I would never read THAT!

(Cross posted from Writers Gone Wild)

Hi all,

You know, it really amazes me that some authors can be so absolutist — is that even a word? Hope so. Otherwise, boy do I feel dumb *eye roll* — about their likes and dislikes when it comes to the techniques that other pubbed authors use.

I can accept it from readers because there’s always the chance that one day, they might pick up a book that’s so absorbing and well-written, their particular personal reading dislike won’t even register and they’ll go, “Wow, that was amazing!”

But when I hear authors saying they “hate” this technique, and they would “never” read a book written like that, then I get just a wee bit irritated.

Why?

Because I think it’s short-sighted. And potentially career limiting.

Don’t hate on me quite yet. Because yeah, I know that we authors don’t have as much time as we’d like to indulge in the pleasure of reading. And when we do scrape up a precious block of free time to indulge, most of us are going to be reading a sure thing: something that we know we’ll enjoy.

But here’s the thing: You might be denying yourself the chance of examining how a really clever author sweeps the reader away and makes them totally forget that they don’t like a particular style of book.

You might be denying yourself the opportunity of reading something out of your usual comfort zone and having one of those incredibly enlightening “Aha!” moments — you know the moment I’m talking about, the one where something clicks in your brain and you go, “OMG!”

And that moment of pure clarity might just push you to the next level in your own writing.

Here are some examples I’ve heard time and time again from published authors.

1) I hate 1st person POV. I will never read a book written in 1st person.
People say they think it’s too limiting to stick to only knowing what the heroine knows, and don’t like not being able to see inside the hero’s head and know what he’s thinking.

I’ve read some brilliant books written in 1st person that manage to get around all those limitations, and have taken me on a ride that leaves me breathless. Believe me, I know exactly what’s going on in their heroes’ heads because their heroes show me with every word they say to the heroine, with every gesture they make toward her, and every action they take.

Yes, it’s filtered through the eyes of the heroine, but even when she doesn’t “get” where he’s coming from, and what he’s trying to do, and why he’s acting the way he is, the authors I admire make certain that I sure get him. And I’m sure as heck cheering for him to win that stubborn woman over, even if he has to employ whatever devious means possible to convince her that he’s the one for her.

It takes discipline and skill to make a reader truly care for a hero that’s only seen through heroine’s eyes. (And even more skill to make me care about this hero over multiple books in a series!) These authors spring immediately to mind when I think of books written in 1st person heroine’s POV that make me care deeply about the hero, too:

  • Lilith Saintcrow: Dante Valentine series & Jill Kismet series
  • Ilona Andrews: Kate Daniels series
  • Janet Evanovich: Stephanie Plum series (Morelli or Ranger? Personally I’m hot for them both!)
  • Rachel Caine: Weather Wardens series
  • Elizabeth Vaughan: Warprize series
  • Jacqueline Carey: Kushiel series
  • Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl: Beautiful Creatures & Beautiful Darkness

2) I hate books that head hop/ use multiple points of view.
I’ve heard people say it’s undisciplined and the sign of an inexperienced writer. It’s too distracting. It’s too hard to keep track of all the points of view.

All I have to say to that is, Nora Roberts, anyone?

Her POV switches are so seamless I barely even notice them, and when I do, I’m too caught up in the story to give a damn. And sure, maybe she can get away with it because she’s, like, Nora Freaking Roberts! But more likely, I believe, it’s because she writes so damned beautifully that no one is ranting about head hopping when they’re reading her books. For me, I don’t remember ever being pulled out of one of her books and putting on my “author” hat. I’m too “in” the story to be considering how she writes, or what techniques she’s using.

Another author I’d like to mention is James Patterson and his Maximum Ride series. In The Angel Experiment he switches from Max’s 1st person POV, to telling parts of the story that Max isn’t present for in another character’s 3rd person POV. So “I’ switches to “he” or “she”. Throughout these switches, even when she’s not a POV character, Max provides an anchor for the story, and this technique allows all the events appear to unfold in chronological order.

Everything we’re told about “the rules” leads us to believe this should be a big fat no-no, right? Way too confusing to read, right?

It’s not. It works. And even if you don’t like the story, you can still appreciate the skill with which it’s written and learn something from it. (I happen to love it, BTW — see my earlier post.)

