Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Little Things



Today I’m blogging not as a writer, but as a reader. Well, partly. You see, lately I’ve been determined to read more into my writing genres. Reading opportunities can be difficult to secure, but I’ve been quite determined. In fact, to mix it up, I’ve made a habit of selecting random titles from authors I’ve never read before.

Through this recent reading spate I’ve discovered something quite dreadful. I’m turning into a book snob!!!!

Maybe it’s the ever developing inner–editor monster I’ve unconsciously fostered through reading from ‘the other side’. Perhaps it’s the failing of my eternal youth, betraying a slightly irritable, at times impatient, time greedy working mother. Could it be the shock that ‘best selling author’ by no means guarantees quality?

At times I’ve wanted to shout, ‘SHOW, don’t TELL,’ after wading through yet another information dump or explanation of how a character is feeling. Other things that set me skimming were overused speaker tags; constant or overuse of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (in some cases in conjunction with the overused speech tags); plots that took half a book to get moving; or plots driven solely by contrived romantic misunderstandings or complications. (Hey, when you’re reading into the wee hours of morn, it’s a big ask to be patient with Mary’s seventh change of heart for the chapter!)

But amidst these frustrations were sparkling delights. Well developed characters, fully engaging plots, beautifully constructed relationships and dialogues had me effortlessly tuned in. NO head hopping! It made me realise that, as a writer, the little things really REALLY matter.

The Little Things (Okay, maybe not these little things, but they are kinda cute!)
 Now for the confession – I’ve committed all these sins as a writer at various times. I’m sure I’m ignorantly committing others to this day. It’s one thing to say, ‘Show, don’t tell,’ it’s another for someone to clearly demonstrate it. I’ll never forget when, six months into studying creative writing, I re–read the first few chapters of an old manuscript I had on file. It was dreadful! In that moment I realised just how much I had to learn.

And I’m still learning. Constantly.

Something I’ve realised by my purposeful reading is how much this informs my writing. Seeing those little niggles in action really drives home the point! It also demonstrates how important it is to expose ourselves to the work of writers who are more experienced, with more highly developed skills.

For me, investing in my craft through education and being a part of a writers group have been two (of many) invaluable steps in honing my skills. But clearly, writers MUST read.

I’d love to hear how reading has cultivated your inner writer – and if/how you’ve evaded becoming a book snob in the process!


Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and a broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com

24 comments:

  1. Oh Adele, I can so relate to that. I've also become a book snob, while knowing I too have committed those sins. So I'm not sure I could contribute to your question of how I've avoided being a book snob - LOL. Maybe we can start a "Book Snobs Anonymous" self-help group! You're right that it's so important to be reading good examples in our genre and beyond. The more we read good quality fiction (or poetry or creative non-fiction), the more we do absorb it. And I also think that we shouldn't just be reading Christian books, but good examples of mainstream writing too. There are a lot of Christian authors I really like (e.g., Terri Blackstock, Colleen Coble, Dee Henderson's O'Malley series), but to be honest, the best novels I've read in the last 18 months have been in the mainstream market - The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, and The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult to name a few. I know not everyone would agree with me on that point, but I think it's important to expose ourselves to the very best writing we can find even if that means pushing our comfort zones a little.

    One thing I do is make notes of passages, metaphors, imagery etc that I really like - I keep one notebook for fiction/creative non-fiction and one for poetry, Sometimes just the process of writing it down and going back over those quotes later, helps me see how I could be doing more with language and gives me something to aspire to.

    Thanks for a great post and I'll let you know details of the first BSA meeting :) Now if you'll excuse me, I have to work out how to get rid of my information dump in Chapter 13 :)

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    1. BSA self-help, you say? LOL! Very much agree with you in that we shouldn't restrict our literary diet to just "Christian authors". There are so many great books out there that we can learn much from - and simply enjoy. A wonderful idea to keep notes of passages, metaphors etc. Where did you say you keep that book...? ;-) Thanks, Nola.

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  2. I edit fiction rather than write, but I can relate. I also review books, and used to find it difficult to switch off the inner editor if I was copyediting one book while reading another.

