Thursday, March 14, 2013

Breaking Down Novels to Improve Your Writing

Recently I read a book everyone has been raving over for months. I expected to be waving my pennants and cheering by the end.

I barely cared if the main character lived or not.

Tragic, right?

After a few minutes of melodramatic sighs, I decided to think about what did or didn't work for me.

I didn't like the main character.
We've talked before about character likability and how they relatable they are. I think that's really essential. If a character feels too distant from me, the whole book feels that way.

Too much of the story was told, but not shown or explained.
Don't tell me how horrible the evil mother is. Show me. More than once. Once can be a fluke. Twice could be coincidence. For a villain to be truly awful, I need to feel it with every ounce of me. In said novel that I shall not name, I was left wondering for ages whether the MC was just whining or if she really was mistreated - which certainly didn't help me connect to her character more!

The male interest was perfect.
Admittedly, I swooned. In fact, he was the only reason I stuck with the book. He also could do everything, survive everything, be everything. His few flaws were of course, told to the readers but seldom shown or explained in depth  When reading a novel (especially a YA novel), I want to feel as if I'm part of the story - not to have to be constantly told what is happening and why that is important.

Is there a popular book you haven't liked? Could you break that book down into specific things to look for in your own writing?


  1. I didn't like Twilight. Mostly it had to do with the expectation that was built up from other people. At the time I read it, I didn't consider myself a writer but mostly a reader. I was drawn to the book because everyone described Edward as "so freaking hot."

    Well I picked up the book, and there are no descriptions of Edward. Instead he was just "perfect" and I've no idea what that means. It wasn't enough, and I felt seriously underwhelmed by having to fill in the void (which was obviously the exact thing that everyone else liked about the book).

    1. I think that reason is something that teen girls like about vague male characters - they can picture them exactly as they wish. (I've noted the same thing in adult romance novels I've beta read though.)

      I prefer to at least know the basics of a character's look - and early enough that I can register it before I have a different image in my head!