I admit it; I've become a picky reader. Becoming more aware of writing as I practice the craft, I am increasingly intolerant of writers who are sloppy and formulaic. In the last two days I've started no less than five books only to drop them in the give-away pile an hour or so later. It's something I never would have done in the past, but I've decided that there's too much good writing out there to waste my time on junk.

I've ranted here before about secondary characters who have no justification for being as wacky or as ornery as they are. Today I'm down on formula: the story you've read dozens of times with only minor changes. I'm tired of dead bodies with hands removed to slow identification. I'm tired of plots to control the world's food supply, gold supply, or plutonium supply by stealing the only copy of secret documents. And most of all I'm tired of the seemingly endless search for a "new" type of detective: pregnant, old, alcoholic, manic-depressive, ethnic, shopoholic, etc. We seem to have forgotten that character isn't pasted on with a label. It's intrinsic.

Sadly, my rebellion may be as much my fault as the writers'. It stands to reason that if you chew up books at the rate many of us do for thirty, forty years, you'll have run into every sort of scenario. Still, there are authors who can make it fresh, make you want to read on. How do they do it? There's the rub. It might be language, a turn of phrase that reveals depth of character not found in run-of-the-mill work. It might be plot, taking old actions and giving them new twists. It may be character, a protagonist who appeals in ways that are different from others you've "met" in books. What it is exactly is hard to say, but I know it when I read it.

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Comment by I. J. Parker on January 24, 2009 at 8:00am
Well, but she could surely do that only once? Yes, I know it's stupid, but I suppose people keep reading to see the disaster. No, my example was a male author writing police procedurals. Sadly, he hasn't really progressed after the first one (which was original and very good). I think I only read one Jance, many years ago. Is she the one who came in her own plane?
Comment by Peg Herring on January 24, 2009 at 6:21am
My example was J.A. Jance, whose lady sheriff chased bad guys when she was eight-and-a-half months along!
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 24, 2009 at 4:35am
Well, I didn't mean Evanovich (wrong pronoun). She plotted her success by analyzing her target audience. In the publishing world that lady meets with the greatest respect because all is forgiven when a book sells that well. But I would offer J.K.Rowling as more deserving. She not only made it big, but she managed to stay fresh. I stopped reading Evanovich after two because she writes down to women. I stopped reading Rowling after three, because I'm no longer a child.
Comment by Peg Herring on January 24, 2009 at 3:52am
It's been done, I promise you, and very successfully. The author came to our area in her very own airplane.
Comment by I. J. Parker on January 24, 2009 at 1:07am
I couldn't have said it better. I'll add to that the massive disappointment in a new and formerly brilliant author who cannot move beyond his first formula and the cheap thrill in his subsequent books.

A pregnant detective? That's a sure killer for a series. Or?

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