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Monday, May 17, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
The other day, I read this in a blurb for a novel from a small press: "She was finally able to pursue her dream of becoming a librarian." After I stopped laughing, I started thinking about why I found this so funny and what makes a good character.
In real life, there is nothing funny about someone wanting to become a librarian. I know several people who work in a library. I have a friend that just got a master's in library science so she could get a promotion to research librarian. None of these people fit the stereotype of librarian: quiet, shy, geeky, wears hornrimmed glasses, mild-mannered, etc.
If you read a story and all that the author told you about a character was that they were a librarian, then you would probably imagine someone who was not very exciting.
Then there's the part about it being her dream to become a librarian and that she hadn't been able to pursue it until now which I have trouble believing. This is not a career that requires a high degree of intelligence or a special talent. A person of average intelligence and abilities can become a librarian if that is what they really want to do in life. And as it is not a real popular career choice, my guess is that it would be very easy to find a job. At least one person that I know, fell into his job at the library. He didn't need a special degree to get his job.
Reading a story about a person pursuing their dream of becoming a librarian is not very interesting. The hurdles they face to achieve their dream are minimal and easily overcome by the average person. If one is going to write a story about someone pursuing their dream, make it a big dream, make it questionable whether they would succeed or not.
Some of the most interesting athletes in the past two Olympics were the ones who had to overcome a huge obstacle to get to the Olympics. There was a Uzbekistan gymnast who competed for Germany as a thank you to those who had helped her with her son who had cancer. She won a silver medal in the vault. Then there was the swimmer Dara Torres who has competed in five olympic games and at the age of 41 should have been too old to even get into the Olympics; she came away with a silver medal in the 50m freestyle.
In team sports, it doesn't matter whether it is football, soccer, or water polo, the most interesting games to watch are the ones where the score is almost even. Where you have to watch to the end of the game to see who wins.
So, your main character wants to be a librarian, make their dream to be the head of the New York Public Library. That story would be interesting to read.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Yes, you can have too many adjectives in a sentence. Normally, writers are cautioned about using too many adverbs, but the other day I read a submission which had too many adjectives. Almost every noun in the story had an adjective. On the one hand, adjectives are good. They can help give the reader the feel and tone of a person, place, or thing. But, if the reader notices that there are adjectives attached to every noun, then you have way too many.
Consider the following sentence (I'm making this up. It isn't from a submission.): The flame-haired wench strolled into the smoky tavern and sat down on a rickety chair at a grimy table next to a dirty, grease-smeared window overlooking the dusty, paved street winding through the tiny town by the rocky coast. Now imagine that every sentence in a story is like that. How long would it take before you noticed that every noun had an adjective?
That sentence points out another potential problem: too many prepositional phrases. Here's an example of too many prepositional phrases: He walked across the stone floor of the room in the castle on the hill over the river behind the woods along the coast. Those last four prepositional phrases definitely do not need to be there and slow things down. The other two may not need to be there, if you've already established that he is in a castle.
The use of adjectives and prepositional phrases is a matter of personal taste, but if one of your beta readers notices them, then you probably have too many.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Some time ago, I read on an agent's blog not to say in one's query letter that the reason you decided to write your own book is because of all the crap that is getting published. The agent is representing that "crap" that's been published.
On the one hand, it is pretty foolish to say something like that to an agent or editor of the crap that is getting published while shopping one's novel.
On the other hand, if it gets said enough times that an agent feels the need to write a blog post about it, then maybe it's time for the industry professionals to take a good hard look at what they are doing. Because from this book-buying reader's point of view, it's getting harder and harder to find a good book to read. It's gotten so difficult to find a really good fantasy book that I have given up looking for a new one and reread the old ones that I have.
Even my favorite authors are letting me down. And the fault for this lies firmly on the editors who are allowing successful authors to do things that they wouldn't accept from a new author. For example:
J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Half of this book is a major info-dump and another goodly portion is of the three main characters wandering around the country arguing and doing nothing. It was torture to read it the first time. The only reason that I did read all of it, was because I wanted to know how the story ended. But, seriously they could have cut out at least a quarter of the book and lost nothing. They didn't because the Harry Potter books are such a moneymaker that they allowed Rowling to do what she wanted in the seventh book. If the first book had been written like the last one, the series would never have gotten off the ground. And when her next book is published, I won't buy it.
I used to love reading Catherine Coulter's novels, but I've stopped buying them. Her dialogue has become rambling monologues with no dialogue tags or action mixed in. I can't keep track of who said what. And there are places where it seems like the character is standing still in the middle of the room going on a rambling disjointed rant. When she switched to her contemporary FBI series, it got better. Then she started doing it in those, as well. Why are they letting this get into print?
Then there is Clive Cussler. He's a new discovery for me. His early books are great. The ones that he has written recently are filled with pages describing what people are wearing and what they are eating. (If he's coauthor, then this doesn't happen so much.) Why is the editor letting him get away with this? It isn't anymore interesting to read because Clive Cussler wrote it, than if John Smith unknown author wrote it.
One of Nora Robert's characters clearly came from a popular TV series. (I tossed that book aside.) If an unpublished author submitted a story with a character like that in it, the agent or editor would reject it. Probably without a reason to go along with it.
And I can't count the number of books that I have tossed aside because the main character is an idiot.
I wish the editors of the big publishers would hold established authors to the same standards as they hold a new author.
Then there is the herd mentality in publishing. Fill in the Blank is really hot right now. We're only buying stories like fill in the blank. Meanwhile, those who aren't interested in reading whatever is hot right now are stuck trying to find a good book to read.
Then there is the ironic corollary, fill in the blank has been done to death, so we're not publishing that right now. If you want to read more of whatever has been done to death, well too bad.
If they published a wide variety of books, they would sell more books. But maybe that makes too much sense.
What's a reader to do? Personally, I've been rereading a lot of my old favorites. Fortunately, I like rereading books.
My hunt for new favorite authors continues, but it's getting harder and harder to find one.
So, yes, they are publishing a lot of crap, right now. Just don't say so, in your query letter. :)