    I've solved that problem through genre switching: if I'm copyediting a novel, I'll switch and read books on writing craft or marketing, or vice versa.

    I agree with Nola that it's good to read the best of general market fiction as well as Christian fiction. Some Christian fiction is best described as second-rate (as is a lot of general market fiction).

    Reading the second-rate writing can also teach me something. How, given the second-rate writing, did this book become a bestseller? Was it the plot? The characters? Something else?

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    1. Really like your way of viewing things, Iola i.e. How did this author/book become a bestseller? Helps keep the inner book snob in check and the learning receptors alert. I can also see the benefit of switching genres. Must be a challenge when editing is your job! Appreciate your thoughts.

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  3. Moi? A book snob? What can I say? Guilty as charged, and learning through the experience. That eye for quality does reap a rich harvest though, even if I have to watch out for those cliches ...

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    1. Agreed, Cathie, cliches are another thing to look out for. Your point is 'clear as crystal'. ;-) I keep wondering how I would feel if I went back to read some of my favourite books from when I was a child/teen. Wonder how they would measure up...?

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  4. Well done for fitting in that reading in your busy schedule, Adele! Sadly, I think I would qualify well as a book snob, because I have too many other things going on in my head to waste time on a book that annoys me or doesn't have a bit of depth to it! One decision I try to make though before I do start reading a book is just to appreciate the effort the author has put into writing it and also to remind myself that my opinion of it isn't the final word on the matter. After all, I might be tired or preoccupied when I read it--or just very prejudiced! Also, if I find myself being too critical about the way an author has written, I stop and give thanks that many readers have overlooked my writing faults with my novels and just enjoyed the storyline or loved the characters!

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    1. Love your thoughts, Jo-Anne. I know that some of my frustrations could have been substantially lessened by simply giving up the read and going to bed for a while! (But as I mentioned, I can get mighty determined!) Despite my complaints, I do actually try to appreciate the uniqueness of what an author brings to a given work. Even if I'm not enjoying components of the writing, I'm actually quite a persistent reader in that I'll usually continue to the end. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised. Exceptions are books that are plain off or such a poor storyline/execution of plot that it's too hard to follow.

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  5. Nah! You're not book snobs, girls. Just book gourmets. Like any food lover, you recognize quality and the pleasure you get from reading.

    However, it is difficult to 'turn off' the editor in yourself when you're genuinely trying to soak up the story line and your eye balks at the obvious errors.

    Maybe the characters are a little underdone, or maybe so well done they're unbelievable.( Excuse me, I've been watching Celebrity Master Chef.) But how enjoyable when you find surprising little titbits of brilliance here and there in the presentation.
    Yes, let's read, read, read everything ( within reason) we can get our hands on.

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    1. Book gourmets - I like that, Rita! :) And yes, isn't it such a delight when a book hits the mark. They're the books I just want to read over and over again.

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  6. Adele, great post. How easy it is for us to get too picky with the craft. I pull myself up all the time when reading novels. Sometimes I do wonder if we authors can be the toughest critics and yes, it's so important that we encourage each other to improve our craft but we also mustn't forget grace to acknowledge the significant journey the author has been on to produce something. I'm a bit like Jo-Anne when I find I'm getting too critical: I pull myself up and thank God for the author and just focus on the story and characters.

    And as you mention, Adele, it's one of the ways we learn to better improve our stories.

    When I chat to readers I find they are so more focused on the story and the characters and don't get too caught up on the use of too many adverbs or telling vs showing. I've recently just read a couple of general market fiction novels that are self-published e-books. And sure, the author's craft can be improved in a number of areas but gee for sheer great story-telling and fun reading, this author's got it. And he's now been picked up to co-write a series of novels with one of the world's biggest selling authors. Hey, he's a great story teller. Yes, would his stories read even better if there weren't as many "head hops" and adverbs? Certainly. And now he's got a major publisher behind him who'll be able to help edit all those nasty adverbs, 'head hops' and such.

    All part of the wondrous journey we are all on.

