As an author, every time I put a book down, I try to learn from the experience. By analyzing why didn’t that book work for me, I can hopefully pick up some tips on what not to do in my own books in the future.
It’s also something fun to discuss with readers (again, to learn) and useful to discuss with authors. Not the author who wrote the book in question, although that’s exactly what ended up happening last time I wrote a post like this. No, it’s honestly just for my own learning. I don’t want to call anyone out – last time, the author recognized her book, and she was a top-notch, class act, but the next one might not be. So with that in mind, I’m going to leave out the details, and focus on the problems.
I’d run across this book a few times and it looked like something I might enjoy, so I downloaded the sample. And boy am I glad I just got the sample, because I couldn’t even get through that. Actually, I caught myself starting to skim by page 2.
It wasn’t badly written. The author has a firm command of language, and I didn’t notice any problems with grammar, spelling, typos, or bad formatting (and note that some of the worst formatting problems come from the big publishers). S/he also had a good grasp on point-of-view, and evoking sympathy for the characters. But it just wasn’t enough to draw me in. It took a couple chapters for me to figure out why, but once I did, it was face-palmingly obvious: those two chapters were full of backstory dumps, repetition, and cliche situations.
Quite a bit of information was repeated, sometimes twice, as if the author wasn’t confident enough in the reader and had to give us a nudge, nudge, get it? There were also repeated words and phrases to the point that I once saw the echo phrase three times on one page – and that’s on my Android phone. It was so bad it got a song stuck in my head. It had some other problems too, but the repetition and infodumps were the main reason I stopped reading.
Who knows, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just pickier, being a writer myself, and one who’s been at this thing for years (I’ve been writing seriously since 1999, and messing around with writing since I was a kid). Romance novels are especially prone to backstory dumps – big, long explanations or flashbacks into a character’s past – given that the main conflict in a romance novel is between the female and male lead, and it’s often this kind of emotional baggage that keeps the characters apart for most of the book. And since it’s such a common issue, it’s one that many romance-specific craft workshops and articles touch on. So maybe I’m more sensitive to it because of this.
In the author’s defense, my early efforts had these problems too, so maybe it’s just early work (it may or may not be – OTOH, some people never learn). Either way, eliminating repetition and the other issues are all skills that can be developed.
What do you think? Have you put any books down recently? Have you ever put a book down because it was too cliched, repetitious, or had too much backstory or worldbuilding infodumps that stop the forward action? If you’re a writer, did your early work have these problems?