Over the past month I’ve been reading the 9th book in a trilogy of trilogies. The last three in the series were all over 800 pages long. This was quite a commitment. Perhaps that was why I abandoned my 100-page rule, where if I’m not enjoying a book by page 100, I put it down.
I loved the first series, liked the second series, and then loved the first book of the final series. But then I hit what can only be described as filler books. In all honesty there was only a book’s worth of stuff to happen, and a 400-page book at that. But this author was wed to the trilogy mentality, and there were two more books to go to meet that, so two more were written. As a result there were several verrrrrryyyyy long ship voyages, long hikes, lots of reflection, and lots of meaningless arguments that didn’t contribute much at all.
It made me quite sad that I found myself getting sick of characters I had loved for over 10 years (yes, that’s how long it took me to read the series). The end left me a bit flat because it was tied up a bit too neatly, and showed me too much of the happily-ever-after without any reflection on the sacrifices the main character had made to get the happily-ever-after. I was still hurting over those sacrifices, but the character was so busy getting on with being happy that he didn’t seem to lament them.
It has taught me such a valuable lesson; never fall into the trilogy trap. Yes, trilogies are nice, but if the books can’t stand alone – at least in so much as having a beginning, middle and end – then they shouldn’t be written. And if the middle book is just about reflecting on the first book and anticipating the last book, then it has no purpose.
I have written/planned a trilogy, but I believe the books tell three different stories. If I find that this isn’t the case once they are all finished, then I promise I won’t force them onto the world. They can come out as a duology, or even two stand-alone novels set in the same world. There is nothing wrong with that.
As you can probably tell, I’m back on the writing wagon. I’m both editing and writing new words, after a bit of a break. I’m also getting back into my reading. For the whole time that I wasn’t writing much, I wasn’t reading much. It can’t be a coincidence that they both dropped off and picked up again at the same time.
In the past month I’ve read a mix of horror, science fiction, YA fantasy and murder mystery. I’ve also managed to read them quickly – one was knocked over in a single day. They don’t really crossover with what I’m writing, but I find that doesn’t seem to matter. Reading good stories always inspires me to write stories.
Could it be possible that when I don’t write (and don’t read) my aversion is actually to story? I find it hard to believe that could be the case, given how much I love story when I’m in the middle of it, but it is just so easy to pick up a book. So why wouldn’t I do it?
I know this is running a bit of a risk of confusing addressing the symptoms with curing the illness, but I wonder if next time I find myself falling into a bit of a slump – do I just force myself to read a few good books?
When I read a novel, it is like watching a movie. Sometimes it’s a really long movie that runs sporadically over a few weeks, and occasionally some of the characters look a bit different when they come back on screen, but I ‘see’ it all happening in my mind’s eye. Which is why it really bugs me when an author purposely blinds me.
I was reading a novel by an author I really like, but they refused to show me the main protagonist. There was clearly something up with his appearance, and I watched him walk around dark streets and avoid people, but I didn’t get to ‘see’ him. This went on for three chapters. How am I expected to craft the movie of this novel if I can’t even see the main character?
I think I’ve bemoaned the unreliable narrator before, but this is different. This is wilful omission that both author and reader are aware of. It’s like someone pixilated the lead in the film and expected everyone to just go with it.
I have to confess I put the book down. Who knows, maybe in the next chapter the author did the big reveal, or maybe I was going to be forced to go through the whole novel so I could have an a-ha moment at the end when suddenly it all made sense. Regardless I’ll never know. For me, the appeal of the novel is being able to get into the skin of the main protagonist and learn with them along the way. If they have some kind of physical issue that impacts every facet of how they live their life, then I think I should know about it on page one.
Clearly that is just my opinion, and there will be loads of people out there who love that kind of book (oh wow, all this time he was actually the pet dog!) – which makes me wonder, do some people actually read books and not make their own movie?
Reviews have recently been the subject of much discussion in the creative space, prompted by Amazon’s new rule that all reviews given for books (movies, music etc.) that were not purchased will be deleted. This has a huge impact for authors starting out, who often give away their first novel to generate a readership and get reviews. I also know that a lot of respected reviewers regularly get free books sent to them, even by the big publishing houses. I assume these reviews, too, will be deleted.
