Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Don’t List: a Reader’s POV

I've been reading a LOT recently for review and for study. Since many of the things I see done not quite right enough tend to be repeated, I thought I'd gather my thoughts about what I've been seeing and share them. Not that I never make any of these mistakes, but focusing on them in other works helps me catch them in my own.

My Don't List from a Reader's POV with a Writer's Experience

1) Don't be too repetitive. If you tell me once that the hero is downright sexy and the heroine is stunned by that, I got it. Once is enough. Move on to what else she discovers about him she likes or dislikes. Same with how bad the villain is. And don't tell us, just show us. The hero doesn't have to keep thinking how nasty he is. We'll see that in his actions.

2) This could be a style choice, but personally ... please don't head hop. I don't want to have to go back a paragraph or two and try to figure out who is in charge of telling the story at the moment because it flips without a break or notice. That throws me from the 'reality' of the action back to "oh, I'm reading a story the author is telling" and I like to stay completely emerged.

3) Don't let your characters address each other by their names too often. We don't do this in real life and having the same name repeated four times in two sentences is annoying. If two people are talking, we know they're talking to each other.

4) Don’t ramble. Write tight! This might sound funny coming from someone who writes literary-type romance and tends to add a lot in to the story, but when I read a book and think the first third of it was almost completely unnecessary, the story is much too loose. Work the pertinent details in throughout the story after the action has already started. A slow beginning is dangerous.

Make sure to go back and CUT what doesn’t need to be there. The reader shouldn’t think, “what was the point of telling me that?” Be ruthless. Keep all that pretty rambling (especially between characters) for yourself, but don’t pass it on to the reader … unless there’s a point to it. I do think there can be a point to it even though it doesn’t push along the story line, in some cases: humor to break tension, a piece of gorgeous description to create mood (if it’s not overdone), dialogue that reveals something about the character. Ask yourself if you would find interest in it as a reader, and be honest.

5) Adverbs! Don’t tell me she whispered quietly or walked loudly. A whisper tells me it’s quiet without the redundancy and by all means, say she stomped. It’s vivid. It’s strong. The difference between:

Max slowly walked over to the dog and carefully put a hand toward him.


Max crept to the dog and nudged a hand toward him.

is a huge difference. Adverbs aren’t taboo, but they should be replaced at least 95% of the time.

6) Tags. I don’t use tags in my own writing because too often they annoyed the heck out of me while I was reading. That may be too extreme, but it proves they can usually be replaced by action instead of the reader having to sort through a shuffle of unnecessary “he said, she said” phrasing. And again, don’t say “he said loudly” or even “he yelled while gulping his soda” – wouldn’t he choke that way? Yes, I’ve seen this kind of tag, the impossible feat.

7) Don’t use catch phrases. In romance, these would be “heaving bosoms” or “throbbing …” or many of the others I see overused. If you’re reading someone else’s work and notice phrases you use, stop and consider if they might be cliché and take them out. If you’re not reading within your own genre, you should. You’ll catch a lot of your own mistakes by noticing them in other works. Spending a few months stuffing yourself with books of your own genre is the best way to see if you’re using too many catch phrases that makes your story sound like everyone else’s. Even within the same genre, you don’t want that.

8) Don’t trust your editor to catch everything! From what I’ve seen in my months of stuffing myself with one genre, they won’t. Study writing rules on your own. Know grammar and vocabulary. The old saying, “if you want something done right” applies here.

9) Don’t trust yourself to catch everything, either. Before final send, get someone with writing knowledge and grammar ability and an eye for typos to go through it. Hopefully you can do this with a crit partner or fellow writer instead of paying someone. Don't use a friend or family member who is more interested in making you feel good than in telling the truth. That's not helpful. The truth might hurt, but it will advance your writing instead of keeping it stifled.

10) Don’t believe you’ll have the perfect manuscript with zero typos. I’ve yet to see one in any genre from any publisher. Readers easily overlook a few minor typos as long as the story is good and well-written. Don’t over-sweat the small stuff, but do try to catch everything you can.

