Bookish Types Discuss Books, What Else? Part One

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Grammar, plot, voice ~ What is most important in writing?

What bothers you most, or ruins a read for you the most: problems with grammar, the plot etc.

Gwen: "I hate spelling mistakes. I can understand how a grammatical error can slip out from under an editorís watch. Some errors are even intentional ones, of course, depending on the voice of the characters. But spelling errors? Mistakes that can be caught with a simple spellcheck and a good proofread? That drives me insane."

Bee: "I do not enjoy knowing that an editorial voice has tampered with a writerís work Ė or worse yet, that an editor was required and not used."

Jude: "First person present tense is very difficult to write well and is most often done really poorly. The 'I stroke your bum as you kiss my left nipple,' leaves me cold. I feel as if whoever wrote that was either standing in front of me, or was writing it down while he or she was standing in front of his/her lover. Slip that into past tense and you've got a chance, go one step more and write it in third person, and I'm willing to give it more of a chance.

Stories that go into too much detail make me nuts. I can figure out that if Johnny has just walked into a room, he's going to keep walking and he may even carry on into the kitchen if you've already told me he's hungry. I don't need to know the curtains were blue, the window was open, the layout of all the chairs, colors of them, the walls had pictures on three and they were scenery photos he'd taken on their honeymoonÖ gasp. Grammar, well, I suck at that, so it's hard for me to pick at it, but if you've got a ten page story and only one paragraph, I may not make it through page one.

I think that about covers that. Gulp, Iím really not that picky, honest. Do your best and always try to learn a little more I'll try to give you the benefit of the doubt."

Kat: "When I can figure out where the book is going after reading the first chapter, and how it will most likely end. Then I'll go read the end, and more often than not, I am correct and put the book in the 'give away' basket."

Stephen: "I consider myself well read, but to look up five words for two pages read disturbs me. And to not find the words with a slightly out of date dictionary tells me Iím not totally at fault. My thoughts were deceptive and convoluted until a fellow writer taught me to get to the point. My other peeve is the forensic detail of objects, which has no bearing on the plot. ďÖThe sleek XL5RcC, matte black answering machine whirred, and then halted, flashing redÖĒ Okay? Describe a sex scene because you like sex, not to convince others. But who am I to judge, right?"

bard: "plot . . . . plot . .. plot. imagine if all erotica read like a cheap letter to hustler magazine with no build up at all . . . or ended too simply (refer to stephen king novels "it" and "the stand") or an ending that makes no sense at all . . . ever read "the sphere" by michael crighton?"

Heather: "What ruins a read for me is when the author goes off on tangents to passionately explain some personal or political cause. It really sucks me out of the story and takes away from my enjoyment and empathy for the characters."

Laurel: "Bad writing. Lack of truth, insight, character development. Cliches."

Katy: "So many people me stories, asking for advice. And itís very frustrating, because they obviously havenít taken the time to do more than a cursory rough draft.

I think thatís especially true of erotica. Writers think itís enough to just get the fantasy down on paper, and to hell with the details. They assume that just because their husband/lover thought it was great, so will the rest of the world. Not true.

What so many amateur writers donít understand is that writing is so much more than the rough draft. Itís the endless rewrites, the poring over the thing top to bottom, changing and fixing each and every thing thatís wrong. Itís taking all the awkward phrases out and making them work, finding new and different words and phrases to say the same old thing.

Grammar, sentence structure, phrasing, punctuation, etc., all of it matters."

Hanne: "Poor spelling or grammar will turn me off of a written work immediately. I simply can't be bothered to read something that is, as far as I'm concerned, illegible. Poor style is almost as big a turnoff, but not quite.

In reading fiction, I can overlook massive plot holes, but only for an extraordinary stylist who has other things going for them. A bigger deal-breaker than plot is actually character. If I don't care about the characters in some way, even if only insofar as I find them engaging enough to be infuriating, I won't be bothered to find out what happens to them.

In reading nonfiction, I expect consistent and high-quality research. I will abandon books where I feel as if I'm being given a snowjob, or books where I'm capable of poking holes in the author's research even without being an expert on the subject in question. A good command of rhetoric and argument structure is not completely necessary--it is the nonfiction work's equivalent of plot and is what gives the information its structure and urgency--if the information is of exceptional quality, but it's certainly a good thing when it's there."

Angela: "Bad plot I can handle. I like an occasional book that rots the brain. But bad grammar and bad spelling both drive me nuts."

Jewel: "What bothers me most is bad grammar and a total disregard for sentence structure. As an editor, what even bothers me more is a writer who thinks that it doesnít matter at all. Of course, we all make mistakes. But a total lack of a feel for language totally negates what you are doing as a writer."

Rose: "Pretension, cruelty, lack of authenticity, absence of humor, crushing ego."

Ina: "BAD characterization kills me. What's the point if your character's aren't interesting? For those things that aren't about characters, I am pretty forgiving since, to me, others views are always interesting - whether or not I agree with them, whether or not I can identify with them."

Jason: "When I start to feel the author in the piece. Itís like watching a performer when you realize that he or she is intellectualizing the role, thinking about how to look angry, for example, and then doing it, instead of really performing anger.

With a writer, you see the characters doing and saying things they wouldnít do or say because the author wants them to, has thought them through it. Itís like hugging a person and feeling all the bones. Not good.

This isnít to say I mind authorial intrusions, however."

