Saturday, July 10, 2010

What Pulls You Out of a Novel?

I read for years and years before I wrote my own first novel.  Funny, now I find it very hard to read without the critical eye that's been inflicted on me by my own continuous editorial sessions.  Each time an author completes a manuscript and submits it for publication, an editor is assigned to help hone a story into a novel. Each occasion is an "learning" opportunity.

My first editor, Cindy Vallar, was my greatest teacher.  She taught me the importance of getting my historical facts correct.   Nothing pulls a reader from a story faster than finding something that doesn't belong to the era or hearing dialogue too modern for the time.  Through Cindy, I also learned the distinct difference between telling a story or showing a novel.

Now, when I read, there are certain things that yank me right out of the moment.  A good novel should put you in the role of the main character and leave you there.  These are a few of the bothersome things that may seem nit picky to some, but they actually stop me dead in my tracks when I'm reviewing a book:

Internal dialogue.  I hate it.  I would prefer to read everything in the same tense.  Jumping from a story told in third person to a barrage of internal thoughts in first person takes the smoothness out of the read.  I can tolerate one or two words that the character might think, but an entire paragraph....nope.

Predicting.  When I'm reading and the author uses a descriptive tag before the character speaks, I have to ask myself, "How can they describe something they haven't heart yet?"  Many authors continue to predict dialogue, but the habit moves the novel back to "story-telling mode'' in my opinion.

Time passage.  I prefer the *** or * * * * standard to indicate time passage, rather than telling text, i.e., Three weeks later, she was cleaning... or Later the next day.  Phrases like that smack of telling and I'd rather move into a scene and know time has passed by some action taken by the character.  Example:  Cassandra's stared at the calendar.  Three weeks had passed since she'd last tasted his kiss... 

Redundancy.  We all do it.  It's easy when you're writing in spurts to forget what you've already shown the reader.  I don't think any of us go back and re-read everything we've written when we begin the story again.  It takes good editors to weed out the repetitious stuff.

Word Echoes. The English language is comprised of a myriad of words that mean the same thing.  Try eliminating duplications and finding new ways to express yourself.  Example:  She closed the door behind her then closed the window.  How could he be so closed-minded. 

Overuse of tags.  Nothing bores a reader more than ending very bit of dialogue with "he said/she said."  Rather than telling, use an action tag that shows the shows some action yet identifies the speaker.  Example:  It's cold in here," he said.  Better:  "It's cold in here."  He moved to the fire and rubbed his hands over the flame.

Overusing "It."  Some authors make the mistake of thinking the reader knows what "it" is.  When possible, identify "it" for the reader.  

And of course, my favorite of all--the writing error I'm still trying to avoid: Overusing the word, "that."  Remember, if the sentence reads well without it, you don't need it.  Example:  He told her that he was going to work.  Read the example without "that" and it makes perfect sense.

These common pitfalls are so easy to spot in other people's work, but I'm pretty sure if I re-read my latest WIP, I'll find  I've managed to forget a few of my own pet peeves. Ah, if only I could be as perfect as I want to be.


Lorrie said...

Hi Ginger, I agree with all said above and yes, we all do it. Critique partners' fresh eyes are great to find these silly errors. What pulls me out of a novel most, is AI, (author interference) and can come at you in many different ways.
Taking time out to explain where myths began, or using dialog tags that tell the reader how to take the dialogue.
There are a few more, but I don't want to write a whole post.
I will admit, when I first began writing, "it" was my favorite word. lol. I've learned much.
Nice post.

Cindy Vallar said...

Thanks, Ginger, for your kind words about my editing. Greatly appreciated. If any of your readers are interested in my editing services, my website and contact info is below.

Cindy Vallar

Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Manic Readers

Manic Readers

She Writes

Historical Fiction Books

Readers and Writers of Distinctive Fiction