Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Learning from Bad Books

I'm experiencing some readers' remorse this morning. Which is kinda like buyer's remorse, only there is zero chance for return. Leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, doesn't it?

Last night I stayed up way later than I intended to in order to read. This is not unusual for me, but normally when I finish a book, I feel some sense of "Ah..." If it's a good book, there's always a longing for another chapter or two but an appreciation for how it all wrapped up. If it's a series, I'll sometimes rush to the computer to see how fast I can get my hands on the next one.

But last night none of those things happened. Instead I closed my book, looked at the clock, and growled in frustration. It was 45 minutes later than the target bedtime I'd set for myself, I'd been on the couch for 2 hours working to finish a book with an ending that didn't satisfy, and my time would have been better spent cleaning up my pit of a house. Or, frankly, just sitting there watching my husband edit photos would have been a better use. Then I wouldn't have ignored him so much of the evening. He was very gracious about the whole thing, but still.

I don't know how non-writers deal with their disappointment over wasting time on lousy books because my only comfort this morning is that I can learn from this.

I'm not in the business of bashing other authors - especially with a series that's so successful - so I won't divulge the name of the series. But these books did a couple things wrong in my not-nearly-as-financially-successful opinion.

Created a pattern that didn't sustain all 4 books

First of all, these books were written in a funky POV. Mostly omniscient, but sometimes kinda distant 3rd person. (If you've read The Gossip Girl series, they're like that.) Each book opened with a scene told by some omniscient narrator, and it was the last scene of the book. I'm usually not fond of cheater openings like that, but in the first two books I felt like it worked pretty well and built suspense. In the second two books, however, I didn't think it worked at all. Actually, when I read the opening of the third book, I thought to myself, "Oh, I do not think I'm going to like where the story goes..." Sure enough, I did not.

If you develop a pattern like the one mentioned above, I really think it needs to work for all the books in the series. That happened in Breaking Dawn, the fourth in the Twilight saga too, where we were suddenly getting Jacob's POV too. I thought the effect was a little jarring, as with the series I'm talking about now. Of course, these are both authors who have sold many, many, many more books than me.

The Logan Syndrome

For 3 and 3/4 books of the series, two of the characters were completely in love and desperate to be together, even though it seemed impossible that they would ever be able to create a life with each other. And I'm talking desperate lengths. Like following-the-guy-to-Cuba-and-just-hoping-to-run-into-him kind of desperate. And then, in the last 1/4 or so of the fourth book, things unfold to where they really will be able to be together after all, and what do you think happens?

They choose to be apart.

This wasn't even a couple I particularly wanted together, and it still ticked me off. Because I just spent, like, 200,000 words listening to how devoted they were to each other, but at the end they chose separate lives. 

I don't believe everyone needs to be all matched up at the end of a romantic book for it to be a happy ending, but this goes back to what we talked about on Monday, about creating good internal conflict. It's good to force your characters into corners where they must make choices, but that only works well if you've made it clear that they are choosing between two things they love. The character loved the boy all through the books, and only in the last couple scenes was she like, "But I must travel and see the world!"

By the way, I call this The Logan Syndrome because of Gilmore Girls. Rory spent, like, 3 seasons completely invested in her relationship with Logan, only to turn him down in the end. I didn't particularly like Logan and would have been fine if they canned his character years previously, but I never bought into Rory telling him no. 

Oh, the loose ends...

As I was expressing all my frustration to my husband last night (and he was oh-so-patiently nodding along) I kept remembering things that never really got tied up. And not little things, but BIG things. Like, um, did she ever tell her family about the murder plot she discovered?!

A few unanswered questions are fine, or even a little mystery about how things actually went down, but your big stuff all needs to be wrapped up. If there's no sequel coming, of course.

Time for a little QT

This has become a tremendous pet peeve of mine in the last year or so - CHARACTERS WHO NEVER SPEND TIME TOGETHER. Which includes villains/antagonists who are lurking behind the shadows, who never directly oppose the narrator. Or sisters who are "close" but never talk to each other. Rivals who might be at the same function, but never seem to be in the same room. People who are falling in love, yet never say anything important.


And in this series, it wasn't just one or two people who never talked, it was seemingly everybody. Everybody was just hanging out in their rooms getting ready for a party where they saw each other across the room but never talked to each other. Again, when I was griping to my husband last night, I kept thinking, "Okay, after book one, that couple who was engaged never talked to each other again. That's so weird! Oh, and why didn't she ever let these two characters have a conversation? And what about that thing with her mom? And did her sister even know about such-and-such?"

