Depth in Fiction: Why I (almost) Put the Book Down

This was one of those weeks where I didn’t do a whole lot besides the usual go to work, write, and of course, read. I finished last week’s book early in the week, so picked up another. This book was a type of story I love, so I expected to really enjoy it.

Despite its interesting story and premise, I kept finding myself distracted by all kind of other thoughts, and frequently putting the book down to think about something I’m working on instead. I couldn’t figure out why–it didn’t have any of the typical things that make me put books down, like excessive background information, repetition, or just nothing happening. Then I remembered the online writing workshop I recently completed.

Depth-Workshop-Cover2-e1402637242834Like Stacy commented on last week’s postsometimes we learn the most from the books we don’t enjoy. When I put a book down–or am tempted to, I always try to figure out why. The workshop I took last month was Dean Wesley Smith’s Depth in Writing (highly recommended if you’re a writer, btw). In it, he discussed how the bestsellers–and all good fiction–pull readers down deep into the story, quickly. This is something vital to keep readers reading, and to make them want the next book.

One part of accomplishing this is to draw the reader into the setting through vivid details, using all five senses–yep, even taste. (I’m not giving away any of the workshop either–he’s mentioned this on his blog before.) I skimmed the openings of the book’s prior chapters, and sure enough, this was what was missing. I couldn’t find any descriptions of smells or tastes, which are strongly connected to emotion, and only in a couple places could I find sounds or touch/temperature.

Now, I have never been overly fond of a lot of description in my reading, and it’s something I have had to work on in my own writing. But done right, it’s not a big chunk of bore, and won’t even be noticeable to the reader. This book was a perfect example of how important that is.

Sometimes, lack of depth can be compensated for with good storytelling, and that’s why I haven’t put the book down yet. It’s an engaging and interesting plot, and I want to find out what happens next just enough to keep on.

smithsmonthly15What I’ve been reading: I definitely enjoyed the book I finished early last week. That was Smith’s Monthly #15, by Dean Wesley Smith. The full novel therein was Cold Call, a really twisted murder mystery featuring retired cops who get together to play poker and solve cold cases.

ROW80Logo175ROW80 Update: last week, my goal was to complete my first draft revision, and get the novella off to the beta readers. That is DONE. I contacted my publisher, and they already have my final editor lined up, and expect to have the book out by mid-March, barring anything unforeseen. Since I do cover design for Mythical Press, I also design my own covers, so that’s what’s up for this week–the cover design, and a short blurb suitable for back cover copy, something else the publisher needs. As a bonus goal, I need to collect all the front- and back-matter for the book, which I’ll need to supply to them as well.

What about you—have you put down a book lately, or considered doing so? Do you know why? How do you feel about description in fiction, whether you’re a writer or from a reader’s perspective? And how are you doing on whatever goals you might have? Please share in the comments—I’d love to hear from you!

Jennette Marie Powell writes stories about ordinary people in ordinary places, who do extraordinary things and learn that those ordinary places are anything but. In her Saturn Society novels, unwilling time travelers do what they must to make things right... and change more than they expect. You can find her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and more.

11 Responses to \

  1. I agree that sometimes we learn the most from stuff we don’t enjoy doing, or in your case reading. But, I will say, you had more patience than I would have. My reading time is precious so I would have simply started a new book.

    Here’s to an awesome and productive week!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  2. Lila, that’s awesome! I am lucky to have time to read four or five. And thanks!

    Patricia, if it weren’t an interesting story otherwise, I would definitely put it aside. Thanks!

  3. I appreciate the challenge to include far more sensory info in my own writing. I will encourage my editing clients to do the same.
    I am more tempted to set aside a nonfiction book that I don’t feel compelled to highlight than a work of fiction. I will often stick with a story because I want to find out what happens to the characters … even if the writing is missing that certain something.
    All the best with your goals for the week, Jennette. TTFN

  4. Description, infodumps… If you’re painting me a picture, I’ll read on. If you have a character listening to a news story, and the entire first chapter is a history lesson from inside the character’s head between whatever the announcer says, I’m pretty much done on page 2.

  5. Steph, that’s exactly it – sometimes the need to find out what happens next makes up for what’s missing. And thanks!

    TS, I totally agree – infodumps make me put the book down very quickly!

  6. I am always amazed how much you do normally for someone with low adrenal function Jennette, let alone add in extracurricular activity. Never worry about that. I find most times normal is a good thing. And I have to say that lately, I have not had to put a book down. I just finished reading a really sweet story that I thought was well written. But yes, I agree, there is much to learn from the mistakes of other writers as well has their talents. Have a great week! 🙂

  7. I put down lots of books! One of the main reasons is that I don’t like the style. But also if I find myself just not interested, for whatever reason. But I like lots of historical details and description. 🙂

    Congrats on getting the novella done!

  8. Hmm. I’ve never really thought about why I put books down without finishing them, but I think it often relates to character. If the character annoys me, I won’t feel compelled to read his/her story. So that’s a big one. Also, some books go into way too much detail and that slows the story down a lot. That’s probably another big reason. I like your point, and I’ll try to make a habit of figuring out why I don’t like a book before I set it aside.

    Congrats on finishing your novella!

  9. I used to always finish a book no matter what, but now I have access to so much more so if I’m not feeling it for whatever reason I go on to the next. Before ebooks and Overdrive, I used to sometimes go a few days without something to read. Strange to think that now! Hope you and yours are doing well!