Sunday, May 17, 2009

Neither fish nor fowl nor four-legged beast

I read a book last week, maybe the week before. I can't remember exactly. It was not good. I wanted it to be good, I expected it to be good, but the author sort of forgot her Story 101 lessons and had a small flight of ego that cost me $7.99.

Yes, this was one of the few books I paid full price for as opposed to picking it up from the UBS or borrowing it from the library. She's generally a solid author, so even though this book was (IMO) a stinker, I wasn't too put out. Everyone has an off day.

However, it did bring home another thing that agents tell us and our egos want to ignore. If you "kitchen sink" your story and make it a paranormal-romance-western-murder-mystery with time-travel elements told in an overarching fairytale style, they won't be able to sell it because bookstores won't know where to shelve it. The other part of that is that readers won't know how to read it.

Now the book I read wasn't quite this bad, it wasn't a western. J/k :-) It was pretty bad though. Do you know how much set up time you have to spend developing any one of these elements? Now imagine trying to develop all of them while getting your plot going, developing your characters and engaging your readers. It doesn't happen. It's not even a matter of jack of all trades master of none, it's jacking around all the trades while the masters just laugh at you.

No element gets sufficient attention. No element is fully developed or delivered properly, and no element provides that satisfying 'happy book' feeling. This book was a mess from start to finish and I'm sure if this wasn't an established author, the book would have been turned down flat.

"You can't ride two horses with one ass." - Sweet Home Alabama (I think)

Strangely enough, I can think of a dozen books that seem to incorporate all these elements. But those books were successful whereas this one wasn't. I believe those authors knew that ultimately their story was going to follow a particular standard, whether it was romance, or mystery or urban fantasy... they all had a clear idea of what the story was and where it was going. The other elements were added to round things out, spice things up, give depth to their world or show depth in their characters. But they never let the secondary elements overwhelm the primary thread.

The difference is, those authors picked a horse.

There are things agents talk about that I don't understand. I'm still not sure what "high concept" is. I am never sure what a hook is in romance - isn't it just about girl meets boy in interesting but believable circumstance and then physical attraction helps speed up the bonding? Voice has become clearer. Plot is an neverending mystery. And characters are the sweet, wonderful, fascinating part that make it all worthwhile.

But that thing agents say about telling a single story? I get it. I soooooo get it now.

Currently reading: Do the Math: Secrets, Lies, and Algebra
Just finished: Living Dead in Dallas


Erika said...

I blogged about something similar to this a while back. One of my favorite authors had written a book that for me, just fell flat. I pushed my way through to the end because I felt I should, but even at the end I closed the book and thought, "thank goodness it's over". I understand what you went through. I'm glad to hear it's not just me. :D

Venus Vaughn said...

The other thing about that book was it had a futuristic time frame in with Victorian sensibilities. *boggles*

We should compare notes. :)