Get your characters in the same room, give them same QT (quality time) together, and watch the sparks fly.

Okay. Deep, calming breaths. Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale through the mouth, exhale through the nose....

I'm feeling somewhat cleansed of my semi-bad reading experience. Please check your manuscript for the above issues. I'm now off to scour mine for all these things.

We've talked about story pet peeves on here before, but I'm up for another round of it. Please share!


  1. I am an extreme perfectionist when it comes to books and analyse them all of the time. I know the exact frustration you feel, Stephanie, after you finish a lousy book/series. My mom and my sisters just let me vent to them until I finally can calm down, though after I'm done they all exchange looks like, "I think she's finally lost it." ;)

    One of my major pet peeves is when an author makes their main character too weak and cliche. Like, fine, it's alright if she's built a wall around her heart and avoids relationships at all cost(a pretty cliche thing in my opinion), but give me a interesting reason why she's like that. Not just the standard "I've been burned once, and I don't want to get hurt again...". Oh, and I hate when they have a character that contradicts themselves too much. If she's scared a relationships, why is she flirting with the a guy she doesn't know?
    I also hate it after a guy and girl get together, it's like, "Oh, we're in love, and now we have no problems whatsoever!" It never works like this in real life. Even if you're in love with someone, there are problems they still need to overcome. It's like they suddenly just forget about everything they spent the entire book worrying about.
    Whew... okay, I feel a lot better now. :)

  2. Reading bad books :( Ick. But, i don't know, the three REALLY bad books I remember reading weren't so much a waste of my time, because I think I learned a little bit from them. The first one was a classic all over the world, and I had to admit it was pretty good - but the ending sucked. And so now, I have been inspired to never make my main character give up and die. Because it makes the reader go, "WHAAaaaaaa...?"
    In the second one, the main character was opposing the Hunger Games - okay, you know what story I'm talking about now, but, whatever - all the way through the series. She was fighting for freedom! And then, at the end, what did she do? She agreed to have another Hunger Games - to throw the children of her enemies into the arena. WHAT!? Why would she even do that?! I thought she was the heroine!
    The third one was just a badly done ripoff of Narnia and every other fantasy story. Cliche here, cliche there, weak, cardboard characters - I think I've said enough.
    Anyway, thanks for giving us a place to vent :D


  3. Dear Stephanie,
    Oh. my. gosh. Thank you so much for posting this, because I just realized a problem in my book that I've been thinking about fixing, but not really knowing exactly how big of a deal it is. Now I realize that I would definitely be upset if I didn't see it. See, my characters are supposed to be drawn into best friend couples, but I'm really only following two of them, and then these other four are suddenly super close, and I'm like, wow, I need to fix that. Sorry, sort of a scatterbrained comment, but I'm late for something. Bye!

  4. Great post! I just a read a book I didn't like at all. The description sounded like I'd like it but it was sooo drawn out and not interesting at all. I felt jipped.

    Ok, so the Logan syndrome. I still watch reruns when I'm not doing anything. this past saturdays episode got under my skin. I never really understood what Rory saw in him. remember the episode where Logan took Rory, Lorelei, and Luke to Martha's Vineyard? Lorelei has just met Mitchum (logan's father) and hated him. SO Luke and Lorelei are in their room talking and Lorelei says to Luke something about how Logan is so sweet and how can that be when Mitchum is so horrible. *I totally didn't get that because I always though Logan was arrogant and just bought Rory presents when they had a problem* but then I loved Luke's reaction. Do you know what he told Lorelei? That Logan wasn't really a sweet guy because he was undermining Rory! He said that because when they were talking about breakfast Rory said the place didn't open until 8 and Logan butted in and said something like "no it opens at 7" and Rory was like "Oh well, we never go until 8 anyways"   YAY Luke. I don't care so much about Logan and Rory being together but am happy it ended with Luke and Lorelei together. But I'm also not sure why Rory turned down logan either.

    I know that has nothing to do with books but I needed to get it out! I miss the show

  5. Clarebear said: "If she's scared a relationships, why is she flirting with the a guy she doesn't know?" I say: TOTALLY. I see that happen a lot in movies. (In A Good Year, they build up the girl as being the type who doesn't date ... and within a week her and Russell Crowe are in a serious relationship. Aargh!) Contradictions within characters are good, but they have to be done correctly.

  6. Micah, it's funny how everybody is so different about books. While I thought the Hunger Games series would have been strengthened by better writing (some cardboard characters and lots of telling rather than showing) I thought they were highly creative and entertaining. I really enjoyed the series, though I liked the first one the best and had some issues with the way it all ended.

