Friday, October 14, 2011

Crisis of Confidence Going On Over Here

Like most writers, I'm a big reader.  Loved to read as far back as I can remember (and at my age, that's pretty far).  But I never spent a lot of time analyzing how I felt about a book unless it really moved me in some way.  Most of the time, my reaction was I liked it or I didn't like it and that was all.  Now that I'm seriously trying to get published, I pay a lot more attention when I read.  What worked in the story, what didn't, and why. 

A couple weeks ago I attended a book signing.  I wasn't familiar with the author but the ads and all her bookcovers proclaimed she was a "National Bestseller".  The books were listed as "Suspense".  I bought two.  While I was there I also picked up the most recent book from an author whose blog I had started following.  She wasn't a bestseller but the book was number six in a series, so she had to be reasonably successful.

I started with one of the two from the bestseller.  It opened with a great action scene and pulled me right in.  The male and female lead characters (one was a cop) had the usual mild animosity and mistrust that I expected would be overcome later in the story.  The plot started to develop, clues and foreshadowing nicely layered in, then all of a sudden they were in bed.  No build up of sexual tension, almost no internal struggle with the attraction between them, just - bam - they went from dislike/mistrust to wild sex and I can't live with out you.  The abruptness of it destroyed the connection I was developing with the charactors which, in turn, pretty much spoiled the rest of the book for me.

So I moved on to the second book.  Maybe that just wasn't one of her better efforts.  The second book also started out strong.  A little stronger animosity and mistrust between the leads this time (again, one was a cop), good opening action, good hook.  I was really getting into it.  Then - bam - in the middle of a significant plot development the lead characters jump each other in a parking lot and head back to his place.  No build up, no tension, no internal struggle to speak of.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of romance.  I'm a little disappointed if a story doesn't have some romantic element.  And I'm certainly not against sex.  Nothing better than a good steamy love scene.  But it has to fit the characters and the plot.  These felt more like - "Oops, page 33, time for sex." 

I moved on to the third book (the other author).  A little softer tone, slower pace.  Nice character development.  But the story was incredibly weak.  The main plot line was an abduction.  For much of the story the police wandered around searching for suspicious vehicles and canvassing the neighborhood.  There was no interesting detective work, no putting together clues and developing leads.  I know police work is sometimes like that but it doesn't make for very interesting reading.  Finally the author cut to the POV of the abductee.  She wakes up in a dark room, realizes what's happened, frees herself from her bonds in a way that was too simplistic to be believed, and when her captor returns, knocks him over and runs to a conveniently located gas station to call 911.

Oh, come on.

So, what's wrong?  I read three books and picked out what I thought worked and didn't work in each of them.  That's good, right?  That will help me be a better writer, help me not to make the same mistakes. Except...   Author One is a national bestseller and Author Two has a successful series.  So maybe my judgement about what works and what doesn't stinks.

I'm currently polishing a my WIP and getting close to query stage.  I think it looks pretty good.  But now...[see title]

What do you do at times like this?

Groaner of the Day:  (long post, short pun) I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. It's impossible to put down.

13 comments:

Cate Masters said...

I'm a big believer in going with your gut. Your characters know what they want, and you've thought about your story enough that you know where it should go, and what it should contain. You can't base your stories on what works (or doesn't) for others or it will drive you crazy.
As far as national bestsellers, I've picked up a few based on that status and been very disappointed. Wish I knew their secret on getting published!

raelynbarclay said...

I'm not published yet but I'm going with my gut. Stay true to your story and characters.

I don't buy a book based on being bestsellers but, like Cate, there have been a few that fell in "bestseller" category that were very disappointing.

Good luck, and trust yourself.

Maria Zannini said...

I've always thought what pushed me into wanting to get published were the mediocre books I read by bestsellers.

It's the old, 'I can do better than this'.

But there's more to being a bestseller than meets the eye. They could have a loyal fan base, back from when they were fresh and hot. This in turn spurs sales, and publishers aren't going to turn their backs on revenue. If a formula works, they'll bleed it dry. (much like Hollywood)

It could be entirely subjective. There are some authors I simply don't get, yet others love them. It's me, not you, darling. :)

Then there are the publishers who push certain authors over others. It's kinda like shooting craps with loaded die. The gatekeeper decides who gets the promo and who walks the dog in the rain.

In the end, there's no magic bullet or logic to what makes it in this world.

Renee Miller said...

