I finished reading two books that have been published recently. They were both well-written and I can't really find fault with much. But the entire time I was reading, I was very aware of writerly things the authors did. For example, in both these books, each adventure follows at the heel of another, probably because of the oft-given advice to keep the tension high, don't let the story sag! In fact, increase the stakes with each obstacle! And sure enough, in both books, not only do the troubles come one after another, the stakes are increased each time.
Then there is another advice: show, don't tell, the emotions and motivations of the protagonists. And in these books, I watch characters break out in sweat or clench their teeth; and hear about their hearts in their throats or their muscles screaming in agony, with slight variations about how the pain or fear feels.
The problem isn't with the writing advice. I like an unrelenting adventure story as much as my 9-year old daughter. I have nothing against being shown and not told a person's emotions (but only to an extent; Brian's post yesterday hit the nail on the head for me.) And I most definitely am interested in what the characters are thinking and how they make decisions.
So then, why have these recent reading experiences been so much more about noticing what the authors are trying to do then absorbing the stories they want to share?
My question, to those of you who write, are these:
- Does the awareness of craft take you out of a story?
- If so, does it happen in every book?
- And if it happens only sometimes, can you determine what factor causes this type of reading?