What turns you off when reading a novel? For me, it’s stories within stories. Not subplots, mind you, I love those. Many stories have a lot going on and in multiple points of view. What I’m talking about is like a back story, only it has nothing to do with the scene or the story as a whole. A good back-story catches the reader up on what happened before said event/scene took place. It can be as small as an interjection or as large a chapter.
The Hour I First Believed is an example of long passages of history that I found irrelevant to the story I first became interested in. I would skip entire chapters of his family history. I’m sure the author would rush to his defense and give me sound reason for this style. I wouldn’t blame him. But it is an example of what turns me off; it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
I read another author recently who had a different take on throwing me off track in a book. This guy had at least a quarter of his book interrupted with his protagonist’s little sister’s personal writing. There would be pages and pages of her fictional story inside his completely unrelated story, a different genre entirely: western. I don’t read or watch westerns, so I felt jipped that I got duped into buying one. It seemed as if the author really wanted to write a western but his agent said, “There’s no market for that, son.” So he sneaked it in anyhow. After tricked into reading a couple of these short stories inside a novel, I skipped over them, and the book became instantly better.
At this present moment, I am encountering another such style of writing that really chaps my hide. I’m reading along, the author has successfully hooked me with an idea of a plot, and even more so with my love of the members of a family. Then something happens to the seventeen-year-old daughter. Something bad. Do I get to find out what? Hell if I know. I’m having to wade through a family history, how the parents met, how the mother came to know Christ, the back story of a boy from school they just introduced, and the weather patterns of the area. I’m flipping, not reading, just to get to what happened to the girl. The girl is the best character and if she dies, I’ll throw the book in the trash and never buy another from this author again. But I may just do that anyway because I’ve flipped through entire chapters, scanning for any hints that we’ll be getting back to the story anytime soon. I’m at about 200 pages into the book and technically I have only read 100. I said above that stories inside stories aren’t wrong, just not my cup of tea, but with this book IT IS WRONG!
This isn’t personal taste here. THIS IS WRONG WRONG WRONG. No opinion. FACT!
Okay (out of breath, wheezing), I let my emotions run away with me, again. If you’re a regular of my blog, I’m sure you’ve adapted to my emotional spin cycle. But come on. What was she (this author) thinking? My first two examples above at least didn’t leave a cliffhanger before embarking on 100 pages of uninteresting stories, which, as I said before, really chaps my hide.
You’re talking to someone on the phone and they say “Psst, did you hear what happened to Mary? Well, she was walking home from school and she heard a noise and—Timmy shut up, I’m on the phone. Hang on I got to get Timmy a cracker. I’m back, Timmy’s teacher said he’s such a blessing in her classroom. He painted a picture of his grandpa. Did I ever tell you about my dad? He owned a gas station down on Fullerton—”
“You were talking about Mary,” you say to her.
“Yes, Mary. So anyway, she was walking home from school and she heard a noise and—Danny’s home. Hi, love. How was your day at the gas station? Sorry, I’m bak. Danny took over the station after my dad retired. blablabla. Danny and I are going on a cruise for our sixteenth anniversary. Did I ever tell you how we met?”
You’d hang up on the scatterbrain if you weren’t so curious about Mary. But this is the only person privy to the Mary info so you stick it out, watch TV while she rambles, and you keep one ear open for the word Mary.
What chaps your hide in books?