What Writers Can Learn From Their DNF Pileon June 22nd, 2009 at 12:49 pm
I just finished reading a really enjoyable book, and as much as it taught me about weaving romance in with fantasy, I came to the realization that the books that ended up in my dreaded DNF (did not finish) pile could teach me things too.
When I was younger, not finishing a book was a very rare occurrence, but over the past year, I’ve started and set aside a number of books. Were they bad? Maybe some were, but for the most part, they just weren’t for me. I usually give a book at least a hundred pages before I give up. So, it was never a case of “the first page didn’t grab me”. Here are some of the things I learned from the various books I set aside:
- Some authors have insanely large vocabularies. It makes their writing very impressive, but from a reader standpoint, it can prove off-putting. Most people don’t want to feel stupid when reading for enjoyment. Even though I respect authors who seem to know every word in the English language, those books helped me to embrace my less-than-enormous vocabulary.
- I love evocative description, but too much of a good thing is just too much. Some books have so much of it that I can read pages, just lost in the language, then I sit back and realize nothing actually happened in those pages. Most people know I’m not a big fan of a lot of description, this just confirms for me that it isn’t a question of how well it’s written, I just don’t like description that takes the place of story.
- I’ve also been told I prefer plot over characters. While I initially questioned that, I’ve found it’s true. My reasoning is that a great character can’t carry a book if there is no plot or a flimsy plot in place. If there is a fabulous plot, it is indeed made better by strong characters. But I think a great plot and less-than-stellar characters can make a good book easier than the opposite. So, yes, give me plot with a healthy side of characters please.
- Believability. I read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy, and as such, the stories revolve around characters doing incredible things. The author’s job though is to make us believe those things COULD happen (this is especially true of urban fantasy in my opinion). This leads us back to characters. Aside from horrid plots, nothing kills a book faster for me than unbelievable characters. If I can’t set aside all that I know about the world and sink into the world the author creates through their point-of-view character, they’ve lost me.
- It doesn’t matter what genre you write, don’t forget the research. Some things will only matter to people who “know”, but it could be the simplest item you forget to research that will turn off the more readers. Hence, don’t skip the digging. Get as many things right as you can.
And last but not least:
- Sometimes a book just doesn’t fit a reader’s needs at a specific time. One book I set aside was by an author I love. The book didn’t suck, it was solid. But another book in my pile kept staring at me. I didn’t want to read what I held in my hands. I wanted to read that other book. The moral of this story is that it does indeed often rely on getting the right book into the right hands at the right time.
Whether or not I will manage to apply all I’ve learned from the books that I set aside, I’m sure going to try. Which means that Pretty Souls is going through another round of editing before I start sending it again.
So, how about you? What have you learned, either from books you loved or those you didn’t finish?