And if YA isn’t your thing, and you’d like a really fascinating (not to mention super-hot and most definitely not for the teens!) example of a paranormal romance/urban fantasy, check out Erica Hayes’ Shadowfae. It’s written mainly in 1st person from heroine Jade’s POV, with scene cuts to the hero written in 3rd person present tense. You’d think this abrupt POV and tense switch would jar and make us author-readers go, WTF? Instead it’s WOW! Just…. wow.

Here’s an example of a POV/tense switch in Shadowfae:

Invisible, Rajahni Seth watches Jade stalk by in the entranceway, inches away. Compelled, he lifts his hand to touch her shining hair, making her jump. She’s even more beautiful now she’s fed, her skin glowing, her eyes alive like a stormy ocean. Watching Kane kiss her, the demon’s eager sensual tongue stroking her lips, sent spasms of fury through him, but it was worth it to see her like this. Glorious.

The rampant itch attacking his skin has subsided now he’s answered Kane’s silent summons, but he waits, and only when the door click shut and Jade is gone does Rajah shed his cloak and reappear.

Burning fingers squeeze his throat, crashing him into the wall. Sandstone ridges jam into his spine, pain flaring, and hot demon breath caresses his lips, the ashy taste searing his mouth dry. “Rajahni Seth,” hisses Kane, an inch from Rajah’s face. Sharp fingernails sink into Rajah’s throat, warm blood trickling. “Give me Nino’s soul.”

Oooh. That still gives me shivers. (And click on the following link to a previous post if you want to read Erica’s take on Why Demons Make Great Boyfriends *g*)

3) I hate 1st person present tense.
I’m not an avid fan of entire books written in it either. But I do see more and more of it in YA. And for me, if it’s done well, I believe it’s an excellent writing technique to convey a sense of pure in-the-moment immediacy — which I think contributes to the reader fully experiencing all that emotional turmoil and angsty introspection along with the teen characters they’re reading about.

An interesting example of this is Jenny Downham’s Before I Die. The last scene deals with the death of the main character… in 1st person present tense. Think about it.

Does it work? Yep. I cried buckets. And I won’t let my daughter read it because it’s so heartbreaking and so real.

So there you go.

I’m not stating that you have to like all these techniques, or that you should use them in your own writing — I’d never dare to be that absolutist ;-) And hey, taking risks is not always the way to go about getting published!

What I’m trying in my clumsy way to say is this: As authors, we’re always told to read widely. So please don’t limit yourself. Even if you despise this, that, or the other writing technique with a vengeance that should only be reserved for that beyotch who pretended to be your BFF and stole the boy you were crushing on in high school out from under your nose, get over it. Suck it up and read something you’ve vowed you’d never read. Who knows, you might have your own personal Eureka! moment. And your Muse might just love you for it.

Cheers,

Maree

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2 Responses to “I would never read THAT!”

  1. While I never say never on anything(any parent knows better) there are certain writing styles I don’t particularly like-

    1st person POV
    1st person present tense
    Journal style books

    however, I have gotten books that I didn’t realize were one of my three main dislikes and managed to at some point get wrapped up in the story long enough to forget my preconceived dislikes.
    But in general, I do shy away from these as with most learned behavior if I put my hand in the fire, I’m probably gonna get burnt.

    • Lisa, LOL! As a parent, yep, one learns very quickly to never say “never”.

      I’m with you when it comes to spending my hard-earned dollar on books to add to my keeper shelf: I know exactly what I like, and those are definitely what I gravitate toward. At NZ$22 for a mass-market paperback, I very often literally can’t afford to take chances.

      But when it comes to buying books or borrowing books for what I term as “research” then anything goes. I guess I’m really lucky that my daughter is a huge fan of our local library, and whereas I order in series or authors I know, she’ll take chances. And I’ll read her chances.

      Just finishing up a really edgy YA series that she recommended to me — it’s first person present tense, with loads of fragmented sentences. Should drive me up the wall, but strangely, it works! I can’t say I’d want to write a book in that style, but I certainly appreciate the cleverness of the author. Not to mention the editor who allowed her to break all “the rules”.