Last week I was watching my new favorite show, How to Get Away With Murder, when my husband, Rich, came into the living room and watched about 30 seconds of it with me. Well, Rich is never afraid to make snap judgments and that night was no exception. “I don’t get why Shonda Rhimes’ stuff has to jump around so much. It’s just confusing. I mean, I know that’s the style right now, but if it’s a good enough story, it shouldn’t be necessary. She should stop trying to hide weak writing with time jumps.”
“Yeah…” was all I could say. I wasn’t agreeing with him, but I wanted to watch my show, not get into a debate. Because in truth, MY stories jump around in time. I love using flashbacks and weaving them in with present day scenes. Does that mean my writing is weak? I don’t think so, but it is the sort of thing that some readers will have strong opinions about.
And I certainly have some strong opinions of my own. There are many things that will make or break a book for me, and here are a few, in no particular order:
#1 – First Person Point of View
I only ever write in first person, and I prefer books that are written this way too. Yes, if I want to grow as a writer I should try something new, and I shouldn’t limit myself with my reading material. Occasionally I do read a book written in third person, but not often. I just really like that sense of being spoken to by a close friend. It makes the story more interesting, like I’ve gotten inside someone’s head.
#2 – Strong Female Characters
The last book I can remember reading that DIDN’T have a strong female character was The Goldfinch, and that was a great book. But normally I prefer the central character – the one who is telling the story – to be female. I guess it goes back to my “sense of being spoken to by a close friend” thing.
#3 – Showing versus Telling
I don’t like it when authors simply summarize dialogue or important scenes. As a reader, I want to be pulled into the middle of the action. J
#4 – Ambiguous Endings
If a book sets it up so a character needs to make a major decision, and that decision is what’s driving the entire plot, then that character better darn well make the decision by the end of the book! I was furious after finishing Jennifer Weiner’s Good Night Nobody and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but I REALLY felt that both ending were total copouts.
#5 – Cliches
A lot of authors use clichés, probably because it’s so hard not to. For instance, in The Next Breath I realized my characters were staring into each other’s eyes A LOT, because that was my go-to action whenever I ran out of ideas. I went through and got rid of a lot it, replacing it with other stuff, but I’m sure my characters eyes are still pretty tired. I try not to be too clichéd, because when an author leaves that stuff in there it can get pretty tedious. Keeping with the eyes thing, recently I read a book where the author would say, “I saw sadness in his eyes,” or “I saw fatigue in his eyes,” or whatever, every time there was a dramatic exchange going on. Well, this was a pretty dramatic book, and I wanted to yell at the author, Find a more original way to say it! Since most of her book was well-written, I knew she could be more original, so it bothered me all the more.
#6 Time Inconsistencies
I don’t know of anyone who gets more hung-up on this than I do, so it really is my own problem. I had to stop reading The Time Travelers Wife because I couldn’t handle all the mental arithmetic that reading it was compelling me to do. “Wait,” I’d tell myself, “if she’s fifteen now, how could she be 35 in 1994?” Or whatever – I was always calculating it out, and it drove me crazy if it didn’t match up. I do that for every book I read, calculating out the character’s ages and making sure the number of years that has passed matches up. If it doesn’t, it drives me crazy! I don’t know why I get so worked up about it, but I do.