
That's the one example I remember where I was truly pissed off with the way a book ended. As long as the book resolves everything and gives me the room to imagine what the rest of their life is like, I'm okay. If they over describe a resolution (Breaking Dawn, anyone?) I'm irritated. If they don't resolve anything at all, I'm completely unhinged. Some people, like The Doctor, don't like endings. That's fine. Just don't say that the author resolved the story badly because you didn't like it, say what exactly it was that they forgot to resolve.

Cheating POV
I've been called out on this matter more than once by critique partners. Each time I went to fix it, I thought to myself, "Why did I think that was okay?" But the other night while I was reading I discovered why. 
Here's a quote from Dreamless by Josephine Angelini, "'I can't believe you can force yourself to go down there at  all. I don't think I could do it.' Claire shuddered, remembering her own recent brush with death when Matt hit Lucas with his car. Claire had almost died in the accident, and her soul had traveled down to the dry lands--the outskirts of the Underworld. The memories of that place still frightened her, weeks later."
Reading that, wouldn't you expect the novel to be written in Claire's perspective? Nope! This particular chapter was written in Helen's point of view. How the hell would she know what exactly her friend was remembering and feeling? Helen is not a mind reader. While Dreamless is good, I'm beginning to notice that Angelini is a frequent offender of these little POV slips. There are other ways to describe how outside characters are feeling without accidentally slipping into their point of view, and there are certainly other ways to remind the reader of what happened in the last book. Helen could have just simply informed us that Claire had been in an accident that sent her to the Underworld. 

Sappy Romance and Insta-Love
I like books that have some passion, but not a lot. If I wanted a lot, I'd read a straight up romance. I don't know how I feel about Insta-Love. When my grandfather was a teen, he saw this picture of my grandmother in a yearbook or at a diner or something and immediately said, "I'm going to marry that girl." They'd never even met before that, and yet they were together for over forty years--until death did them part. So I guess if it weren't for "Insta-Love", I wouldn't be here today. I still like it better in stories when there's a lot of build up to a relationship. I believe that friendship should come first. If the story has insta-love and no other explanations as to why the characters like each other, then that's a little sloppy.

Being too original that it's just obnoxious
I don't believe anyone can be "too original". To me, the more original it is, the better. 

When characters are too perfect
Sure, okay. 

When characters are not perfect and make too many mistakes/unlikable decisions
Just say you don't like the characters--don't blame the other for the characters' mistakes. Humans are supposed to make mistakes. 

Ew! Too many names
I'm not good with names. I can't even remember the names of characters in my own novels (I constantly have to go back and look at my previous drafts and outlines). My friends call me an owl, not because I'm an insomniac, but because whenever they're gossiping I'm always, like, "Wait, who's that again?" So when novels have a large cast, I'm always so lost. (Especially when they have weird names--like in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone. ZooZoo? Kangaroo? Activia? Cashmere? Whaaat.)

Unless they are of vital importance and unless they are done extremely well, flashbacks can be annoying halts in the plot's development. So I can see why people will not like a book because of them--it's like starting a whole new story right smack in the middle of a story. It's distracting.

Unoriginal Plot
Plot is a formula. Plots get used over and over again to serve different story's purposes. No plot is entirely original. So unless the author is copying a scene from a different story almost word for word, action for action. 
Here's an example that annoys me. 
From The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening (which was written in 1991)

"If I once let go, what's to keep me from changing you, or killing you? The passion is stronger than you can imagine. Don't you understand yet what I am, what I can do?"
She stood there and looked at him quietly, her chin raised slightly. It seemed to enrage him. 
"Haven't you seen enough yet? Or do I have to show you more? Can't you picture what I might do to you?" He strode over to the cold fireplace and snatched out a long piece of wood, thicker than both Elena's wrists together. With one motion, he snapped it in two like a match stick. "Your fragile bones," he said. 
Across the room was a pillow from the bed; he caught it up and with a slash of his nails left the silk cover in ribbons. "Your soft skin." Then he moved toward Elena with preternatural quickness; he was there and had a hold of her shoulders before she knew what was happening. He stared into her face for a moment, then, with a savage hiss that raised the hairs at the nape of her neck, drew his lips back. 
It was the same snarl she'd seen on the roof, those white teeth bared, the canines grown to unbelievable length and sharpness. They were fangs of a predator, a hunter. "Your white neck," he said in a distorted voice. 

