It’s hard to read for pleasure

Picture of Glasses on bookEarlier today I read somebody’s post about omniscient point of view and how it has gone out of favour. These days we’re all urged not to head-hop and to use ‘deep third’ so our readers can really identify with our characters. These observations resonated with some other thoughts I’ve been having along those lines.

I’m re-reading Zahn’s ‘Outbound Flight’ because I like the Thrawn character and it’s a fun book. Now, when I first bought the novel I read it once, then immediately read it again – which is what I always do with books that really take my fancy. This was a few years ago. Since then, I’ve had a few books published myself. And Mr Zahn, who is a well-respected author, is guilty of so many things which would have him up before the Tribunal for Writing Rules. He uses a few too many adverbs. He uses (often) words other than ‘said’ as dialogue tags. Growled, snarled, ranted, snapped. I certainly didn’t notice any of these ‘flaws’ when I first read the book.

I think I have been educated to expect writing of a particular type. I admit, these days I don’t like head-hopping. I like to identify with a character and know what’s going through their heads. Too many adverbs and adjectives make me wince.

I really do wonder if I’d be hung up like this if I’d never done the writing courses, never received the crits from writers groups? In a way, it’s a shame because I’ve lost the simple pleasure of reading for the hell of it.

What about you, all you writers out there? Can you still just read for pleasure?

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About Greta van der Rol

I'm an author of fast-paced, action-adventure novels, mainly space opera - although I've been known to write in other genres. I live not far from the coast in Queensland, Australia and enjoy photography and cooking when I'm not bent over the computer. I have a degree in history and a background in building information systems, both of which go a long way toward helping me in my writing endeavours.

Posted on 9 March 2012, in On writing. Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. I have the same experience. I’ve even gotten so pedantic as to prefer ‘styles’. I hate too many infinite verbs, too. But don’t like the short passive sentences either. I’ve gotten really picky, and I’m not convinced that’s a good thing. My novella starts out in passive voice, and I actually had a friend read it and say…”I’m not saying you can’t make it work…” Which means it didn’t work for them, because it required ‘head-hopping’, which it actually doesn’t. It just starts out that way, and then I shift into third person and stay there till the end of the book, when it goes back into omniscient. I decided we all have things that bother us, and things we understand better than others. I know that a lot of my writing is cliched. I do it on purpose, but it irritates a lot of people.

    As for reading, even the classics read differently to me. Eliot has a lot of omniscient passages that are totally taboo today, addressing the reader and such. Dickens is considered far too wordy. I really love him, still, but I don’t think he has as many extra words as people like to blame him for. But yes. I’m now an editor when I read. I’ve reached for the highlighter several times in the last month (I’ve taken the month off of writing to catch up on my reading) only to have to remind myself that I’m not editing it. The thing is published, after all. Just sit back and enjoy.

    But, alas, I still find myself shaking my head at times. And that’s not nice. Nor is it particularly fun.

  2. I agree with you Greta. I find it hard to read without critiquing the book. On one hand it is sad, but on the other it means we are probably becoming better writers. I can’t read Nora Roberts now without getting confused. Head hopping is one of those things she does so well. Passive voice (was eating instead of ate) also bothers me. Other errors as well. I still make some of the mistakes. But I edit my work so much that I wonder if I even have a story left! There’s another pity.Yet if the trend continues the newer book releases will be better reads. Think of that.

  3. Your concerns about writing in a formulaic way certainly resonate. I’ve been seeing a lot of head hopping, sloppy writing, poor word choices, in popular books. And some with new authors. I think all we can do is write the best possible for us, and look for a publisher who likes the way we write. Or who can gently guide us back from a tennis match head hopping.

  4. I definitely read for pleasure. Editing is hard work ! 😀 To do that, I set aside a specific time. And mood. So the minute I pick up a text, I am basically reading for pleasure. I don’t care how many heads I hop, how many adverbs, adjectives etc – for me, it all comes down to *how it’s done*; how this or that particular author uses their voice, tools, etc to put across what they want to say. Like the man said : “There are three rules for writing the novel.
    Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
    Picked up Holy Disorder by E.Crispin last summer – hope to find more of his work. He was writing in the 40s-50s, I find him witty, erudite, genuinely entertaining. I couldn’t honestly say how often he hopped, the frequency count of adjectives, adverbs, ‘passive’ or ‘active’ . . . whatever he did, it worked for me.
    Our favourite classic authors never went to any creative writing course. One of the things I enjoy about the classics is the fact they can transport us to another world, not only in period, but in voice and style. We get to hear voices from the past, of a huge range and variety. I am worried that writers might read to compare judgementally with past writers, rather than to absorb, digest and filter, thereby enriching their own scope/voice etc. I hope not to see writing constrained to one and only narrative style; I am always glad to see ‘experimental’ writing about – it might not be for me personally, but at least it is there.Otherwise I fear we would stagnate. That is my tuppenny-worth, anyway. 🙂

  5. As far as I can make out, everybody breaks all the rules all the time . . . depends on the publisher whether or not to make a virtue out of it all by publishing them . . . 😉
    Tolkien is fun. Loved the watercolours he did for the Hobbit.
    (‘Xpect you know the story of how he, C.S.Lewis and other Inklings used to meet up in the Dragon and Child pub in Oxford to read out their latest scribblings, and how Tolkien’s son at one point shouted out :’Oh God, not more elves!’ 😀 :D)

    • No, I didn’t know that one. Haha. You hear that a LOT these days. Yes, he was a talented painter. Looking forward to seeing the Hobbit movie.

