Saturday, January 8, 2011

Reviewing Books - Yay or Nay...Can't Decide.

Sometimes I wonder if as an author I should review the work of others.  Before I was published, I read for the sheer enjoyment, but now, after going through so many editing sessions and being whipped into an actual author, I cannot read without my internal editor whispering in my ear.  I read with an eye for pitfalls I've been advised to avoid rather than losing myself in the story as I once was able to do.  Heck, before my debut novel, I hadn't even heard half the terms I hear now--headhopping, passive voice, transitions, etc..  Now the simplest mistakes keep me from really connecting with the characters. It could be that the books I read all those years had been finely edited so assuming a place in the heroine's shoes came naturally. 

Don't get me wrong.  I think editors are an essential part of the process, and now when I read, I can definitely tell the novices from the professionals.  Is it fair to report to readers that I've found areas in a story that should have been caught by an editor and the reader advised to fix?  I'm not sure.  Does it make me come across as a "know it all?"  Trust me, I don't.  I learn a new rule every day, and the scary thing is that I'm never sure that the rule is hard and fast.

It's a fact that the majority of editors working in small press are authors as well, and possibly some that haven't been writing very long themselves.  Could it be they are just passing along what they've learned?  I've found that some of what I've been told isn't exactly true, but I think some of the examples I can share with you today make sense.  For example:  Overusing He/She if you've made it clear whose POV your in at the moment.  Read these two paragraphs and see which sounds more polished.

John smelled Joan's perfume as she twirled by him on the dance floor.  He envied the man who held her in his arms.  He believed she was the most beautiful woman in the room, and he vowed to ask her to dance the next time the orchestra played a slow song.  He intended to be the one to take her home tonight.

John inhaled the sweet smell of Joan's perfume as she twirled by him on the dance floor.  The man who held her in his arms was one lucky guy.  Before the evening ended, John intended to share a slow dance with her, and if his prayers were answered, he'd be the one to take her home.

See, you don't need he envied, he believed, he intended.  You've let the reader know by John enjoying the aroma of Joan's perfume that we're in his POV, so anything you type should be interpreted as his perspective.

Another pet peeve are needless tags.  It's always best to use an action tag in place of he said, she said, but if you end the dialogue with a question mark, do you really need to say, she asked?  I think the punctuation is a big hint.  *smile*  When only two people are in the room, using the character's names over and over becomes redundant.  The reader is usually smart enough to determine who is talking, and if you need to clarify, you can say something like:  "Are you crazy?"  John's eyes widened beneath a furrowed brow.

Editors become very important in keeping the redundancy out of the story line.  Authors don't usually write an entire book in one setting, so it's very hard to remember everything you've already written.  For example:  If you've pointed out to the reader that the heroine broke her leg by falling off a horse, it isn't necessary to repeat that information again in dialogue with someone and then add it in a descriptive paragraph pages later.  Readers, me included, roll their eyes and say, "enough already...I know, I know."

Since I don't plot my stories and find my memory isn't what it used to be, I've taken to making notes about the physical attributes of my characters.  It's quite easy to describe sky blue eyes in one chapter and chocolate brown in another further down the line.  Unless you're writing from the perspective of an Australian Shepherd, both eyes should be the same color and remain that way throughout the story.

As an historical author, I learned long ago, and I'm still learning, that you really need to be on guard to assure your language is appropriate for the period about which you write.  I've read some love scenes lately that left me shaking my head because of the present day terminology used for body parts.  It's really not believable that an Indian brave would bust out with the word "clitoris."

I've found the online Etymology dictionary most helpful in determining the origin of most words, but judgement helps too. Think about your story's time period and how people spoke.  While you might find word origins described from the 1500s, that doesn't mean they were used all over the globe.  Example:  Ma/Maw/Momma is how a child addressed their female parent rather than just Mom in 1840.  Although "kid" has been a word for a long time, the manner in which it was used in the 1800s most often referred to a baby goat.  Children were not kids, but you could kid with them (tease).  Historical credibility is all a matter of knowing your time period and doing your research.  Trust me, if you make a mistake, someone will notice and let you know.

My most recent editor pointed out her amazement that my heroine still had a bottom lip as she constantly chewed on it.  *lol*  It's so easy to utilize the same action without realizing you've overdone it.  Here again, that's because we don't write books in one sitting nor do we usually go back and re-read the previous chapters.  Thank God for those who devote their time and talents to making us stop and think about our writing habits.  What would we do without our editors...internal and external?


Cellophane Queen said...

I KNOW! I'm having problems just enjoying books anymore. When I'm reading anything on my Kindle, I constantly make notes. It's sort of obsessive-compulsive now.

When I do post a review, I won't mention of the minor editing faux pas, but it's hard to pass up giant plotholes. Bump. Bump.

Maggie Dove said...

Loved the post, Ginger. I can imagine how hard it must be to consentrate on a story when all these rules are flying through the mind. When I read a book and it has a shift of POV, it really bothers me and I can't concentrate on what is taking place in the story. I have some old books from the 70's and 80's and the POV is jumping from person to person and fron line to line and it never bothered me then!


Diane Scott Lewis said...

Ginger, I'm reading a book right now published by a major publisher where the author breaks all the editing rules. She's multi-published. So I'm wondering why we are following these editing rules in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Ginger, I know what you mean by internal editor - it's tough to be objective with my own writing, but so easy with someone elses.
I have a great appreciation for good book reviewers though - I'd like to be one myself.
You made some good points here, thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Most of the time, my internal editor doesn't snap on when I'm reading a book for enjoyment, thank goodness. Of course if it is a major faux pas,I don't think any reader would not catch it.

I have a great group of critiquers that catch my potholes before going to the editor. Bless you, group.

Oh yes, sometimes a few errors do get through and I love the editors comments.

Savannah Chase said...

I decided not to review because I know it will just kill the enjoyment of reading...I would rather read the book and not worry about having to give someone a review.

Morgan Mandel said...

That baby goat is so cute!

Great tips, by the way. It's surprising how many tags can be eliminated with only a little bit of thought.

When I have more than a few characters in a book, I've been known to make a cheat sheet with their physical characteristics, where the live, and stuff like that, their relationships, stuff like that. That way I can concentrate on the creative process instead of sweating the small stuff.

J.Q. Rose said...

You are right on with this blog for me. I am not going to do book reviews in fiction because I just want to escape into the story, not critique it. However I can't ignore glaring errors which jar me out of the scene, then I wonder how an editor could have missed it. I've read well known authors who head hop and wonder if someone is too intimidated about the famous author to point that out. I think I will mention a good novel to someone, but not write a book review of any except for non-fiction. But that is not written in stone!!!

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