Josh: "I just don't have the time to read as much as I should. I need instant gratification. I need closure about an hour or two after I start something. I think it's the A.D.D in me. [I'm joking, I don't seriously have ADD. I don't think--ooh, SHINY!]"

GaŽlle: "Bad editing. When the story line is the same as every other boring, formulaic storyline out there... which is why Chick Lit gets such a bad rap. There are some great books out there, but most of them are telling the same story."

Kim: "Yeah, bad editing is annoying. But, you know, no one is perfect. There are mistakes in my own book that no one caught. What bothers me more has to do with style. I hate long descriptive paragraphs. I know what a bouquet of flowers looks like and I don't need 100 words to remind me. That says more about me than any author, though. For example, I know that The Hours is an amazing book, but I couldn't get past the first few chapters."

What engages you in a read most: the plot or the topic of interest, the writer's 'voice' etc.

Rose: "Imagination, intellect, originality, heart--all much bigger than my own!"

Hanne: "A combination of insight and style is what I look for. Some writers can keep me riveted to the page while they discuss ball bearings or Icelandic geography because of what they find to bring out of their subject and the way they set it forth. Minnesotan writer Bill Holm is an excellent example of this, speaking of people who can write about Icelandic geography and make it delightful and rewarding to read.

Others can be writing about something I personally find fascinating and still lose me in the second paragraph because they not only don't seem to have anything particularly penetrating to say about it, but say it poorly."

Bee: "The quality of the writing. The rest is just cream."

Laurel: "I suppose the writer's voice. I loved Dave Eggers' first book (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)--wonderful insights, and I loved The Life of Pi (suspended disbelief) and On a Street Called Easy, In a Cottage called Joy (called a "Restoration Comedy.") I like to be surprised, to have my expectations turned upside down, to have language stood on its head, to have my emotions churned up without resorting to sentimentality."

Jude: "Ah, something that grips me, a great hook that grabs and doesn't let go. Characters that I can either identify with or wish I was involved with. I'm a big fan of BDSM, but it has to be told well. I like gay erotica, sci-fi, and femdom, but if a writer can sink a hook into me within the first few paragraphs, I'll read just about anything. Slow paced, flowery things turn me off, but get my adrenaline running and I'll love the ride. Show me your characters and make them human, I'll hate them or love them, and want more. If a writer can make their voice vanish, that's an exceptional piece of work. Let the characters out, have them show me their story, and I'll be in heaven."

GaŽlle: "It has to be in the first 20 pages for me. If there is no movement, nothing to hook me in some way, Iím done. I like people who take chances. Katherine Mansfield said, ďrisk, risk everything.Ē And I like a writer who is willing to do thatÖespecially when they succeed."

Jason: "It is that the author has something to say. Not just a story to be told. But a world vision to offer up. When we write, I tell my students, every word most serve to:

1. Advance the plot
2. Enhance the mood/setting/feel.
3. Develop character.
And four, and this is the one we always forget, it is: Develop theme.

The difference between what people call art and entertainment is simply that what they call art usually strives to explore a theme. There is what the story is--itís plot--and what it is aboutóhow it sees and articulate the world."

Josh: "If it's fiction, and I don't care about the characters or what happens to them, why would I possibly continue? If it's non-fiction, and I don't care about the subject, why'd I even start reading it?"

Gwen: "The voice. I love the voice. I love to be pulled into a story, to feel as though the narrator is my best friend. A really good book is one that can keep me up all night long, and when I finish reading it, I feel a little lonely. Because I got to know the character, the voice was so intimate, and now that character has finished telling the story and I want more. Thatís when I know I have found a really great story."

Katy: "Superb writing, whatever the genre, gets me every time. Artfully written prose will draw me in. The writerís voice is critical, too, I like characters that have, well, character, and that are well defined and interesting and unique."

Ina: "Usually the characterizations - though plot IS other things, I find that the writer's 'voice' comes through usually IN the topic of interest and I do love that - getting a sense of the writer's personality based on their subject and how they treat it."

Heather: "What really gets me, what grabs my by the guts and pulls me in to a book is emotion. If the author can make me cry, swear, sweat, spit, desire or laugh, they've got me."

Kim: "All of the above, but voice is the most important to me. Since I mostly read first person essays, I need to believe what I'm reading. I need to trust the writer right away or I'll move on. If the work doesn't have a 'personality,' reading is like talking to the biggest dud at a party."

bard: "topic of interest . . . than I pray to all forces that it is written well enough to hold my interest"

Angela: "All three have merit. I am a horror junkie...topic, topic, topic. I love an engaging mystery or legal book....plot, plot, plot! And when it comes to voice, I have certain authors...they could write the blurbs on cereal boxes and I would read them: John Irving, Ann Rice, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Maureen Dowd...and so many more, but I'll shut up now."

Stephen: "I live for the writerís voice. The voice can make chitterling casserole a hot topic if spoken with an intriguing angle."

Jewel: "I think if you read my latest column at Adult Backwash at The Castle you will definitely know that the Story is most important to me. I guess Iím less forgiving than other, but if you donít have my interest in the first two paragraphs you have lost me. I guess itís all those years of reading ďMayhem in the Gym on Halloweíen.Ē However, in the end, itís the whole package. There was a time in my life that I would keep reading a bad book with the hope that there might be some redeeming feature to it. I donít do that any longer."

Go here to find out about the authors.

Use the 'Discuss This' button to the right to join the discussion!

© Gracie


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