Friday, July 22, 2011

What Makes a Bad Book... Well... Bad?

Confession: Earlier this morning, I hadn't a clue what to blog about. I'm feeling a bit under the weather, and I'm all grumpy and crabby and just... bleh. Drove to work with the music off (sacrilege!) and trudged in with the CP (we work in the same building), who of course asked, "Did you write--" I don't write on Fridays; it's my only day off; she knows this, so... "--oh, that's right!" she says. "You blogged this morning."

I told her the bad news; I didn't blog. She laughed--possibly through gritted teeth, I'm not certain. She's a tough cookie when it comes to me getting in my daily writing, but I've no reason to complain. I need a drill sergeant more times than I'd like to own up to. Anyways. I promised her I'd come up with something at my desk before the day was out.

Didn't happen.

So, at 4:30ish she calls and says, "Come up with something yet?" To which I respond with a long sigh and a mumbled, "No."

"Well," she says, "I've got a good one: What makes a bad book bad?"

Here's the scoop: Over the past week, she's been reading this full length novel by an author we both kinda sorta know. A giving props kind of thing, you know? Read your fellow authors; they'll read you. You come to my book signing; I'll come to yours--with friends. You scratch my back; I'll scratch... All right. You get the idea.

When I asked her what made the book... well... bad, she said, "Everything!" One, the author didn't do her research. (3 year old still sayin' 'pot-pot' and 'da-da', while Momma swears he's exceptionally bright? I don't think so.) But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The heroine was completely unlikable, wishy-washy, and had several moments of going in and out of character. Say what?? The person on whom we are supposed to lay our trust? Our hopes and dreams for the eventual and ultimate satisfaction of this story? Let's bear in mind this is a romance novel, folks. Heroine should be likable and somewhat easy for the reader to relate to. Writing Romance 101, right?

Well. Apparently this particular author didn't get the memo. So, we got to talking back and forth, the CP and I. Ping-ponging ideas of what makes a bad book bad. What, when we're reading, will most likely grab us first. Character? Plot? Dishonesty? Terrible dialogue? When I pick up a book at the store, I flip first to the middle, and read. If I like what I see, I go all the way back to the beginning and read at least the first 2-3 pages. Why? Because if the author is holding interest at mid-story, I'm willing to wager that interest will still be there by page 365 (or whatever... the end). Just the way I do it. Fortunately, this has helped me avoid quite a few of the crabbier apples.

However. It's still happened every now and again. And when it does, I put the book down. The CP? She goes in for the long haul, just to see how much worse it can get. Sometimes it helps her write. Gives her a little kick in the butt and a hearty, "Hey! I know I can do better than this!"

So, lemme ask you, gentle readers... What, to you, makes a bad book bad? At what point do you say, "Nope. No Way. No More." and promptly set the story to the side? Do you have any especially bad experiences which still haunt your writer's mentality from time to time?

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Andrew Leon said...

I'm pretty bad at putting down a book once I've picked it up. Or, even, a series. That's something I've had to learn how to do. Mostly, because my wife gets upset with me when I complain about a book being bad.

There are three that stand out for me as torturous events:

1. The Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan: The series is pretty good for the first few books. Back when the series started, Jordan was frequently referred to as a "modern Tolkien." If only. This series was made bad because he kept writing it after it ended. Started out as a trilogy, but his publishers didn't want it to end, so it was extended to 5, then to 7, then to 10... I think it finally stopped at 14, but only because Jordan died. It was pretty clear by the 5th book that he no longer knew where he was going, but it took me to 7 before I quit.

2. The Sword of Truth - Terry Goodkin: Great first book. The second was horrible. Mostly, though, because there were so many direct copies of Jordan's Wheel of Time series. I couldn't deal with it and complained bitterly. They may have been okay if I hadn't WoT. My wife made me quit reading after the third book.

3. Keepers of the Hidden Ways - Joel Rosenberg: I read 2/3 of this series. This series had so many issues, I can't even name them. It might have helped, though, if the author could have figured out whom his MC was.

In general, I think the main failure of books, at least fantasy or sci-fi, is the anability of the author to stay consitent to the rules of his world. It doesn't matter what your rules are as long as you follow them. Make them real. I think, often, authors don't know what the rules of their worlds are so can't keep them leading to an unbelievable story and a -bad- book.

Alyssia said...

These are wonderful points, Andrew. Inconsistency, in my book, is no different than lying to your reader. Because here's the thing: they trust you. They've bought your story, set aside the time to read it, and they're trusting you to take them away, into a world that has its own rules. Doesn't make any difference whether it's contemporary, historical, or sc-fi--consistency is, as you said, vital.

Lynda R Young said...

I'm not a fan of complaining, whining, weak characters--or repetition.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I will usually suffer all the way through a book. No idea why I have such an issue not finishing one, but there it is. I think I gave up on one of the Bronte sisters after a time, yet I still feel I should give it another go. Sheesh. I can't remember which sister or what story, specifically, but I found it a horrible struggle to get through. Also, and I hate to say this, I struggled through the last half of "Under the Dome" by Stephen King. Sacrilege in my world. I think there was another book recently that I gave up on, but it was apparently so bad that I can't even be bothered to remember what it is! I just have this nagging feeling in the back of my head that I finally gave up on something. Hrm.

(Don't you just hate days when you have no idea what to write about??)

Alyssia said...

@Lynda Repetition is a biggie for me, too. I read a book recently where the author must've told us the color of the hero's eyes every other page. For the entire book! Yikes! We get it, all right? Someone once told me you're reader is about that much smarter than you, and don't forget it. Good advice, I think. ;)

@Shannon See, now, you are exactly like my CP. She can't explain it, won't even begin to. She just does it--finishes a book, even if its 900 pages, and the suckiest book known to man.

And YES! Stop mocking me, blinking cursor! *smile*

Lela said...

I usually put a book down if it doesn't grab me - I can't go all the way through it. I will sometimes go back to it later to try to finish but, most times, I just forget it existed. I've read my fair share of bad books, and I think weak characters, inconsistant ideas/plots, and that thing some authors do that makes you feel like they think you're stupid bothers me the most.

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