1. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    Has anyone else noticed this?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by lemurkat, Jan 17, 2011.

    Since I started writing and reviewing here, I've discovered that I have become way more critical of the books I read. Instead of thinking "this is a good book" I find myself going "hrm, lots of tell here, not show" or "this author has a clumsy way with words". These are in published novels! I'm not sure if it's damaging my enjoyment of books or enhancing it!

    Currently I am reading the "Stravaganza: city of ships" and I have found several nit-picky issues with it - poor character development (it's the fifth in the series, and as every book introduces a new MC but the old ones become background characters, it's just getting too many to develop any but the MC at all - even the "romantic interest"). The author also has the unfortunate habit of snatching the reader out of the scene halfway through and then revealing what happened by having the characters discuss it later. Which is getting tiresome. Once was okay, but it's every other chapter! And there was just an entire scene which seemed to me to be utterly pointless and not progress the plot AT ALL.

    So, has anyone else found themselves nit-picking at actual, published books? It's funny how many flaws there are in them!
     
  2. tristan.n
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    tristan.n Active Member

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    It's kind of sad to realize that not all authors are masters of the English language anymore, isn't it? lol I don't know about you, but I kind of miss reading a novel and thinking "Wow, that was the best writing I've ever read!" It was a lot more satisfying when I was younger. Some authors never cease to amaze me, though!
     
  3. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    I had to take a break from writing so that I could learn. To enjoy reading again. It is tough, reading a book, and trying to critique as I go.
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been like that a long time because of all the reviewing and literature courses I take... I just find it reassuring to think, "as long as I'm not doing something else stupid unconsciously, I think I'm a better writer!" and it makes me feel better about my chances of publication. :p Of course I am making idiot mistakes, but at least on a grander scale than the really obvious pitfalls I've got too used to pointing out... :p
     
  5. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I notice things in the books I read, but I wouldn't say it's to the point where I don't enjoy the book. In a weird way, it makes it more fun reading and going "hmm, they could have written it this way instead, and I would have liked it better" than it would be for me to just read and think "this is the greatest thing I've ever read."
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Yeah, I read critically, but not to the point where I don't enjoy the novels. I mean, if a work is published, you have to (generally) assume a certain level of confidence and competence on behalf of the author, editor and publisher, so instead of saying "I don't like this" or "this is wrong/bad writing", I tend to be more concerned with why that particular choice was made. Nothing in a published novel is accidental, so thinking of things you don't like as 'flaws' makes no sense, since enough people have disagreed that the book has been published that way.
     
  7. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Reading critically is important. Not only to challenge how writers convey their stories, but also to challenge some of their ideas.

    But to answer your question, Publishing is a business. Publishers aren't looking for the next Nabakov or Joyce; they are looking for manuscripts that they know will sell. Remember, most of their audience are plain readers with no formal training in writing or criticism, so they're more prone to accept some of the things that make writers and critics cringe.
     
  8. Teratoid
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    Teratoid Member

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    Yeah, I do it too. I don't see it as much of a bad thing, though. So long as it's applied right, seeing holes is simply reinforcement of sorts, like an indication of your own level of skills.
    Gave up trying to justify it to others, though. Apparently I drive them nuts by trying to explain how and why a particular piece they think of as amazing I find dog****e. Even though I'm perfectly justified in doing so, what with the lack of originality, poor formatting, horrendously long sentences, over-characterizations and incessant rambling of Mr. Jordan...
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm the same way. And in looking at what works and what doesn't, you can easily see that "rules" of writing commonly espoused on writing sites have to be taken with a grain of salt. It all boils down to what an author can do effectively.

    For example, I've read very good books that are almost all tell rather than show. They're not only good books but well regarded. Show don't tell is a rule that you hear constantly in reviews because it is something everyone can think to throw out there when reviewing, and most people don't really stop to consider whether the observation is justified.

    I read critically, and I enjoy seeing how an author does the things she does, but so long as there is a good story and it is told effectively, I couldn't care less whether it follows so-called "rules" of showing, POV, and the like.

    The other thing that is important is not to get too wrapped up in one's own opinion, as though it represents some objective fault with the book. For every person who thinks a given book is written clumsily, or is overly wordy, there are ten people who are just as discerning who hold the opposite viewpoint.
     
  10. Peerie Pict
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    Peerie Pict Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, definitely. it's one of the drawbacks of being a student of this craft. However, I don't feel in the position to be overtly critical of published work. There's always something to learn.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In short, yes.

    I wouldn't call them flaws (aside from typos, incorrect grammar, etc.). All writers have a unique way of writing, so I basically check to see if what they wrote is clear and makes sense. In my experience, there were a few times when I thought a sentence could have been worded differently to improve the prose, but most of the time the writer seemed to have done a fairly good job.
     
  12. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely something I fear will happen to me. Sometimes I want to be critical and sometimes I just want to sit back and enjoy the story. I used to beable to sit down and watch the movies that aired on scifi saturdays(not sure if they still do this or not) and just enjoy them. Now not so much.

    Same with books. Oh well hopefully I will learn to just close down that part of my mind when I just want to read and enjoy the story.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I think that is the way to go about it. There is a lot to be gained from reading critically, but sometimes I just want to sit back and enjoy the book as pure entertainment. When I'm in that mindset, I really don't approach the book in a critical fashion and only the most glaring problems jump out at me.
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    No I refuse to do it lol I love reading stories and don't want to lose the total wrapped up and being transported part of a story. I struggle to edit it my own at times because I am enjoying reading it.
     
