Friday, March 29, 2013

A Glimpse Into My Reader Mind

Due to a very frustrating bout of writer’s block, I’m unable to write this week’s YA Epidemics post.  Why?  Because I’ve just been reading too many good books lately.  I have a list in a notebook of about a dozen possible YA Epidemics to write about, but I got halfway through three of them before realizing that I just wasn’t in the mood for so much specific negativity this week.

So instead, I’m going to take a week off and give you all a glimpse into how I read and just why I rate and review books the way that I do.  I’m going to write about the few things that have the power to ruin a book for me if not done well, regardless of plot, hype, or swoon-worthy romance.   Don't worry, I'll return to those Epidemics posts next week, I promise.

 
Characterization is my biggest make-it-or-break-it thing in a book.  If I’m reading a novel full of one-dimensional or boring characters, I won’t like it.  At all.  More than anything else, it’s the characters that drive a story.  Setting, backstory, even plot and conflict are all props with which to show us who the characters really are, so you could have the best story idea in the world and ruin it with flat, unrealistic characters.  Every single one of my 5-star favorites is going to feature above-par characterization, with characters that grow and adapt, reacting to their environment and changing as the story progresses.

World-building is another must-have for me, most especially in a dystopia or fantasy setting.  If I find too many holes in your world and its logic, I’m not going to be able to like the story, no matter how much critical acclaim it’s gotten.  I think the most prominent example of this for me is Divergent.  Prior to reading it, I had gotten slapped in the face with a tidal wave of love for that book, but because I could not connect with the idea of a future in which we’ve devolved as a society to such complete separation and inability to value many different important character traits equally, I was just unable to like it.  But there are other examples, and poor world-building has led to me being in the minority of an awful lot of book hype.  This is the reason I’m so picky when it comes to dystopian stories especially, because they rely on their world-building and back-story more than almost any other genre.

Writing quality is an obvious one that should go without saying, but based on a lot of really poorly-written novels that have gotten really good reviews and ratings, I feel the need to say it.  I can’t enjoy a book with low-quality writing.  I don’t need a literary masterpiece, but I need solid editing and a strong grasp on vocabulary and the English language.  Too much repetition, too many grammatical errors, too many misused metaphors, they’re all going to add up to an unenjoyable reading experience.  Another pet peeve of mine is lengthy descriptions that aim for a high-quality flow, but come off as pretentious and unnecessarily dense, or “purple prose” as it’s commonly called.

Obvious plot devices and clich├ęs have the power to ruin a reading experience for me, as well.  If a story feels forced or reliant on overused formulas and hooks, I’m not going to respect the integrity of the story or feel the sincerity and passion of the writing.  In a world with thousands of books on every single topic imaginable, finding a way to stand out and write an original novel goes a long way toward those raving, glowing reviews.  Books like Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Warm Bodies, and Everneath are prime examples of great stories that do just that.

Obviously, there are more qualities I value highly in a book, but these are the main ones that influence my reading experience the most.

I’m an admittedly picky reader so you may not agree with all of these, but we all have those things that we just can’t overlook while reading.  What are some of your must-haves or biggest pet peeves in a novel?  Let me know in the comments! <3

12 comments:

  1. Interesting post, and very well elaborated as usual (now go and teach something to those low-quality writers! ;D). Personally, I would add "too prominent romance-love triangle" to your list. But the things that bug me the most are insufficient world-building and lack of originality.

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    1. Thanks so much, Roberta! Obvious and in-you-face love triangles annoy the crap out of me, too. I'm willing to overlook it if the rest of the content is AMAZING, but it still bugs me.

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  2. I'm with you on all of them except world-building. I have no idea what it is, but world-building usually doesn't bother me. I mean, I want it to be believable and well-done but usually when people complain about it I'm always surprised because it's something I didn't even think about! I haven't read Divergent yet, but the world being separated how it is which bothers you don't really bother me. Maybe I'm just a weirdo. :P

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    1. Haha nope, not a weirdo. The good thing about a really good writer is that they can make you believe in their world, even if it's got more holes than Swiss cheese. I only notice a lot of it because I actively look for it. I'm pretty sure you'll love Divergent, I'm seriously in the minuscule minority on that book. But it's the best example of how world-building can ruin a story for me.

      Thanks, Asti!

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  3. Agree with you on these. And for me, head and shoulders above everything else is characters, even if I hate the characters I want to feel passionately about them. If I'm indifferent to them, then the whole books is blah for me.

    And purple prose, I just read a book full of. Beautiful words and not a bit of substance. That does not equal a good book.

    My pet peeve is names being mixed up in a book, it happens all too often.

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    1. Like, calling her Sasha in one chapter, than Sarah in the next? Yeah, I've seen that, too. Proves to me that some editors are just too lax, because come on, that's an OBVIOUS thing to fix. And if I'm not paying close attention, it confuses the crap out of me. :/

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  4. I'm an absolute book wh- am I allowed to say that here? At one point I was reading a book a day so I learned to like just about everything. There is very little I won't read, not to say there aren't things I don't like. I read all four Twilight books when that is a genre that holds no appeal to me. Didn't like them at all, read 'em nonetheless. I am really lenient also, willing to forgive shaky world building if the world is interesting. Expanding my tastes is something I consciously try to do too. Books, music, television, it doesn't matter. I want to try as much of it out as possible. If I didn't, I'd have never discovered Angel Beats (TV), Les Fleurs de Mal by Therion (music), or Evey Day by David Levithan (book). We share common ideas, but are still very far apart on the spectrum.

    Forgive any grammatical errors. It's three in the morning right now.

    -Cain Freeman
    http://nobsbooks.blogspot.com/

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    1. I'm a book-WHORE (yes, you can say that) too, which I think is why I am such a picky reader. I'm jaded by the cliche, spoiled by the magnificent, and annoyed by the unoriginal. I've read books about pretty much every topic, with pretty much every romance and plot twist imaginable, so it's going to take something more than a formulaic story and mediocre writing to wow me in my old age.

      And that wasn't meant to sound half as pretentious as it came off.

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    2. I think I see the difference between us. It's hard to wow me, but I don't need to be wowed. I just want to be interested, occupied. Way I see it is that when you read as much as me, you can't go in expecting to be wowed. It's an unrealistic expectation that serves only to disappoint. As long as there are a few elements that interest me, and they out weigh the obvious love triangle, then I am content.

      Not every book needs to be The Drowned Cities or Deadline. I can have my The Mortal Instruments and Hunger Games too.

      In short, you are the sort who goes "I have seen it all, so now I can be picky" and I am the one going, "I've seen it all, guess I'll have to see it again." Or something like that. I don't make a very good Dr. Phil. It's the hair. And the fact he apparently has jaundice.

      In shorter shorts (shorty shorts?), you are pickier than me it seems.

      Cain Freeman

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    3. I'm really not crazy picky in terms of general enjoyment. But it takes a lot to get those 4 and 5 star ratings from me. Which I think is a good thing, because reviewers who give seriously every book those high ratings have no credibility.

      But the qualities listed in this post really do have the power to make or break a story for me. I can forgive most else, but not poor writing, poor world-building, poor characterization, or a buttload of cliches and complete lack of originality.

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    1. Awww, thanks Anon! (That just sounds so much cooler than Anonymous so roll with it.) I don't need, or even really want, famous. Just a few readers who trust my judgment and maybe find a few book gems through me. :)

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As you may or may not know, life is eating up way too much of my spare time right now, so pretty please don't hate me if it takes me a few days to get back to your wonderful comments. I read each and every one from my phone, and they always make my day. <3