    Of course my series has sold, like, 9 books and Ms. Collins' has sold about 9 bajillion. So... :)

  7. Becki, when you're so close to a project, it's easy to overlook those kinds of things. Happens to the best writers out there! That's why writing partners can be SO helpful.

  8. Tonya, I knew you'd be up for discussing GG with me :) I'm a Jess girl, so it certainly didn't bother me when Rory turned Logan down, but it really didn't seem to flow with the storyline. I suspect they just didn't want to end the series with everyone all matched up.

    Not only did her reasons seem un-Rory-like ("I just want to leave things undecided...") I never really understand when things get written like "We either get engaged or we end this now." That never rings true for me. The ultimatum Lorelai gave Luke I totally understood, but I don't get why Logan thought they needed to be engaged or be nothing.

  9. I'm reading a book right now that uses WAY too much slang. I seriously have to read through each sentence slowly to figure out what they're saying. I usually like a little slang, but not to the point where I have to interpret it.

  10. Hmmm. How should I approach this? First off, I liked how in Breaking Dawn we switched into Jake's point of veiw because how boring would it be to stay with Bella because she's laying down and watching people stand around and stare at her until Jacob comes along. No I think that Jake's point of veiw had a lot more action in it than Bella would've.
    Now you've given me an idea on how to get my leading guy and girl together to have some QT even with them both in a war.

  11. I agree! There are some guys that come across as though they'll never get married but would be happy to have a long term relationship, like living together- Logan is one of those guys.
    I think Dean is more of a guy to say "we get engaged or end it"
    Jess, idk? I think he's more the type to only get married if it's reallt the right girl.

    For a long time I was totally team Dean but as I've gotten older (lol) I see the whole seer first love thing and how that so,stokes need to be let go of and also how painful that is but Jess has grown on me! He's not a bad guy and would probably have taken care of Rory even though outsiders didn't necessarily see it

  12. I meant- I see how sometimes first loves need to end.

  13. I hate in when there are logical contradictions in a book especially in mysteries. I hate it when something physically impossible happens and it ruins the whole story. I really think through story lines (well everything for that matter) and when something doesn't fit, it drives me nuts. In realistic books not fantasy. I expect that in fantasy.


  14. I read this book that had the lamest ending in my opion, The guy and girl finally had a chance to get their relationship going and then the book ended. And it isn't even continued in another book!
    I also read another book where the author didn't seem to fully understand their topic. They just sorta beat around the bushes (sorry if that's too cliche). It bugged so bad.


  15. I've read books that didn't seem to make that much sense before, so i can relate. I'm beginning to think that I might be seriously guilty of writing such things. BUt ocassionally I'll enjoy a not-so-happy-ending if there was hope at the end or I totally didn't expect it, but after much thought it made more sense logically. But there are times when things just don't make sense.

  16. I read a book a couple of weeks ago that I wasted about an hour reading -- and then I was like, "What IS this?" I skipped to the end -- and to my horror, absolutely nothing had happened. And this was by an author that has written some amazing books -- weirdly enough, also some terrible books. In my opinion, anyway. I don't get how some plots can be so great, with such great things to learn and read about -- and some are the most materialistic, pointless, plotless books. I mean, this one I was reading reminded me of a really bad copy of another book she'd written which I'd actually quite liked.

  17. Ah, I suppose everyone has had their fair share of bad books. I wonder why some of them even got published! Some books that I've read have terrible endings - If they had worked a little more on the ending, I'm sure the books would be a LOT more famous.
    I also hate it when books in a series have nothing much happen for basically the whole book and hardly anything is achieved, and you have to "Buy the next book to find out what such-and-such will do." It just makes me feel like I've wasted my time.

    - Paige

  18. Jyllenna - I so agree. A little goes a long way with slang. I feel that way with swearing in movies. I know I sound like a total mom when I say this, but there are some movies that leave me thinking who on earth uses THAT many F-words in their real life?

  19. Alana - Yeah, I really don't know anyway around using Jake's POV. And I liked it once I adjusted. I especially liked how even his chapter titles sounded like Jake versus Bella. Not sure how Edward people feel about it, though. It makes me laugh about how unconventional it is to use 2 POVs in a series, the heroine and NOT the hero, but rather her male best friend who would've been soul mate had she not fallen in love with this vampire guy.

  20. Tonya - YES, Dean would've definitely done that. We saw that in season one when he told Rory he loved her, she didn't say it back, and he broke up with her.