I think Maria said it all really, but I want to add that I was nodding as I read this post. To everything. I do this all the time.

I read these bestsellers and think "This sucks." and then I wonder if maybe I don't know suck from good and maybe my writing is what sucks. I mean, how can a bestseller suck more than my writing?

But then the voice of reason kicks in. Often it has a Spanish accent, but sometimes it's that redneck that encourages me to do bad things. It says "What Maria just said." And I get angry at the unfairness of the Universe and vow to get even.

Or, more simply, you're not alone. Keep going. I haven't read your fiction, but judging by the writing I see here in your blog, you're better than them. You'll get there.

GigglesandGuns said...

And here I thought it was just me wondering why certain authors have deals ad I don't. Maybe I read the same writers because I went through three books the same way.
I too am looking at my work and wondering. I've decided to step back for while.

Oh, the groaner!

Lydia Kang said...

I'm so time crunched these days that I might not have given book 2 or 3 a chance at all.

Maybe there are lots of readers who like the steamy scenes to be abrupt??? I dunno. As a writer that would really bother me too.

Pidg said...

In my opinion the market is ever changing. There are those that continue to write the "fill in the blank" books and then there are those that make the changes. You might be the one to make the change; add something with more depth and less page 33's. ;)

Like the others said, stick with your gut. I find that my best writing takes place when I sit down to write and the characters dictate to me what happens. That is when I know it's right. Allow it to flow. At the very least, you will be proud of what you have to offer.

LD Masterson said...

Okay, if anyone asks about the value of blog buddies, here's the answer. Where else can you get such great support when you're having one of thoe days?

Cate - Thank you. I wish I knew the secret, too.

Raelyn - As a fellow unpubbed, good luck to you, too.

Maria - Thanks, hon. I was hunting for my "I can do better" reaction but I guess it was hiding in the closet.

Renee - Thank you, but I gotta ask...your voice of reason has a Spanish accent?

Mary - Please don't step back too far. As Renee just told me, I know from your blog, I'll love your work.

Lydia - Well, I'll admit I didn't finish book two. Maybe I'm old fashioned but even in my fiction I like the sex to mean something to someone.

Pidg - You just made me remember a popular historical romance author whose books were so locked into her formula that the first major sex scene was always one third of the way into the book and the next one was two thirds. One time, just for fun, I took one of her books I hadn't read, divided the page count by three and found the big sex scenes on the first try.

I choose not to write like that.

Thanks again, guys. I feel better. I'll get back to work in the morning.

Melissa Sugar said...

Hi, I found your blog from the pay it forward blogfest and I am so glad I did. I like your style & spunk. I agree with you about the sex scenes. I really prefer to have (and am disappointed without) romance & yes sex in a mystery or suspense novel. However, I need to feel the sexual tension build and build and build... that is what makes it sizzle. The internal struggle is equally as important.

I am a pretty new blogger who writes mystery & suspense. I just finished my first legal thriller and will begin the dreaded query process soon. I am on the road to publication, I hope. I posted an article not long ago about finding crit parters & beta readers and the advice I got was to keep searching through fellow bloggers & eventually I would come upon another writer who I will click with.

I hope we can stay in touch and possible become beta readers or crit partners if you are interested. Of all the bloggers I have stumbled upon, you are the first that made that voice go off in my head, "wow she would be a great writer to work with". Not crazy voices, lol.

Nice to meet you.
Melissa

Sarah Pearson said...

I found you through Pay It Forward too (Spunk on a stick recommended you). I agree with what people have already said in that it is more likely that these writers are now working to a formula, for a loyal fan base - they get published in spite of the plots, not because of them :-)

I'm very much looking forward to getting to know you.

Stephen Tremp said...

Sex scenes can be kinda weird to write. I have a short two-pager, but the girl is an assassin who uses the opportunity to try to kill the main character. So there is a reason for the scene. Its not there just to have a gratuitous sex scene.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Sounds like you got a good idea of works and doesn't work in a story so you probably did it right in yours.
always love your groaners.

LD Masterson said...

Seriously behind on my comment replies - my apologies.

Melissa - Welcome, and thanks for following me. I'll be stopping by your blog next.

Sarah - Welcome. I see you're in the UK. Always fun to make a new friend from across the pond.

Stephen - Wanna know what makes writing sex scenes really weird? Having almost teenaged grandkids who are likely to read your book.

Susan - Thanks for the vote of confidence. Glad you appreciate a good groan.