Friday, August 1, 2008

Readers want to know!

Yesterday, Anonymous posed this question for anybody who wants to take a stab at it.

I was awake at 3:00 A.M. thinking about a question I'd like to ask the writers in the group. I was reading a book when 1/2 through a main character did something totally out of character. I know, how could I know what's out of character when I only spend a couple of days with the characters and you writers spend months (?) with them. Anyway, it felt inauthentic and manufactured, and I totally lost interest in the story. So, the question I had was: why would a writer do that? is it just a device to move the plot along? was the writer just stuck and couldn't think of anything else? Totally ruined the book for me. (btw, this author has many books out and has been on the best seller list, so it wasn't a newbie.)Thanks for any insight.


paul lamb said...

Two thoughts leap to mind. First, did you finish the novel? I've found that sometimes oddball things like you describe make perfect sense once I have the full context of the story. Often, making sense of such odd, unexpected behavior is the point of the rest of these stories.

My second thought is what I call the "successful author syndrome." You say this writer has several books. I've sometimes found that highly successful authors get away with all sorts of bad craft that newbie writers couldn't possibly. I think the reason is that the editor and publisher don't want to monkey with a proven success and so don't alter these unlikely bits of the story. Also, by this time, many writers are just phoning in their work and not putting in the effort and attention they used to in their earlier days.

I'm sure there are dozens of other possible explanations, but these are two that spring to mind.

AndiF said...

An explanation that has nothing to do with anon's question: Family Man won't be around for awhile because his computer died.

Happy Saturday all.

Dina said...

Hi all. Paul, the problem with a really out of character action is that it can so ruin the story that one has no desire to continue reading. Sometimes it is just too out there and nothing puts it in context soon enough.

Other times, when I have run into this kind of thing I finish the story and it still doesn't make sense. Recently happened with a well known author and I know I wasn't the only one that felt that way through discussions with friends.

Anonymous said...

Yay, insight from the professionals!

Paul, I did finish the book. It still didn't make sense and really ruined the rest of the reading for me. Thanks, Dina for confirmation that that happens.

I have noticed that some famous authors do seem to reach a point where they "phone it in" as you say. That's when I stop reading them unless someone tells me they've produced something worth reading again. I'm thinking that's what has happened with this author. :-(

Beth, I hope the packing gets finished this weekend like you expected.

Andif, a day without one of your pix is a sad day indeed.

Gotta run. Have a great day!

AndiF said...

Anon, did you learn how to guilt from my quintessentially Jewish mother -- 'cause your technique is excellent. And here ya go:


Lisa Miller said...

I'm just praying that when my first book is published (Positive thinking with the when)people don't throw it at me with just that kind of complaint.
Making sure the characters remain consistent and still do what they need to for the story to play out appropriately is exactly what I'm doing in the editing right now.
Many of my characters have morphed some as the story was written. Taken on that life of their own.
The story itself has not so much changed but the focus has shifted with what I learned at WRW and with what I finally figured out as I wrote a much better synopsis.
I have great respect for authors that can keep the quality up with multiple books. I've given up on several authors that got too wierd or just plain boring.
Nancy is my hero.(What color is your cape?) Continuing to strive to write better with each book. Keeping at the process even when it gets so very hard rather than just pouring out the mediocre.
Although fearing that it is indeed still not the best it could be is a plague that never really goes away. Those thoughts have to be whipped into the corner and kept in check.
Reading her blog has help this newbie to the writing game have great insight through the eyes of several published authors. What a treat for me.
And such beautiful pictures from Andif and others is icing on the cake.
Sensational Saturday to all.

paul lamb said...

I really do find worthwhile conversations on this blog. That's true on some of the others I visit, but many of them are just places where fans can lay praise. While that is certainly possible here, too, I think this is more devoted to craft than fandom.

Kelly McCullough said...

Sometimes what happens with those weird turns is that the author has a conception of the character that allows for the sudden twist but simply doesn't write it into the story, which is really a case of bad craft. I know that I've done that sort of thing a couple of times, but fortunately my writers groups have caught them so they didn't make it into print that way.

