Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Warning: Today's workshop starts with a rant.

Stepping up onto her soapbox, Diana clears her throat and begins as the crowd quiets. She holds up a blue paperback book and begins.

I just finished reading this book. Jude Deveraux's Forever. It's a quick read because it keeps you enthralled throughout. I'd begun it over the weekend and then came home from work on Monday, sat in front of the gas fireplace and read straight through to the end in one sitting. Skipped dinner because I wanted to know what was going to happen to these characters. She made me care and I needed to know they were going to make it.

And then she did it again.

I know better. Jude has disappointed me in the past. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson, but no. I let her sucker me along, interested, caring...feeling the tension build in me as we approached the climax and then...bam! The next chapter starts a year later and, instead of SEEING the action of the climax, the characters tell it to me after the fact. It's a simple summary of what happened during the most climactic scenes of the book.

I wanted to throw the book into my gas fire.

Fire in her eyes, Diana steps down from her soapbox, takes a deep breath, and continues with the workshop...

To a certain extent, this goes along with last week's workshop. We're still talking about seeing the scene vs. just summarizing it. The difference is, this week, we're also talking about author-reader trust.

When you write a story, no matter what the length, you enter into an unspoken contract with the reader. They expect that you will follow through on all your plot lines, that you will provide them with scenes they can "watch" inside their minds, that you will engage their emotions and take them on an emotional journey all the way through the book. They expect to care about your characters - to laugh with them, cry with them, get angry at the same things they do. This is what readers want when they pick up your book.

And when you don't deliver, they drop you like the proverbial hot potato and getting them back in a different story is often difficult, if not impossible. "Oh, yeah. I read one of hers a few years back. Didn't like it. What else do you have?"

It's okay if what you read wasn't your cup of tea. I don't much care for American Literature (with the capital letters) but I love fantasy, science fiction, romance and even the occasional western. You won't catch me reading a horror novel (the few times I did I ended up with nightmares for a week!). I'm not talking about tastes in reading here. I'm talking about the quality of the story.

The only activity I'm going to give you this week is to go through  your bookshelf and make two lists: the top ten books you loved and the top ten books you hated (actually, you probably don't have the books you hated on your shelf. That's okay. Make a list anyway!).

Focusing on story only, what was it that make you love (or hate) those books? No, "the teacher made me read it" doesn't count as a reason. And "I like this because it was interesting" or "I hated it because it was boring" don't go far enough. What made it interesting/boring? How did the author live up to the contract you expected?

One of the best ways to learn how to write is to read. Pick up your favorite of the lot and leaf through it, reading the best passages again, this time with an author's eye. What techniques did that author use? How did he/she make you care? And how did he/she live up to the contract between the two of you?

In America, today is voting day. If you have not yet cast your vote, please do so! It is a right we should never take for granted.
The residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy might not ever be able to go home. The New Jersey coastline has been rebuild by Mother Nature and they will need to find new places to live. Please consider a donation to the Red Cross to help out.

Play safe, everyone!
 PS. Edited for a spelling error.

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