  15. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Perhaps I'm being obnoxious, but I don't really think it's wise to read a story and intentionally ignore its flaws. A story is a conversation between a reader and a writer. Imagine having a conversation with a friend. If they're not being truthful to you, how would you react? Would you challenge them, or merely let them slide because you aren't really in the mood to argue, you just want to relax? Honesty is important, especially in storytelling, and if the author isn't being honest with you, it's hard for the reader to take them seriously.

    Sure, it's certainly fine to lower your expectations a bit. Say, if you pick up a pulp sci-fi yarn you know you're not expecting the literary prowess of Virginia Woolf or anything. So when I read that sort of stuff I realize what I'm getting into and I'm more lenient about the style of their prose. However, I still can't ignore the flaws of stories altogether, but I judge the stories based on what they want to be. In that sense, to borrow from Anne Rice, I'd be interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. Comparing it to Virginia Woolf would be wrong. But comparing it to other sci-fi books would be merited.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Stories with unreliable narrators rely on the author (via the narrator) being dishonest with the reader. I don't see the connection between reading a story and ignoring its flaws and "dishonesty."

    How is an author being dishonest with you by producing a piece of writing that has flaws?

    Conversely, how is the reader being dishonest by enjoying the story irrespective of the flaws?
     
  17. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Honesty in storytelling, not honesty in the narration. Being truthful with the reader means that you're not deliberately taking them for a ride just because it's convenient. Characters should behave honestly and realistically, events shouldn't be jerrywrigged to fill obvious plot holes, i.e., deus ex machina; readers should never be short-changed because of a writer's laziness or lack of creativity.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ah. Yes, I agree with that.

    I was thinking of 'flaws' more in terms of things the author hasn't done intentionally or through laziness. With many published novels, I think you could get ten different readers and ten different reports as to what flaws there were, if any.

    If the author is just lazy or deliberately taking the reader for a ride, as you suggested, then that would certainly be a problem. But if it is something like the writer is being too wordy, or not wordy enough, or telling too much rather than showing, or those sorts of complaints, I don't see them as dishonest but rather as subjective preferences that a reader is apt to identify as a 'flaw.' I think the OP mentioned "telling" rather than "showing," for example.
     
  19. HBB
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    HBB New Member

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    Everything I read.
    Everything.

    However, I like to learn from the creative license with the English language that some authors use.

    That, and all of the plot devices... yes...

    Though really, how do half of these people get published.
     
  20. notquitesteinbeck
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    notquitesteinbeck Member

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    I can't help but notice bad writing but I think that that is a positive thing. Seeing mistakes other people make will make you a better reader (ex. reading a book where the dialogue is full of cliches will probably help you identify that in your own writing). I also think that it helps you become a better reader. When I was a young teen, I used to read tons of Dean Koontz and V.C. Andrews. I can't read those authors any more because the characters are paperthin. But since I don't read them anymore, I've moved on to better story tellers like Steinbeck, Frank McCourt, Alice Walker etc. I think if you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader and being able to tell the difference between good and bad writing is pretty vital to both those things.
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Paloma Faith song do you want the truth or something beautiful comes to mind lol Whilst I think it is lousy advice for a date, works for me for a book. If someone has written a good story or character and I choose to be entranced by it that is my business.

    Fact is I would rather read a badly written good story with great characters than a well written boring story.
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm completely the opposite, and I wish more people were. I couldn't care less about the story, all I'm interested in is how you write, whether you have an interesting, original voice. Story means nothing...the real test of time is your voice as an author...history has proven this, and will continue to do so...
     
  23. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    The reading of a book is a deep and personal relationship - how you approach it is upto you, but I don't agree history has shown the books that stand test of time do both. Don't get me wrong I deeply appreciate a well written story. However if I am going to be intellectualy stimulated - the whole point of exceptional writing means I don't need to leave the story at any point, also means I actually couldn't give a monkeys about the author, I don't care anything about them. Only time I want to know about them is when having being enthralled I turn to the front cover so I can look for another book they have written.

    Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Martin Chuzzlewit, Wives and Daughters, Plutarch, Heidi, Little Women, Oronoko, Tales of an African Farm, Northanger Abbey, Barchester Towers, Dorian Grey, Turn of the Screw, Agnes Grey, Secret Garden etc are all bloody good stories, they are also written well.

    The ones the still capture the public imagination are those that drag you along within the story. You know it is how some of those authors read because they describe reading through some of their characters being taken to another world. They valued story.

    Even with my big dislike Thomas Hardy - his stories are amazing, complex and intriguing.
     
  24. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    No book is perfect. But, every book has at least one nice quality about it (that's how they got published), so I take the bad either way. I have a penchant for methodically choosing books with decent narrative, so I don't encounter problems very much.
     
  25. J_Jammer
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    J_Jammer Banned

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    It's like nitpicking grammar in a forum and being a grammar Nazi. It's great that you are all gung-ho about correct grammar and want to teach the lower ones how to be better, but there's a time and a place for that. Forums are more easy going or should be. It's not like you correct your friends when they are talking to you in conversation....and if you do that...you won't have many friends left that want to talk to you.

    I agree. I read about using "said" is better than saying shouted, screamed, yelled, blubbered, yawned, laughed....stuff like that. I knew that before I read it in an editing book. I always felt said was just fine. Then I read Waiter Rant and I love that book because I use to be a waiter, but he writes that way with yawned this or snipped that or whatever...attribution he attaches. It's more telling than it is showing. If he dropped doing things like that it would have been a better read. I still liked the book. I realized he did that from the onset and chose to ignore it.

    I'm reading the Princess Bride right now and he does the same thing, but it's more of a comedic thing than it is an ignorant writer thing.

    It's like friendships. You are friends with people despite their "problems" or imperfections. I like books despite their errors. It's more about the story and how it's told than stylistic annoyances.
     

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