Tag Archives: Books

Who are you writing for?

A meme popped into my Twitter feed the other day: A good writer always thinks about their reader.

At first glance that looks like sage wisdom that’s hard to argue with, but my hackles immediately rose. Always? No, I really don’t think so.

Maybe at the editing/polishing stage, but at the writing stage I think the writer should be focused on the story and the characters. Trying to write with an amorphous ‘reader’ peering over my shoulder demanding to know what I’m doing would be incredibly distracting and unhelpful.

The ultimate aim of writing is, of course, to communicate, so once the story is written I try to gain as much distance as possible and see whether what I’ve written communicates the ideas and emotions I was aiming for as well as words possibly can.

But even then the only reader I have in mind is myself (far pickier and less forgiving than anyone else I know when it comes to books). If I were writing for ‘a reader’ which one would I pick, since they’re all individuals? It’s only at the professional editing stage that I start to think about the strangers who may read my book and how to ensure they enjoy the story I’ve created, helped by the fresh pair of eyes my editor provides.

So, a writer should think about the story, then about themselves, and only finally about the reader. Hmm, not quite as snappy for posting to Twitter, but – I think – more helpful to writing a good book.

What’s your opinion? Should a writer focus on their audience at all times, or (to borrow a metaphor) should they write like no one’s watching?

26 = infinity

I was going to rant this week, but it’s spring, the trees are blossoming, my WIP is progressing well and I don’t want to spoil the sensation of everything being right in the world. So instead, I’m going to share a fact that blew my tiny mind when it was pointed out to me.

Daffodils blooming in my garden.
Spring has sprung at my house and no mistake.

There are 26 letters in the alphabet used in the English language. That’s stating the obvious; you knew that. But here’s the amazing bit – every single book ever written in English (or translated into it) is made up of a unique arrangement of those letters (plus some punctuation marks and lots of very important spaces).

There are millions, and millions and millions of books (and there will be millions and millions and millions more before human beings even start to get tired of telling stories), and they all come from those 26 squiggles we know and love. What miraculous things we can achieve with tiny building blocks.

A row of my YA books, spine out
A few of the books I own, all written using 26 letters; all completely different.

I’m going to leave it there today. Mind: blown.

The end isn’t in sight

I’m cross and crotchety today. I feel like I’ve wasted my reading time this week on two books that didn’t end.

Now, I don’t mean they were long, nor that they were dull. They didn’t end because their writers (and their editors and big, commercial publishers in turn) had failed to comprehend the fundamental requirement for a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end.

This concept was dinned into me at primary school – it’s still used in primary schools now (I checked with 10 yo Offspring). Has this story structure become optional in the adult world and no one bothered to tell me?

One was a romance – and I didn’t find out which boy the girl picked. The other was mainly a whodunnit. It was a fabulous read, right up until the pacey denoument when the heroine was going to find out who’d murdered her twin sister – unless they got to her first! – and then I turned the page to find not who dunnit but an epilogue where she’s fairly sure she knows but wasn’t bothered by any sense of danger or even unease.

They were both the first in a series, but writing a series is not an excuse to cheat your reader out of a satisfying read with each book – or is it? Again, did I miss the memo?!

A contract is formed when I pick up a book. If I’m reading a romance, I expect to finish knowing that girl has met boy and are swanning off into the sunset (in a stolen hovercraft is fine, it doesn’t have to be mushy-happy); if it’s a whodunnit, I NEED TO FIND OUT WHODUNNIT. And I’m both disappointed and cross if that doesn’t happen. I expected a story – but I only got half a one.

Their limp endings (followed by excited requests for me to dash out and get the next in the series – um, no) have ensured I’ll never pick up another book by these writers. And that’s a real shame because both were good, competent books and one of them was absolutely cracking right up until it failed to finish.

Am I the only one to get annoyed by endings that don’t end properly? Use the comments to let me know if you hate an uncertain finish, or if you love a mega cliffhanger at the end of a novel.

The Comfort of Old Friends

I got book vouchers for my birthday in November, and more for Christmas. Whilst the days have been filled with lazy holiday vibes I’ve been checking Twitter recommendations and I now have a well-stuffed Kindle.

The newest additions to my Kindle
Some lovely books lined up to start the year…

So why do I find myself dipping back into my battered paperback of Steven Gould’s Jumper, which I must have read 8 or more times, when I have new books beckoning and time is as pressing as ever?

I think it boils down to reliability. I love reading and I love discovering new books and new authors, but the other side of that is I hate being disappointed by picking up a book that ought to push all my buttons but doesn’t manage to live up either to its hype from others, or to my own expectations. I know what I’m going to get with an already-read story so there’s no chance of a let-down.

A picture of Steven Gould's sci-fi classic, Jumper
My much-loved and (for me) battered copy of Jumper, one of my all-time favourite reads.

A more positive interpretation is that book worlds genuinely become places I know, and their characters are friends. I wouldn’t ignore old friends just for the sake of gaining more, newer friends, so maybe it’s a good thing that I like to check in now and then and make sure old books are doing okay in between saying hello to new ones.

 

Teasers v Spoilers

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BRIDGE SERIES 2 (ALTHOUGH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THAT YET, WHY ON EARTH NOT?!)

This post has been brewing for a while, because I keep having to grumble when people who should know better spoil books or TV programmes. Why on earth would you want to destroy the reading experience for your fans?

Now, I don’t mean friends who inadvertently blurt out key plot points when I meet them (“Did you finish XXX yet? I just loved it when – ABSOLUTE GIVEAWAY OF STUNNING PLOT TWIST.” Followed by a hideous silence when you both realise what’s just happened). No, that’s understandable, if unfortunate. What I have a problem with is the increasing tendency for blurb writers to completely miss the point of what they’re supposed to do.