Sounds a lot like that, "As if you could outrun me" scene in Twilight, doesn't it?

Not Enough Research
Lazy authors are lazy. 


And now, for quotes from other people:

On Twitter, I asked what were some people's pet peeves when reading.

Here's a quote I took from a peeved reviewer on Goodreads (I can't remember who, though...O_O)
"When are pop­u­lar young adult authors going to pro­vide more to the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of their main pro­tag­o­nists than: Irre­sistible, unique out­sider, in love with a guy?

Can’t male pro­tag­o­nists have other qual­i­ties than: in love with main char­ac­ter, hot, tragic back­story to illicit exces­sive brooding?"

Tawna Fenske:

"Short for “the big misunderstanding,” this is one of those ancient plot devices that never ceases to annoy the ever lovin’ snot out of me. It’s where the story’s conflict centers around something that could be cleared up if the characters just sat their pouty butts down and had a 30-second conversation. Jane sees Herbert in Victoria’s Secret, and rather than saying hello and asking if he’s buying her the latex thong she wants, she assumes he’s a cross-dresser and spends the next 250 pages sulking."

"I’ll admit it, critique partner Cynthia Reese taught me this phrase by pointing out my own offense in some long-ago manuscript. As You Know, Bob is a clumsy method of introducing backstory by having one character spontaneously lecture another with information they both already know. The result is a conversation that’s stilted, awkward, and as natural as Chelsea Charms’ sweater potatoes (Er, that’s a fairly benign Wikipedia link. I make no guarantees what you’ll find googling her name on your own)."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I Am Not Dead (Well, I THINK That I Am Not Dead, But I Could Always Be Wrong)

So I'm here after an era of a hiatus to bring you *cue heavenly chorus* a whiny writer identity crisis post.
Yeah, sorry.
For some reason, I decided to paste a portion of my manuscript into the I Write Like analyzer. And it spat out this:

I tried it again, this time with a different portion of text, and it still insisted:

I then copied my ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT into the box and punched "Analyze".
Three guesses as to what it told me.
By this point, I was pretty offended. It's been a long time since I've read any of the Twilights, but one thing I remember noticing about SM's style is that she layers on her adverbs. I've lost track of how many articles I've read that warned me not to overuse my adverbs, so I'm pretty conscientious about where I put my ly's.
So I started researching critiques of her style. I found a forum that raised some interesting points, and a tumblr blog that is both hilarious and intimidating.
Some of the main problems people have with SM's writing is her Mary Sue of a main character, the unhealthy romance, her slow pacing and anti-climaxes, her repetitious prose, and her overall lack of taking the writing craft seriously.

The character development and story issues don't really have anything to do with me. I'm not saying that my crap is perfect (or that it's better than Twlight--that's an opinion that I'm going to stay away from) but the Analyzer was judging my style, not my story.
Even though I'm writing the second draft of my novel, it's still a rough draft. I think it's even rougher than my first draft. Seriously, this thing is UG-LAY. It needs major cosmetic reconstructions. So maybe I am making some Meyer-esque mistakes. Maybe I'm over describing stuff. Maybe I'm using a bit too many m-dashes in my hasty typing. Maybe my attempt to dwelve further into my characters' heads and play with their voices has resulted in some language that is crude and simplistic.
Maybe once I [finish and] edit my manuscript, I'll try the analyzer thingy again and I'll get a different answer.
Maybe I really do write like Stephenie Meyer.
Maybe I should just shut up and get back to writing.
Maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe baby.

I still don't know what to think.