Which got me thinking about reviews. The truth is I rarely read them. If I like the premise of a story, I’ll read the book. If I don’t like the premise, I won’t. This was driven home to me when I was in the book tent at Adelaide Writers’ week this year, ready to buy my ‘donation’ book for the free event. Having stupidly waited until later in the week, all the books I was interested in had sold out. So I was forced to look at the books that were left to find something I liked.
I came across a set of books which had really interesting covers (yes, I do judge) and the titles sounded like they could be spec fiction, or at least genre of some sort. I turned the books over to read the blurb on the back and all I found was reviews. The inside few pages also revealed nothing of what the story was about, just more reviews. A bunch of people had liked these books, but I could not find anything to tell me what any of them were about. Needless to say, none of them came home with me.
I’m sure people who write reviews are as mindful of people judging the reviewer, as what they are of presenting a review which will help someone to make up their mind about if they should buy the book. This means hyperbole and passion can sometimes go a little too far. I’m a big believer in ‘if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’ because often if a reviewer hated a book it’s because they were not the target audience.
I guess with so many books out there it is hard to choose which ones to read. If you have a choice between a 4.5-star and a 1-star reviewed book, you will probably go for the 4.5-star. For me, however, if I like the story of the 1-star novel, I’ll give it a go. With my love of run-on sentences and sometimes questionable grammar, let’s hope my readers feel the same!
My approach to the library recently has become more like my approach to Twitter; I let others find the good stuff for me. If I go into the library without a specific book in mind, I’ll head straight to the ‘to be re-shelved’ pile to see what others have recently borrowed. This is where I found a book on decoding handwriting.
It is annoying me how accurate it is. I started with the approach that it would be like star signs and you can probably see yourself in every scenario, but it is a whole lot more precise than that. It has picked up on things about my personality that even I don’t like to admit to myself. I am starting to worry about the hand-written notes I’ve given to others and how much I really told them if they knew how to read it.
What worries me even more is what I will learn about others when I look at their handwriting? After I read ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro which covered the unconscious communications of body language, my success in meetings went up significantly. I often find myself resorting to tricks and reading people without even realising it. I think the handwriting book will give me an even greater insight into what is really happening inside people’s minds.
There is one big problem with decoding handwriting; you have to get your hands on a copy of hand-written text. In my current workplace, I think I’ve seen the handwriting of only one other person in the past 8 months. Even our informal notes are taken on the computer these days. It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the Jet a year after teleportation has been invented.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m going to let this pass me by. I’m reading the book over and over to make sure it sinks in (as would be expected of my evenly spaced, small-lettered handwriting). There are gems in here that I will one day be able to mine, I have no doubt of that.
It also reiterates that the re-shelving piles should always be my first stop at the library.
I’ve just started reading Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’. I’m literally one chapter in and I’m already rebelling against it. Chapter one is all about silencing the voice in your head. As a qualified hypnotherapist (scarily that is true, I don’t make this stuff up) I know that silencing the negative voice in your head is an important and healthy thing to do. But this book suggests we silence our inner voice altogether!
That voice is my best friend.
I share all my politically incorrect jokes with that voice. Together we pick out ‘most likely to be a serial killer’ from the patrons on the bus, not to mention ‘who would you hook up with if we were suddenly transported to another planet where we were the only humans’. Sometimes the winners of those two categories are the same person. But see, this is all the stuff that I usually only share with the voice in my head, not my blog readers. Looking back on the last paragraph I think maybe that is the way it should stay.
And we haven’t even scratched the surface of the role of that voice when it comes to my stories. That voice is the first one to translate the ideas into words. That voice inspires me to sit down and spend hundreds of hours writing and editing each year. That voice dreams with me about a day when we’ll get one of our novels published.
Sure it also tells me I have cankles and suggests maybe I’m looking a bit too old to keep pretending that I’m 35. But I’ve got to be honest; it might be onto something there.
I’ll keep reading the book, and hopefully it will tell me to befriend my voice again in later chapters. But for me, at least, I won’t be silencing my voice any time soon. We have way too much fun together.
After much planning and picking, I’ve decided not to post about my top 10 non-fiction books at the end of the month.