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    1. What an exciting journey! Thanks for sharing, Ian. So true that we authors can forget the whole point of writing (and reading) is to enjoy the story. When I reflect on favourite books, it's definitely the story and its impact that remains with me long after I've closed the back cover. But yes, equally as important to keep working on our writing skills and encouraging others in their writing journeys, too.

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  7. Hi Adele,
    It was fun reading this post and all the comments. I can imagine the first meeting of that BSA group. "Hi, my name is ---- and I'm a book snob." We are avid readers, but as writers, we've been so conditioned to looking for these things in our own work, it's hard to avoid noticing them in the work of others. It's a sign that we're learning, and if there's any danger of falling into genuine snobbery, I'd hope our editors and critique partners would knock it out of us.
    I do believe that a wonderful storyline with characters anyone can love covers a lot of technical glitches, whereas perfectly executed prose without those things is more forgettable.

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    1. So true, Paula. I remember having similar discussions with friends about books that are in a literary sense very skillfully written, but as far as pace, plot and storytelling go, fall flat. I definitely overlook many "sins" when I'm in the thick of a great story. And in reality, I know there'll be times when readers of my own work will also have to be generous with overlooking writing flaws. We're all learning. :)

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  8. Well done Adele the book snob! Great post as always. Love your sense of humour too. I must say I would be wary of giving you my manuscript.... I can imagine a few of your honest responses! :) Help! Just kidding.

    Like you I too made purposeful reading a goal this year after an operation where I could indulge in lots of reading without feeling guilty that I should be doing other things. I think that reading automatically raises our writing - even if we don't read it using critique. I have been surprised at being surprised by bad writing on occasion! It seems like the writer in me does an automatic critique of books I read even when I don't plan to.

    Perhaps we are all learning lots! Thanks again for a great blog!

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    1. LOL! You're such fun, Anusha! But interesting you should say that... There have been times when I've been critiquing work (even my own) when I was tired and have had to stop and ease off on the "blunt button"! Oh dear!

      It's interesting how we subconsciously develop a particular taste for writing styles/quality. As you say, even without planning on it we can unleash our inner book critic!

      Thanks for the encouragement - and pleased to hear you've been indulging in guilt free reading. Wonderful! :)

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  9. So agree with your post. We all learn by reading more but sometimes it can be hard to turn off that inner critic while reading a book. The difference is when a character and story so involves you that you don't notice the little things,

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    1. Definitely, Dale! I'm actually currently reading a book that has such great character development that I'd hardly notice a glaring flaw. I'm really enjoying the main protagonists getting to know each other, while wondering how they're going to work things out. For that reason I was nearly jolted out of my chair when the there was a head hop mid-scene. Had to stop and skim back a couple of paragraphs to figure out what had happened! Very forgiving though when the story and characters are such fun to follow.

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  10. I try to remember that Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and a lot of prize winning authors do not follow all of these new rules. I switch off my editing brain and concentrate on the characters, the story and the plot development. Usually I can relax this way UNLESS the characters are ridiculous and unbelievable and the plot is weak. Then I get frustrated. #donteditunlesssomeoneispayingyou

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    1. I'll try to remember that! LOL! (Show me the money??? :) ) It is really interesting how reader expectations have changed over the years, along with acceptable writing habits. I suppose as writers we become acutely aware of these changes as we endeavour to improve our skills. Thanks for your thoughts, Meredith.

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  11. Wonderful insights thank you Adele. Very useful info!!! Great Blog.

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    1. Thanks, Rachel. Reading is definitely a great way to learn more about ourselves as writers. (I could also share some interesting stories about the "little things" photograph... but that's a whole other tale! LOL!)

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  12. Recently I've noticed that I'm picking up errors when I read that I never use to notice. Hopefully I'm also picking up more of my own errors.

    Thanks Adele for the post.

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    1. Yes, I do wonder the same thing, Susan. It's easy to see the flaws in other people's work, but I have a sneaking suspicious we can be quite blind to errors in our own work - a bit like domestic blindness, but with a writer's bent! I've found some clangers in drafts that have been edited several times over and wondered just how they escaped the eye. That's when we, as writers, can be really grateful for a great editor!

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