I've been reading a book by an author I like a lot, but this one has been a real trial. Too many characters, too much obscure information, and a shift between first and third person that creates the feeling that I'm reading two different books. I'll finish it because she's good and I know it, but it won't go on my list of her best.

At the same time I had the experience of two people reading one of my works with two different results. The first one didn't finish, simply gave up with the complaint that it was too confusing and she couldn't get into it. The second read it twice and loved it both times. Hmmm. What am I to take from those two opposing reactions?

Not everyone will like every book. I've said that here many times, and I'm okay with it, being a realist. But moving on from that, I think writers have to remember that not everyone wants to invest the time and what I term "intelligent effort" to follow a story line that's even slightly convoluted.

What can be done about it? For one thing, writers have to remember that it's frustrating not to know what's going on. Readers tolerate it for a while, but they have to get periodic nuggets of clear information that assists them in understanding what's happening. Secondly, they aren't as wrapped up in your characters as you are, at least not for a while, so you need to give plenty of identification, clearly laying out who is who and what their purpose is in the story.

Finally, and maybe most important, the writer has to have in her own mind a VERY clear overview of why things are happening so that every minor event adds to the main one, every character's actions lead to a strong conclusion. In the book I'm reading, there are two very divergent elements, and the author is going to have a tough time convincing me in the end that the psychopath who for years kills on demand for a well-intentioned but misguided family does so because they make her feel useful or powerful or whatever. In my experience, which admittedly is from novels, pyschopaths are neither that cooperative or that controllable.

Still, this book got accepted, published, and well-reviewed. My manuscript got one "Huh?" and one "Bravo!" So we're back to square one: the writer's mind creates, and the reader's mind absorbs. Or not. I guess that's why publishing is such a crapshoot.

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Comment by Peg Herring on December 30, 2007 at 1:05pm
Liz,
Don't get me started on usages that grind on my brain. Local newscasters who describe police "busting down" doors, banquet speakers who say "Bob and myself have been friends since high school," and ladies who crochet "africans" are just a few!
Comment by Peg Herring on December 30, 2007 at 12:54pm
Dana, I love your attitude. Now if I can just internalize that formula. I always had trouble with math!
Comment by Dana King on December 30, 2007 at 5:06am
I think a simple mathematical formula is the easiest way to handle the problem of some readers get it, and some don't;

You wrote it + They get it = astute reader.
You wrote it + They don't get it = dolt.

It may not be 100% accurate, but it will make it easier to sleep at night. :-)
Comment by Elizabeth Zelvin on December 30, 2007 at 12:12am
From the description, I recognize the book Peg's talking about, and I know it's by a well known writer, but I can't remember which one, which means the book didn't stay with me after I read it--but the inherent unlikelihood in terms of serial killer psychology didn't bother me. Suspending disbelief is one of the basic terms on which we read fiction, imho. Maybe we're just reiterating one of the great secrets of life: tastes differ. I have pet peeves in language as well as in writing. Some people share them, others get annoyed at things that don't bother me at all. Split infinitives drive me mad--especially Star Trek's egregious "to boldly go," which taught millions to use them. The other day, a librarian friend told me that hers is "most importantly." She says newscasters use it frequently. I've never noticed, and it doesn't bother me.
Incorrect pronunciation gets to me too. With 90 percent of actors always out of work, why can't TV and movie casting directors pick those who know to put the"r" in "February"? Or why doesn't the director correct it? And am I the only one who hates it when Jack Bauer says "nucular" instead of "nuclear"?
Comment by Peg Herring on December 29, 2007 at 2:18am
I agree. It's just always a surprise to me when one person totally misses it and another one says, "How cool!"
Comment by Dana King on December 29, 2007 at 12:30am
I think you've hit the writer's dilemma on the head. The only solution I can think of is to write what you want to wrote. Make allowances for readers' tastes, sure, but ultimately whether the book sells, or is well-received, is beyond the writer's control. All you can do is the best you can.

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