Authors Are Tough Readers

I’ve read a couple of novels this week. Lorena McCourtney‘s Dying to Read is a cozy mystery–cozy mysteries are ones solved by non-law enforcement people (e.g., Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote, and in this case an inexperienced private investigator)–and Christy Barritt’s Dubiosity is romantic suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

I was already familiar with Christy’s writing because she’s a friend, and I like her writing so much I always ask for a chance to review a new book. I’d never read any of Lorena’s before, but in corresponding with her earlier in the week learned that the Kindle version of this book was free and decided I could afford that.

I’ve pointed out how much I enjoyed both of these novels for a very specific reason. Authors are tough readers, and it’s hard for us to read a book without stumbling at places where the author failed to follow one of the so-called rules of writing.

Generally, those are things a less knowledgeable reader won’t be bothered by. And I don’t mean misspellings or grammatical errors.

One example is using “s/she said” a lot. A more polished author uses what are called action beats to identify the speaker. For example:  He scratched his head. “I’m not so sure about that.”

Another is a failure to show, not tell. Instead of “He was angry,” say “He hit the table with his fist.” This is tough for a number of authors and would be authors. It can take a number of well thought out words to show.

Another thing I stumble over as a reader is the use of any form of the verb “to be.” The “He was angry” in the previous paragraph is an example of this.

I could list dozens of similar “rules” that writers are taught to obey–one is to avoid unnecessary uses of “that,” something I failed to do in the first part of this sentence–but that would be pointless. I’m not trying to educate anyone here about what good writing requires.

What I am trying to do is explain briefly that authors make tough readers because we stumble over abuses related to the rules we’ve been taught to follow, and we tend to be far more critical than normal readers.

That’s why I mentioned the two books I’ve read this week. Their authors are good. Really good. If they broke any of the rules, they did it so well I didn’t stumble.

The interesting thing is that authors tend to be especially critical of best-selling authors who consistently break the rules and get away with it. To which I can only say what I’ve heard a number of times, “Story trumps the rules.”

What about you? If you’re not an author–or even if you are–what makes you stumble when you’re reading a novel? Please leave a comment.


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