It struck me as far too personal a choice in terms of topic. Every book I picked was about writing, psychology or animals. If you were hoping for my self-help book tips, well the one I’ve recommended to many people that I think can help everyone is Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal, and I was so impressed with it the first time I read it that I’ve already blogged about it.
So instead I thought I could write about something readers of this blog might actually be interested in; Top 10 things to do to feel like a writer. Just because you haven’t been published, or not enough to make any real money, doesn’t mean you can’t feel like a writer.
This list will be the things that have given me that little writer-flutter in my belly. They are the things that keep you slogging it out even when you think you’ll never get there.
The new Top 10 starts tomorrow!
Okay, due to the overwhelming response of one (and that was a text message) I’m going with non-fiction books. I like to always be reading one non-fiction and one fiction book, no idea why, I guess it’s just one of my loveable quirks. And just as I read all different types of fiction, my non-fiction preferences run from evolutionary theory to he’s just not that into you-type books. So this will be an eclectic mix.
To pick my non-fiction books I’ll often look to the references of previous non-fiction books I have enjoyed. Part of me would really like to write a self-help program made up entirely of reading great non-fiction books. This won’t be that list, because some of the books here won’t necessarily contribute to making you a better and more rounded person, but I hope that many will. I will credit some for great leaps forward that I have made.
Something that I really believe about the self-help type books is that you cannot just read them once to get the benefit. If you are anything like me you get super motivated while reading it, but that influence drops off exponentially as soon as you stop reading them. So for these books I’ll let you know that they have made it to my annual reader list. Don’t worry, he’s just not that into you is not on that list.
I know I’m going to miss a whole heap of great books, so I should put in a rider that these books are the ones that are front of mind for me. They are the ones I read again or remember often.
Finally, your own preferences are going to massively shape what non-fiction you read. I LOVE palaeo-zoology and evolution, but that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I’m only going to include one (maybe two) in this list. You might like war planes or something that I find a bit nods-ey, so apologies for those not making the list. I guess this is my blog, so you get to find out about me 🙂
So, starting next month, the last post of the month will be my top 10 (at the moment) non-fiction books.
When I started the top ten list I only had 9 authors picked out. I figured the tenth would be revealed long before I got to the final entry. The day before this entry went live I still didn’t know who I was going to pick. I had four in the running, but two were scriptwriters, so I figured they could be part of a new list. That left two novelists…
I’ve picked Michael Crichton because I think his stories are the closest to what mine might one day be. Michael Crichton immersed himself in the science of his stories and made sure they always sat true to what was known at the time, and he did it in an engaging and entertaining way. I’ll never forget learning about dinosaur DNA trapped inside mosquitoes in amber and a few years later seeing a movie based entirely on that discovery. I loved it.
Anything that makes science, and more specifically biological or environmental sciences, mainstream is wonderful in my opinion. If you can educate people without them even realising it as they join you in a fantastical journey in a novel, then I think you have something of which to be truly proud. I try, no doubt clumsily, to do it in my work.
Michael Crichton died in 2008. I think it is tragic that we won’t get to see his spin on all the new and amazing discoveries that are happening in the world of science today. I’m sure there would have been many more blockbusters that could have come out of the pages of the science journals.
I know a lot of people criticise writers who take content from ‘nature’ or ‘science’ and turn it into a story, but the fact is most people don’t read ‘nature’ and ‘science’, it is authors like Michael Crichton who translate these discoveries into a language the average person can understand. That is top ten worthy in my eyes.
Occasionally I’ll put out a call to friends for favourite books. One of those books was Jennifer Fallon’s ‘Lion of Senet’ and I had it suggested to me by two different friends at the same time. That made me curious, so I read the book.
Usually I try not to read a series back to back, I figure a reader normally has to wait a year between books for the author to write them, so I should put a few weeks breathing space between them. With these books I could not wait, I HAD to know what was going to happen next.
The world-building was excellent and not your ‘typical’ fantasy, heading into non-European based worlds and where politics played a bit part in the stories. Her good characters did bad things, and the bad ones did good things. I like that in a book.
The funny thing is I must confess that I have not read a Jennifer Fallon book in over two years. I don’t know why that is, but when I was compiling my list of top ten authors at the beginning of the year I knew Jennifer had to be on it. I can so vividly remember loving the books so much, it makes me think it is time to pick up another one.