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Monday, April 12, 2010

Reading Experiment

Recently, I picked up three books from my indie bookstore. Book A came highly recommended by a friend of mine.

Book B, I bought because I adore the author's blog and wanted to pay her back in a way that she would profit from my gratitude.

But Book C, is a book I heard about only briefly. It was the third book in a trilogy that made all the blog headlines and NYT bestseller list about three years ago. The author went on to write other books, but evidently they never stirred the fires as much as her first book.

I've always meant to pick up those books, but I could never remember her name once I was in the book store. As I was browsing this last time, I recalled the premise and asked the store owner if it was familiar to her. All we could find was the third book in the series.

Of the three authors I chose that day, I couldn't decide which book to try first, so as an experiment, I read the first six chapters of each book. Boy, was I surprised.

Of all three books, the only one I really wanted to return to was Book C.

To be honest, the writing wasn't as crisp and the world building wasn't as dense as the other two books. Technically, while it was a well-edited book, it wasn't one of those shining examples where you fall in love with the language.

But I loved the story. I didn't care that the author repeated certain words over and over again, or that the world building was scant even by
my standards. I didn't care that the characters could have been a little more fleshed out--though I blame this on the fact that I was reading the third book of a trilogy. My guess is her characters were better rounded in the first book.

Even though the other two books were by prolific and accomplished authors, I far preferred the offering of this other author. I loved the concept and the story.

That it wasn't as polished as the other two never made a bit of difference to my enjoyment. While writers constantly struggle on everything from beat to grammar, to world building, when it all comes down to it, it really is all about the story.

How many times have we heard snide remarks about Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer's writing? Yet they went on to mega stardom because they swept their audience with their storytelling or intriguing characters.

Have you ever fallen in love with a book on story or characters alone? Writers: Do we worry
too much about the technical aspects?

I've read many technically sound books, but very few 'wrap me up in a blanket and let me read' books.

Tell me a story. As long as the editing doesn't jar me out of my read, I won't care that you didn't give me a blow by blow account of woodland fairies or the noises from a downtown office. Just let me fall in love with your characters' journey.

How about you?


Jennifer Shirk said...

That is interesting!
But yes, I have enjoyed stories more for the characters or actual story than the actual "writing".

Maria Zannini said...

Jennifer: I was very surprised. The first thing I noticed is that the language wasn't that meaningful--but the story was.

Dru said...

It's about the characters and the story that will keep me turning the pages of a book.

Maria Zannini said...

Dru: I used to think everything had to be perfect, but now I know that readers aren't looking for misplaced commas as much as they are interested in where the story is going.

catie james said...

I agree that it isn't always about the most elegant prose, technical perfection, flawless editing, intricate world building, etc. Just using Meyer as an example: while I don't personally understand the intense responses evoked on both ends of the spectrum (fanatical devotion v. outright hatred), I can't deny there was something about the momentum of the story that sucked me in and kept me flipping pages 'til the end.

Diandra said...

When I love a book, it's because of the story. I enjoy great language and technically good writing, but if the story is boring, I probably won't finish the book. It's like any other art - e.g. a painter who has mastered all possible techniques and only paints boring, uninspired things with his great acquired skills, hardly anyone would want to buy his paintings.

Marianne Arkins said...

I don't mind some grammar errors (but I HATE wrong word usage... saw "peaked" instead of "piqued" yesterday and stopped reading) or passive voice or telling instead of showing, etc. For me, I have to connect with the characters. Period. If I like the characters, I'll read through just about anything.

Maria Zannini said...

Catie: Intense is putting it mildly. I hadn't read Meyer, but I think I know what gave her that edge. She understood her audience and she delivered.

Maria Zannini said...

Marianne: Things like that jerk me out of the story when I'm reading, but I have to admit it happens to me if I write when I'm tired.

If I'm sleepy while I'm writing, I sometimes type out the homophone of the word because my brain tries to spell out the first word it thinks of.

It's kind of like drunk driving--but not quite so dangerous. Just embarrassing. LOL.

Thank goodness for CPs and editors.

Maria Zannini said...

Diandra: You hit the nail on the head--and used an example I can relate to.

If the work is dull, no amount of polish is going to help it.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I also like story above all, but certain aspects of writing will toss me out of the story just like Marianne said. Too much repetition bothers me. In one book I read, the author used the word hand no less than ten times in one paragraph!

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: 10 x of anything is too much. Even if it's chocolate.

Well...everything but chocolate. :)

Heather B. Moore said...

I've definitely overlooked the technical stuff to enjoy certain stories. Two self-published books I've enjoyed this year are "Gravity vs the Girl" by Riley Noehren (you have to give it a couple of chapters, then you're hooked). And "Counting the Cost" by Liz Adair. Her writing and story are great, but lacks some of the polish of editing.