    • You have to know the rules. And you have to know them well enough to know when and how to break them. I’ve learned to roll my eyes at readers/writers/editors who say “you can’t do that”, or “don’t ever do that”. I want to say, “loosen up!” You can do it, as long as you know what you’re doing. Reading classics, reading other stuff, it helps me to see how others successfully break the rules. All of my books have some cliche in them. I don’t know what it is about cliches, except that some cliches were designated as such so long ago that saying they’re cliche is cliche, but I find it fun, really to experiment with the rules. I see a lot of writers right now who are terrified of starting a sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But.’ So they use ‘However’ in every instance, and usually it’s fine. *But* I’ll tell you, those three syllables can get tiring when really, they could have just used one if they’d had a little courage to break one little rule, that isn’t even a rule anymore (and probably never should have been.)

      • Well said. Even so, I’d love to be able to switch off the ‘rules’ reflex. I’m very chary about the ‘wrules of writing’ and I don’t much like the way my mind tries to impose MY tenets on other peoples’ work.

      • Wow. What an insightful thing to realise about yourself. I’ve recently had to sort of do the same thing. I read this book that I knew a publisher had considered. There were some things that bothered me, but I suspected they were simply style issues. I read the publisher’s review, and I was right. There were things the author did that they loved, but which bothered me. So it was clearly a style thing. One has to be careful not to edit out what makes another person them and insist on what one thinks. I guess that’s why one MS will resonate with one publisher but be completely passable by another. It’s odd, but it’s true.

  6. Thanks for sharing Greta. I can still read for pleasure and largely ignore broken *rules” unless they throw me out of a story. Mostly, I get annoyed by things which stretch my belief in the story, like a character set up one way who changes abruptly or without cause – that ruins my pleasure. I read multi genres and both literary and commercial but still haven’t found a successful author who always obeys those pesky rules divulged at conferences and classes etc. I do agree that in this electronic age with so many fun gadgets competing to take up our spare time that books have to be tighter and more engaging than they were 50yrs ago when most households were getting into TV.

  7. I still read a lot for pleasure, but I tend to be big picture oriented, so it is easy for me to overlook things like adverbs and head hopping. I have a knack for compartmentalizing, which maybe is not always a good thing in life and not learned in happy circumstances, but is nice when applied to reading for pleasure.

    I tend to read for characters–if a book doesn’t have ones I find compelling then I DNF. If the character and plot are compelling then I can overlook different styles and things that are now considered bad writing. For instance, C.S. Lewis talks directly to his readers in some of his Narnia books, which no one does now, it would be edited out. But for me, it doesn’t take away form the story.

    I edit my own writing, but you couldn’t pay me to edit other people’s writing. Which is why I’ll offer to beta read but never ever do a chapter by chapter/line by line critique. When I edit I go into a different ‘mode.’ GAH!

  8. Tribunal for Writing Rules! I love it! I’ve done more reading lately, and I groan when I see something I’m not “allowed” to do in somebody else’s published work. I recently (yes, I’ve used two words that end in “ly”) started reading a book where the author used the word “house” seven times in seven sentences in the first paragraph of the book. I thought writers weren’t supposed to be redundant! I ignored that and continued only to find the word “room” four times in four sentences. I forced myself to keep reading because this book appeared to have a great premise. I wonder if I can read for pleasure without “editing” an already published work.

    I think the concept that irks me the most is Show vs Tell. Argh! I’ve been hammered for this repeatedly, yet I still find an abundance of it in recent releases. Maybe it’s true; after a writer is established he/she is allowed to bend the rules.

    Great post, Greta.

    • Oh, mate. 7 ‘houses’ in 7 sentences? I’d be forcing myself on, as well. Doesn’t sound like the writer gave much thought to that one. The old ‘reading aloud’ trick would’ve caught it, I think.

  9. I can definitely read for pleasure still, although I will definitely say that head-hopping in particular doesn’t go down very well, and poor editing (words left out) really does grate. That said, I’ve made an uneasy peace with head-hopping after a conversation with an author who uses it (although I’d personally keep it out of my writing). But I’ve read quite a few books/stories this year, and despite finding a few issues, find that they can still pull me in.

  10. I too have noticed that I tend to mentally dissect a story as I read it and a book with obvious “flaws” wears on my patience in ways that they did not when I was younger. This habit does take some of the fun out of much of the reading I do, but when I find a truly excellent writer with a wonderful story, it makes it just that much more of a joyful experience.

  11. I will admit I notice clunky sentences more than I used to. However, I’m still able to get swept away in the story. Things like grammatical errors, flowery adverbs, etc don’t pull me out of the story.

    We as writers have to watch out for things like this. It’s possible to get too jaded by “insider information” and forget that the average reader could probably care less about a lot of this. As long as the story is good, the characters are engaging, and the book isn’t riddled with horrific typos and/continuity errors there is a lot leeway that we have in regards to our own style.

    If 1000 people love my book, should I really lose sleep over being panned by one “grammar nazi”? 🙂

  12. Ohmigoodbar, yes! Two things I’m grateful for: that I read both the Twilight and Harry Potter series before I became a writer. I read books now, and cringe each time I see an extra adverb. Or repetitions. These are things I never noticed before, and I loved to read. Now, I get nervous each time I pick up a new-to-me author. I’ve stopped reading friends’ published books unless I’ve already had the opportunity to read their writing (and I refuse to leave a bad review, so I don’t like them knowing I’m reading it, if I can help it). I have a fairly short list of authors I know I’ll enjoy, who can sweep me into another time and/or place, purely for pleasure. I have a slightly expanded list of authors from whom I learn. (If they’re also on that first list, I have to read the book for fun a few times before I can dissect it and not get lost in the story).

    x♥x
    Noelle

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