Saturday, April 11, 2009

Character Dump

I tried to read a book today. I'm not going to list it on this page.

In the first eight pages of the book, I was introduced to almost twenty characters. WTF?!? Seriously? In the first eight pages I just kinda want to know who the heroine is, what she's doing, why she's doing it and where she is - plus, a nice little clue about why the power of True Love will make everything in her life better.

That's it.

I have no desire to know about her "next door neighbor's aunt sister's uncle Lisa's nephew who's calling trying to make his way through college." [Serious brownie points if you know where that's from without trying to google it.] I don't want to know these extra people. I want the hero, the heroine and a small cast of supporting characters. In a category novel you get maybe six extras, but that's at the upper limit. I'd prefer three - and most of them introduced during the story instead of thrown at me while I'm still trying to remember the heroine's name.

I was thinking some very uncharitable things about the author by the time I got to the second chapter. You know, the chapter where the story actually should have started because that's where the H&H met instead of on chapter one. Then I discovered that this was part of a series.

You'd think I'd have caught on much sooner - and normally I would have. 2 pages into the character dump I checked the author's credits. Nope. This was the first book in this series she had written, but she had about ten other books under her belt, so she must know how to tell a story, right? 5 more pages pass. Is she kidding?

I go back to the beginning of the book and start counting names. I get to fifteen, I'm only 7 pages in. I keep reading. Three more people are introduced after I flip the page. So I go back to the beginning of the book again. AH HA!!!

There it is, in the Dear Reader letter. Our esteemed author has been asked to anchor a multi-author series. I immediately forgive her for her sins. I don't know which great publishing mind came up with the idea of multi-author series, but I am here to tell you, with great and devout sincerity... They Don't Work.

This is another ass-biting column that I'm going to have to hide. It's okay, I'll tuck it away after the query letter goes out.

Multi-author series ... what's the best way to put this?
They're bad. They're just bad. It's not that the authors are bad, the stories are. There is so much made of "voice" and "characterization" that we as authors gotta get our shit together before we have a chance at getting published. But with these books, authors are made to write someone else's character in their own voice, or worse, in the voice of the author who was given that slice of the pie originally. It's awful. It's very, very bad. It does not work.

Have you caught on to how I feel about these yet?

This is the sort of thing that happens when "creativity" flows down from the publisher instead of up from the author. Someone storyboards a kidnapping or murder mystery and tries to sustain it through ten different couples in ten different books written by ten different authors. It's almost like hell, but there are more bridesmaid dresses.

At the beginning of the series you're irritated that the mystery isn't solved and there are so many threads left hanging. At the end of the series you feel like I did earlier today, asking who the fuck are these people and wondering why you're supposed to give a damn about a mystery that is nothing but a cold case by now.

So, in closing. Multi author series are bad. Single author series are good. Trickle-down creativity bad. Grassroots creativity good. Character dump bad. Info dump bad. My writing career if someone from eHarlequin ever sees this? Bad.

Currently reading: Things I've Learned From Women Who've Dumped Me
Currently reading: The Black Dagger Brotherhood: An Insider's Guide
Just about to start: Bachelor Number Four

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