    I don't know why, I just completely adore Jess. Even when he was wrong for her and treated her poorly, I really wanted things to work out. And I think they might have had he not be cast in Heroes :)

  21. Alyson, I'm always amazed when those things sneak past an editor. Something similar happened in this series where the main character went to visit someone and when she arrived she learned he'd enlisted in the military. At first I didn't pay much attention, and then later as I was thinking about it, I'm like, "Wait - he left early from the group trip they were on together. At no point during the trip home was she like, 'Hey, where'd Ted go?'"

  22. JA - there is grace for cliches in blog comments :) That's a seriously annoying ending. I hate it when the "relationship carrot" is dangled in front of the reader, but there's no pay off.

    I suppose this is why genres end up having rules. Like how I told you guys that for it to be a romance, the couple MUST end up together at the end. It's because dedicated romance readers don't want to deal with a relationship carrot being taken away.

  23. Faye, I'm with you - I don't need my ending to be hunky-dory. I prefer it (don't we all?) but so long as it makes sense and the author has drawn SOME kind of happiness or satisfaction out of the conclusion, I'll will feel content when I close the book.

    Twilight is an example of this for me. Bella didn't choose the guy I like and it caused some inner grumbling, but her choice made sense with the rest of the series. I can deal with that.

  24. Emii - UGH! So frustrating. The worst is when it's your favorite author. With one of mine, her book quality is really slipping in my opinion. (Meanwhile her sales go up, so I'm really starting to doubt my judgment!)

  25. Paige - Especially because it's SO hard to get published and there are so many good writers in the world. How does junk make it through? But somehow it does. And I really hate those "filler" books too. They're the kind that make you want to give up on reading series altogether! (Or that's what you think when you're me and you tend to get a little dramatic about such things.)

  26. I've totally enjoyed "listening" to ya'll rant and rave! I echo everyone! So, so true!

    I'll add to the list of biggest pet peeves with my biggest: encounters with angels. I've read scenes where it's done well and scenes where it's not, but on general terms it gets on my nerves 'cause it always takes me awhile to figure out whether it's real, the character is dreaming, or I missed something...Grrr. Anyone else hate it when angels show up in books?

    By they way, have a great weekend, Stephanie!:)

  27. Rachelle, I have read a book with an angel, and I know what you mean! It was pretty confusing if it was a dream or reality, especially since what the angel did was a major part of the plot :/


  28. I can't stand reading bad books like that, and fortunately I've developed a way to tell when something is really bad lol.
    If I don't get sucked in from the very first page, the book will end up being bad in the end or have nasty content in it.
    Jenny B. Jones, **Stephanie Morrill**, Colleen Coble, C.S. Lewis, Cornelia Funke... all excellent authors and had me bouncing with anticipation to read more, until the very last word! :D
    (And I'm honest when I say that Stephanie, :) I loved reading "Me, Just different" I got in trouble for staying up to late reading it lol :D Awesome book!)
    I'm going to do my best to avoid letting the characters not speak to each other :( That would be sad! I tend to add to many characters, so maybe chopping them some out would help hehe. :)

  29. Hi there! This is my first time commenting on this blog. I've been following it for a while, and I think it's just awesome!!

    There are a few pet peeves I run into occassionally: One of them is when a book only has one or two recurring "important" characters. I love a variety of personalities, and only having one or two people mixed up in the plot of a story is somewhat unrealistic and unentertaining.(But at the same time, I don't like it when a bunch of characters are there in the story just for the sake of being characters in a story. Recurring characters ought to have some inmpact on the direction of the story, even if it's only by influencing the main characters decisions.)

    I think my BIGGEST pet peeve however is when two-or-three kids/teens all the same age go on some adventure together. I find it in a lot of adventure/science-fiction/fantasy novels for teens. It just seems unrealistic when the main characters were brought together by coincidence that they would be the same age. I like when adults, teens, and kids all interact in a story. It's okay if the main characters are the same age for a reason (like in Harry Potter: Ron, Harry & Hermione are all best freinds in the same year.) But some recurring characters can and should be adults or teens of different ages. (In Harry Potter, there's a spectacular variety of adult characters.)

    I think characters and how they interact is one of the most important aspects in a story, and I think sometimes that writers get so caught up in how "ingenious" their idea is, that the characters in a story don't become as developed as they should be.

  30. The 2 things I hate in books are: 1. When the book is centered around a problem that only lasts one day and, 2. This one's a common problem among us, but when they build something up to happen and then it doesn't happen. And when a character acts unlike their personality (I have a certain scene in mind here!) Like when a character gets all sympathetic and sincere but throughout all the books the character is just the opposite of that. I LOVED that series, by the way, I just hate that part.