Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Did writing kill reading for me?


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?

11 comments:

Simon C. Larter said...

Awareness of the craft will often take me out of a story. Yes, it happens in every book, and I love that it does, because I'm learning with every writerly note my brain makes.

I think it makes the reading richer for me to read like a writer. I don't mind the dichotomy at all.

Yat-Yee said...

Simon: I am impressed with your certainty in the matter. And I am glad you don't mind the awareness of what the author is doing while you read.

I want to learn from others' writings, but I also want to get lost in a story. Yes, I want it ALL!

lotusgirl said...

Sometimes the awareness of craft takes me out of the story and it bothers me, sometimes it doesn't. It depends usually depends on how well the story is written. I love it when I can say, "Wow. They did that so well."

tanita davis said...

I think writing hasn't killed anything for me - I read adult fiction especially generously, as long as it holds my attention. I set it aside afterward and just put it away like popcorn. I'm much more critical of YA lit - mainly because if something isn't working I can tell much faster and have limited patience with it. (This becomes a SERIOUS PROBLEM sometimes during Cybils when I have to force myself to the minimum page requirement...)

What REALLY kills reading for me? Having D. pick up one of my books. He reads critically all the time, or with a different set of eyes. Heroines that I thought were okay come off as completely imbecilic after he's read them and asked a few pertinent questions... and then I'm embarrassed by my popcorn-munching-reading habit. (He's not - he just goes, "Huh," and goes on to the next book I say he'll like, but I'm generally mortified.)

Jackee said...

I AM ruined for reading a book now that I've become a writer. But then when a book is really well done, it's so much the sweeter when I find myself reading it without thinking of the writing. It's rare when it happens, but incredible when it does. (And I do like when things are told some times too, rather than have them shifting, smiling, looking, pounding and what not all the time.)

Good to have you back from your summer break, Yat-Yee! :o)

~ Jackee

Yat-Yee said...

Lotusgirl: Do you think it's more the author's skill or your ability to not allow your awareness to mar your reading enjoying?

Tanita: Those "huh" comments can speak volumes at times! I want to be able to sometimes read in that popcorn munching manner.

Jackee: Thanks for the welcome back. I guess we cannot unknow something we already know and that our awareness of craft will intrude. I just have to keep looking for that reading experience that take me away completely.

aquafortis said...

I'm glad I'm not alone! This definitely happens to me, probably the majority of the time. I think the only time it doesn't happen (or at least, not much) is when the book is so good, so distinctive and absorbing, that I do still get lost in it. I think well-written fantasy or sci-fi, or something else that makes me feel vicarious enjoyment, is most likely to get me lost in the story.

I do still stop on occasion, though, realizing I've been lost in the story, and then I'll ask myself why, HOW did the author manage to accomplish something so amazing? What is it that I like, and why is it successful?

It's most annoying when it's kind of an okay book that I would otherwise enjoy, but which has one or two things that bug me. (Of course, if it's bugging me a LOT, I'll just put it down...)

Domey Malasarn said...

I'm not ruined from reading anymore, thankfully. I was for a time, but then I decided to stop being critical, and I started enjoying books more. I also told myself that I can always be critical later, but I only have one chance to really enjoy the book as a reader without knowing its outcome.

To me, if you are pulled out of the fiction, it's a sign that the writing isn't THAT good. These books you're talking about might be competent, but I dare say they're not brilliant. With my favorite writers, I'm constantly frustrated because I can't pull myself out of the fiction long enough to analyze it.

Sandy Shin said...

This has definitely happened to me before, but more frequently lately. It is difficult for me to stop analyzing any book I read long enough to get into it. However, I agree with Domey: when reading my favorite writers' works, I can't help but be pulled into the story.

Lydia Kang said...

Yes, reading books is a totally different thing for me. But when I get lost in the story and can't put it down, that's when I know the writer is doing a fantastic job. (But it doesn't happen as often now). Making a writer forget she's reading another writer's stuff is hard to do!

Yat-Yee said...

a.f and Domey: yes, you've articulated something that I hadn't consciously thought about, which is that while we want the experience of losing ourselves in a book, finding it a rare occurrence, and still, when such an experience occurs, we take ourselves out of the story so that we can learn. Boy, if that doesn't say we writers are greedy creatures, I don't know what does. And yes, those books were good but not exactly brilliant.

Sandy: welcome to my blog. Maybe it's a natural progress that as we learn more craft, we become more aware, but as we stay with the reading/writing conundrum long enough, we learn to disengage our super critical selves.

Lydia: Finding that book, finding that author: it becomes quite a treat, doesn't it?