Wednesday, September 16, 2009

So I was reading this book the other day...

No, I'm not going to tell you which one. 

And I realized halfway through that even though I was enjoying the story, I wasn't buying it.  You see, in this book, the heroine was afraid to get serious about the hero because someone in his family had treated her badly before.  The setup is a lot more complex than that, but that's the gist of it.

Now, in all the set-up and character building and world building etc, I understand that there's not always room for everything a reader would like to see.  But the thing is, in this book, the whole crux of her internal obstacle rested on the fact that his family had treated her badly, and even for the sake of love, she wasn't willing to put up with being treated badly again.  I buy it.  I totally do.  We girls need love, but we need dignity too, and one can't come at the expense of the other.

However - for all that the author went on and on about how badly the heroine was treated, she never SHOWED us. 

At first it was a teaser.  A good way to keep your reader interested in the heroine's emotional turmoil.  Little bits of this and that were told to us through third-party eyes.  There were allusions to the humiliations she'd suffered.  Occasionally she'd even speak about it in her own words, but only to say that she wouldn't speak about it. 

The set-up slowly moved from titillation to frustration.  Through all 400+ pages we hear about how awful this family was to her.  But the author never showed us.  Ever.  I needed a flashback.  I needed the moment she broke and said, "no more" or, conversely, the moment she was first broken by those bastards.  Something to feel and touch and taste how awful it was to be in the heroine's shoes, so I could truly get behind her objection to being with her hero.

Imagine talking to someone about Hurricane Katrina.  The story I got felt like the perspective of someone who had watched it on TV.  They glued themselves to the set, they memorized every statistic and cried along with the nation, but that isn't the story I'm interested in.  That's a story I already know.  I want the story of the survivor on her roof.  The person trapped in that hellhole stadium, the guy trying to hold on to three kids with only two arms as he wades through rushing storm water.  The Anderson 360 type of stories are the ones that bring the pain home to a place that pierces my heart.  The rest is talking heads and manufactured sympathy.

The author never delivered.  There was a second or two in real time when the author gave us a sneer from the family so we could understand that the dislike continued through to today, but what the book was begging for was a good ol' fashioned flashback.  Is there some new rule about flashbacks I haven't heard yet?  Like the anti-epilogue camp and the no prologue war?  I know there's a whole "write in the now" thing, and there's a (proven) theory that once you start talking in the "had" you're taking your reader out of their need to turn the page because you're no longer talking about the current story ... but it's easy to avoid that.  I know it's easy, because I've not only read it, I've done it, and if a brand-new baby writer like me can do it, a published edited author sure can.

So anyway, I finished reading the book.  I never got my flashback and I was left with a vaguely unsatisfied feeling.  I wish I knew, in the grand scheme of things, whether this was an editorial or authorial failing.  Was the editor the one pushing for the flashback to be taken out?  Or was she pushing for more info on why the heroine was so resistant, not realizing that by doing so she was only whetting reader appetite?  Was the author unaware that she'd only provided appetizers and skimped on the meat?  Is the author firmly anti-flashback and wouldn't be caught dead writing one?  I'll never know.

I do know what I'm doing with the book though, I'm putting it on my PBS bookshelf as it's in high demand, and when someone snaps it up, I'll be more than happy to pass it on.

Just finished: A Promise To Cherish

1 comment:

Erika said...

e-mail me. I want to talk to you about something.