In more depth: I have all sorts of things I know about my characters and their actions and choices that doesn't make it into the book because there's no reason for them to articulate that aspect of things to the reader, or it's not necessary to furthering the story, or explaining it would kill the action at that particular point in the book.

The trick comes in with the decisions about what I need to show my reader to make various actions make sense.

So, if my lead character chooses not to cross the street here despite the fact that's the sensible thing to do--it might be because their uncle Mort was run over by a bus at that corner. If I forget to set that up on-screen and tell the reader about uncle Mort's tragic accident, the character's choice might make no sense to the reader while still being fully in character from my authorial point of view. One of the reasons it might not get into the book is that I intended to write the important mourning-uncle Mort scene and then forgot to do it. Or I cut it because it didn't do anything for the story where it was written in and I forgot that it drives this decision not to cross the street later, or a variety of other reasons. This is why having critical readers look things over before something goes to print is so important.

One of the things that acts as a complicating factor can be if uncle Mort died in splashy detail on-screen six books ago and all of my critical readers know that, so the decision not to cross the street makes perfect sense to them despite the fact that I don't mention it in this book. It's still a significant authorial mistake, but it's not the same one that it looks like to the reader.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Oooohhhhhhhh, that's a glorious pic, Andif! Just what I needed today! Thank you!

Lisa, I'm sure your book will be great. You'll have to let us know when it drops! (Is that the correct terminology for books, or is it just for records?)

Hmmm, interesting thoughts, Kelly. Although, I have to tell you that unexplained,unsupported character shifts are a great way to lose readers. I know I won't be reading this author again. Unless, I get phenomenal reports about a book in the future. I don't know, do authors burn out at some point? There was a Doris Lessing quote I read just yesterday that made me wonder. "But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer." -- Doris Lessing. Maybe the author of the book I was reading needs to go live life for awhile?

Kelly McCullough said...

Anon, I'm not saying they're a good idea, just noting one of the many ways that they can happen. As I noted, I'm very happy that my writers groups have caught me the couple of times that I've come close to stepping on that landmine.

Anonymous said...

Chiming in late. 97% of everything is now in the new garage. It's weird, wandering around the now-empty house and reaching for things that are no longer there. Shop party is tonight, anon - I'll try and get pictures for my blog. Not much in a party frame of mind - I'm heavily in "finishing the move" mode. But Bill is excited to finally have a party in his clean shop, so I'm going along. I'll let you know when the new housewarming (or house-trashing, as my friends like to call it) party is, and you can bring the Doritos!

Thanks for the pic, andi - wish I was wandering in your woods with you all right now.

I bow to the genius of my writer friends in answering your question, anon. And will try hard NOT to lose you when you read my book!

Waving tiredly to everyone as I stumble out to the shop, trying hard to find that second wind. Have a great weekend, all! Wish you could come to the party...

boran2 said...

Umm, perhaps the character was schizophrenic? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Kelly, I do appreciate the insight you provided. Writing is a profession requiring immense talent and a lot of hard work or all of us could and probably would do it. I thank you for sharing some of the difficulties that can create snafus along the way. I'll try to remember it the next time I get upset with an author. Also, I'll try to remember it when I enjoy a book. That must be when the writer has perfected the craft so that it seems effortless. Many thanks.

Schizophrenic, Boran? lol I hadn't considered that!

Beth, I'm so happy for you that the packing is done! Have fun at the shop party! Doritos I can do! And I'm sure I'll love your book. :-D

Nancy P said...

Interesting discussion today, guys. Of course, Boran2 has the answer. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing the opportunity for me to hear from the professionals re: this question!

Nancy P said...

You're welcome, although it's everybody else who did the thinking. :)

Janet said...

I think it's human nature to do things totally out of charachter every once in a while. I think there's always a reason though. Sometimes it's instantly known, other time it takes several books for the constant reader to go... NOW I GET IT. Sometimes it's never understood. Because we all make mistakes or take the wrong path or do A when we thought we were all geared up to do B.

But I know what you mean. Sometimes it seems the author just got lazy or sloppy.