Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reading as a Writer

I’ve been having such fun catching up on my reading! I chose some excellent books as my Christmas presents this year, and there is still a balance on my Kindle account, so more to be had!

As an author, too often when I’m reading I see flaws in the writing. There are rules we’re supposed to follow as authors, although those rules are flexible to a large degree. When I read a story that blatantly breaks those rules, it sets my hackles up and I worry that I won’t be able to enjoy it. However, my personality is such that once I’ve started something, I will generally finish it. Especially when it comes to books. I know how much work goes into the creation and I feel the author deserves a chance to prove that their work is worthwhile. Often, I find the story is there, even if sometimes it is buried under horrible grammatical errors or convoluted plot points. For that reason, when I am “recreation reading,” I try to take my "writer" hat off and enjoy the story solely as a reader.

As an author, I also know how much authors appreciate feedback on their efforts, so I try to take the time to offer up my opinions, again trying to take the nitpicky author out of the equation and go at it strictly from an audience standpoint. I know I’m in trouble when the nitpicky wins out, but even then, I won’t write a nasty review, knowing full well that the author put a lot of effort into their work.
Some examples of nitpickiness: I’ve just read an engrossing story. Loved every minute of it. The characters are well rounded and believable, the conflicts and situations compelling. I’m even getting a bit of a grin because the author is Welsh and has a distinct distaste for Americans that comes through in her writing (albeit California Americans). One day I’ll explain to you why that fact entertains me so much, but I digress. There are minor critical issues that I’ve noted along the way, as an author. I had been posting my reading progress and the author commented on that. I sent her a private message (sorry, the critic in me couldn’t help it) to tell her where I’d found flaws in the story, but I also told her that I was thoroughly enjoying the story enough that it will likely merit a 4 or 5 star review, and that those flaws will not appear in my review. Like reading Jane Eyre – and I love that story – if you’ve ever read it, there are a gross number of “million dollar” words and several French phrases that are left untranslated for the reader. There is clumsy writing in spots. But how can you not fall in love with Mr. Rochester and how can you not cry for the injustices Jane has to live through. And in the end . . . well I’m sure if you’ve read the story or seen the movie, you know how your heart swells at the end. So am I going to downgrade my review of Jane Eyre because of the writing snafus? Heck no. This is where you have to take your writer’s hat off and enjoy the story as a reader.

I also finished reading a story that had me rolling my eyes from the beginning, because the plot was so far-fetched and so outlandish. The author pens her main character from that vein, so we are expected to believe this is par for the course, and we are expected to believe that her family indulges her in these absurd activities. By the time I’d finished reading the story, I was laughing so hard that I had to afford her a 4 star review. It was a melodrama, a farce in the extreme, and taken in that light, it was highly entertaining. One shouldn’t get too serious about “writing rules” sometimes.

Sometimes there are stories where I can’t get past the flaws. Even then, I look at the story as a whole. I recently wrote a 3 star review on a story that I didn’t much care for. My dislike was entirely subjective, not that the story was awful, but I found the research behind it lacking and with the writing errors, I couldn’t enjoy the story as a whole. Still, I respect this author’s efforts and a less critical reader would likely enjoy it. In fact many other readers did enjoy it, based on the reviews. And this is where reviews are important. Reading is subjective. We all like different things. What didn’t appeal to me was overlooked by someone else.

On the negative review side, I bought a book over the summer written by a friend of mine. I was so excited to finally read her book! And I was so disappointed when I did. Again, the story was there, but I couldn’t do a review on it because the writing was extremely “ruff.” There were parts of the story that made me cringe due to their nature, but overall, the plot was well written and the story flowed. At the end, she gave credit to an editor, but I have to believe that editor was unskilled, because of the large number of grammatical and typographical errors. I felt bad not giving her a review, but when you can’t enjoy the story because you’re trying to decipher the misspelled or misused words, the rating would have been negative. I respect her efforts, and I do believe the story was there, but it wasn’t, in my opinion, consumer ready.

As a writer, I try to note the good examples and the bad examples to remember as I continue with my own writing, hoping to apply the “good” lessons I’ve learned along the way.

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