Reading too much as a writer
Although normally a thriller or suspense reader, because I’m heavily into editing / revising at the moment, I prefer to read writing craft books which help me out along those lines. But over the last week I’ve been reading a thriller or two.
My fiction reading came about two-fold. Firstly, I am working on some character and structure profiles as homework for my thriller writing course. Part of that involves maturing my thoughts for a series main character, Blue Raynes. I’m still after a psychological flaw that is maintainable within herself, and feasible.
Out of the course, and my research came a lot of thriller writers I’d been told might be worth the read. I won’t name names, but I’m currently reading a book that was held up as a very good read, written by a British female author, published quite a few years ago. The series, with a forensic profiler in it, became a hit television series also, I understand. However, I’d never heard of it before.
As a writer, my reading habits have changed. And although there are many good causes that come out of reading other writers, my writer’s cap always worn means that reading this particular book is difficult. Published several years back, writing “rules” were a little less strict back then – new authors weren’t screamed at to show not tell so much, and point of view wasn’t a particular bother for this author also. In fact, she jumps head several times in the same chapter – sometimes planned to do so with a scene break to donate it, but also often in the next paragraph, accidentally. As an example, in one paragraph we are in a man’s head as he manipulates his dinner visitors with the charm of a serial killing psychopath, the next paragraph we’re in the female journalist’s head, the next, her PA, and the next, that of his wife. It makes for dizzying reading.
Readers – normal readers – thought the world of this book – enough to cry for a television series. None of them noticed the changes in view, and the large levels of background exposition thrown in at strange points in the plot. But I do, and it jars with me immensely, meaning that a really good story – one that would normally have me reading and completing the book in one sitting – has become something much less entertaining.
I read the book, because from a police and psychology perspective the main character was said to be interesting but completely unrealistic. Apparently he’s about to hide under the killer’s bed, something a real psychologist would never do because he 1. can’t access a stranger’s bedroom just as he pleases and 2. he knows such actions would jeopardise the whole police prosecution with flawed evidence, and certainly bring to question his profession, and job.
Plus, it’s actually a little dangerous, and under British law, the killer would be entitled to harm him in reasonable defence of his property. I imagine finding a stranger under your bed would be looked upon quite amicably by the courts if you took it upon yourself to freak out and kick the living hell out of the home evader before thinking to ask what the fudge they were doing there.
In the thriller writing class we took a quick look at the beat points – sorry, structure, of Dan Brown’s blowout book The Davinci Code (or movie for those in the class who never read it). Many writers – now including me – will be quick to criticise the author’s writing style, huge swathes of narration or even procedural flaws where he has a French Police Detective unable to catch Robert Langdon driving through completely deserted streets in a teeny little smart car, or unable to find Langdon again in a British airplane hanger – which the French cop is out of jurisdiction for anyway. Pick and choose around what is technically wrong, or badly written about these books, but undeniably, the books were popular, and made great suspenseful reading (and movies).
So, I was expecting these fictional flaws offered to maintain the hero’s storyline, and to provide the suspense we as fiction readers want. I mostly accept them.
What I wasn’t expecting was to find that my own reading capability has been so changed by being a writer that some of the enjoyment of reading has been taken away from me. Especially lately.
The more I read, the more I learn about what makes good writing, and what makes sometimes undeservedly successful or popular writing. I figure I’ll try for as good as I can possibly get it – that’s the only thing I have control over. Popularity will or won’t come but is out of my hands.