Of course, you’ll never please all readers, but as an avid reader (and writer), these are stand-out things for me and makes the difference between and okay book and a good book I’ll recommend.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book Review: Time Plains Drifter

Time Plains Drifter
Cheryl Pierson

ISBN  978-1-935048-35-0
Class Act Books
December 2009

Jenni Dalton, reluctant teacher of a few obnoxious high school students, gets roped into a star-gazing field trip and ends up being swept into the past, specifically Oklahoma Indian Territory in 1895, with her students. As they are figuring out what happened and why everything has suddenly changed, marshal Rafe D’Angelico happens to find them wandering aimlessly and rather stunned.

Rafe is not your average, ordinary 1895 U.S. Marshal, however. He’s an angel of sorts, having been dead for 16 years and brought back on special assignment. When he finds Jenni and the students, he’s barely returned to life and trying to figure out why and how, with help from an experienced angel, Becket Jansen. Still enraged at the man who killed him and his brother, Rafe’s only interest is in taking revenge.

I have to first say that I don’t tend to read Time Travels. My brain doesn’t want to accept that it’s possible and so stories using this theme have to work hard to get me to buy into a concept I don’t buy into enough to keep me in the story. A difficult task, as I can be stubborn when I put my mind to it.

So, when Time Plains Drifter yanked me right in and kept me in the story despite my reluctance, I had to give it pretty high marks just for that.

Already familiar with Cheryl Pierson’s work, having read Fire Eyes not long ago, I was not at all surprised her characters were very life-like and very enjoyable. They are drawn well, with enough detail but not too much, and the hero and heroine are attracted to each other from the start but don’t jump the gun into “love and forever” with no more than appearance. They study each other, allowing time to determine their interest and whether a relationship could work. They are both flawed, both struggling with their own issues, and both equally capable human beings. Becket Jansen is a fun secondary character and reminded me a bit of Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life. Josiah Kemp is a truly evil villain, but not totally evil – very realistic. Jenni is relatable, necessary for a romance heroine. Rafe’s brother Cris is nice to get to know. But Rafe is the real star of the show. He’s a complex character you can’t help but root for and sometimes wish to hug.

I say Rafe’s the start of the ‘show’ instead of the ‘book’ because it feels like a show you’re watching as you read. I could always see where they were without a bunch of extra description slowing the pace. There were sometimes repetitive spots that could have been edited out with no loss to the story, but it didn’t keep me from being pulled right into the action.

Any review of this novel has to include a look at what makes it more unique than I expected. It’s a sci fi time travel historical romance. That of itself allows plenty of unique quality, but along with that, it’s a theory of good vs. evil, a ‘what happens afterward’ story that doesn’t preach, but does make you ponder. As I read, I couldn’t help thinking that my refusal to believe in time travel could be similar to someone’s non-belief in the here-after. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it. After all, I’m buying the premise of the story in general. I’m not dismissive of spirits and such. Hey, you just never know.

Since I’m a critical reviewer (and alas, a Virgo), I do have to mention that I had some trouble keeping track of the students and occasionally wondered where one of them came from. That could partly be because I was reading a few different books at the same time, though. There is also some adverb use that could have been restructured (and since this was an ARC not fully edited, maybe they were before the final version).

The mention of a ‘new’ character toward the end that affects the end of the story was slightly disconcerting. I had to wonder if I’d missed the earlier reference to her and would have been more comfortable with her insertion if she had at least been mentioned along the lines first. I think it was meant to be a surprise to the reader, though, and maybe a purposeful point to ponder. Surprises do happen. 

The end of Time Plains Drifter isn’t really an end. It feels like the author means this as a statement as well as a hint of a possible sequel. Overall, TPD keeps you guessing and actively involved in the story. It makes you think and question. And it’s fully entertaining. I’ll definitely watch for the next Cheryl Pierson novel.
Legalities: This novel was provided by the author for review as an electronic ARC. No payment was made or accepted.