My view is that a blurb should make me want to read a book/watch a film/programme, whereas a spoiler makes it pointless to do so.

So, my The Bridge rant – I fell in love with The Bridge (Scandi-drama shown on BBC4) and was delighted when there was a second series. These programmes were shown in huge, wonderful gulps of 2 episodes back-to-back each week. My TV guide magazine attempted to whet my appetite with the following: Episode 3, Saga and Martin (our heroes) continue to hunt the eco-terrorists. Episode 4, The deaths of the terrorists are investigated.

No prizes for guessing what happens in Episode 3, then?! Why on earth would you think that was a good summary for those two episodes? Did they somehow not realise they were going to appear in the same paragraph?

And it happened again last weekend. I finished a YA novel (liked it, didn’t love it, but it was a good, sound read). It’s the first in a trilogy and at the back it had blurbs for books 2 and 3 to encourage the reader to move straight on to them.

Now, I fully approve of that – if I like the book I like to know there’s more ready for me, and if I really like it I’ll get the next straight away. However, the plot summary for Book 2 made it clear that it was a triangle in which the heroine was going to be torn between two potential boyfriends. Which is a perfectly acceptable trope in the romance genre, no problem with that. The problem was that the blurb for Book 3 on the facing page announced that the heroine was now with a particular one of the candidates from Book 2 … so I could skip all that angst and go straight to Book 3 where she’s made up her mind, eh? It does seem that writing a blurb without giving the game away is now a dying art – or perhaps our attention spans are now so short that writers feel they have to tell us what’s going to happen immediately, before we can drift away to the next thing.

Does having a big plot twist given away before you start spoil the story for you, or are you happy to read even if you know how it’s going to end?

 

To be, or not to be…

If you’re a reader, you won’t need the initials TBR explained. Our to-be-read piles are discussed with fellow readers in tones of mild to moderate alarm, as though they might one day take over our houses, our lives and eventually the civilised world.

But I love my TBR pile. The idea of running out of books to read fills me with a chill of utter terror. I would vastly prefer my TBR pile rose to the ceiling, then fell and crushed me under the weight of all those wonderful words, rather than dying of boredom because I have Nothing To Read and am reduced to scanning the ingredients panel of a cereal packet for intellectual stimulation.

A billy bookcase packed with paperbacks
Some of my book shelves – most of the books here have been read

When you’re writing a book, the statistics are terrifying – 2,239,409 books have been published so far this year alone (according to http://www.worldometers.info/books/). But as a reader that’s entirely comforting – two and a quarter million really would be a TBR pile to reckon with! Even I, the most picky reader who doesn’t get past the first page of 90% of what I pick up (although I do pick up a LOT of books), couldn’t run out of books with so many waiting for me.

I’ve just tallied up my bookshelves and kindle/kobo and I stopped counting when I reached 50 TBR books. That was higher than I thought, given that I’ve just finished a couple of good novels and was wailing, “Now I have Nothing To Read!” Still, you can never get too many – maybe a quick trip to Waterstones wouldn’t hurt…

How about you – how many books do you have waiting to be read, and how many makes a suitable buffer against running out of things to read?

Becoming a writer

This week I visited the Write Romantics’ blog, where they discussed what they had wanted to be “when they grew up”. The blog was titled “life before writing” and they all had very different careers in mind.

I was fascinated by this, because for me there wasn’t a life before writing – all I’ve ever wanted to be “when I grew up” was a writer. The path from having that desire to becoming a published author, however, has been quite a long haul. I’ve created a video to show how I became a writer, and to say thank you to some of the writers and the books that have helped along the way.

(Video copyright Katy Haye; Audio copyright Microsoft Corporation, all rights reserved)

Some of my bookcases

Lie to me!

I write (and read) fantasy, which is perhaps the most obviously “made-up” of fiction genres, and suspension of disbelief is key to spinning a successful fantasy tale.

Suspension of disbelief can perhaps be summed up as ‘don’t allow a little reality to get in the way of a good story’, but it’s more subtle than that. From my experience, fiction contains big lies and little lies and strangely enough, it’s the little lies that trip up a reader (well, if that reader’s me, it does) and cause disbelief to come crashing back and destroy the writer’s hard work.

A couple of examples: in the first episode of the BBC’s Merlin (set in some kind of medieval-ish Arthurian Britain), our young wizard spends time in the stocks being pelted with rotting veg. He also spends a while hearing the disembodied voice of a dragon and then speaking to said dragon in the flesh.  The BBC received far more complaints about anachronistic tomatoes being used in the stocks scene than it did over the existence of a TALKING DRAGON.

Or take the current series of Doctor Who (please, take it away and bring it back when you have some credible storylines which ENTERTAIN). Space travel, time travel, monsters and aliens are all fine by me. What I can’t accept is that Clara gets left in modern Britain for two weeks and becomes a teacher with a permanent job.  Criminal records check, anyone?  Even if she had a stack of psychic paper there’s still a recruitment process to go through.  We might be short of teachers in some areas, but I don’t think we’re yet so desperate that people can walk in off the street and be allowed responsibility for our children.

And the thing is, it’s sloppy.  Whatever fiction you write, you need to check your facts.  So check your facts, and if they’re wrong, change them.  The good thing about little lies is that they usually aren’t integral to the story (Merlin could be pelted with squashy apples; Clara could have become a waitress at a corner cafe) so they’re easy to adjust.

Big lies are part of the contract of fantasy. They’re the dragons and aliens and paradoxical time machines which are needed to capture your reader’s imagination and sweep them into your fictional world. Little lies, on the other hand, are little traps for unwary writers which can catapult your readers back to reality.

Do you agree?  Do you struggle with big or little lies in the books you read or write, or can you suspend disbelief to Olympic level?