You may remember the dilemma I described last month, as my husband and I pondered over choosing a televised series available via streaming, in which to invest our time, emotions, and end-of-day unwinding time. Quick review. We’d just finished 30 episodes of a crime-thriller-drama season that had thoroughly hooked us. And now, we found ourselves wavering about our next selection, fearing it would not live up to its predecessor. That it might be a waste of our time. Unworthy of our investment. Stowing our fears to the side yet keening for another thoroughly-hooked experience, we took the plunge and began to settle into a less thrilling, less action-filled, yet highly-rated drama.
Well, I am sad to report that by the end of the third episode, we reached the mutual conclusion that the thoroughly-hooked experience we’d hope to have was not to be. With a pang of guilt, I muttered quietly, maybe so as not to offend the lingering presence of the show, “It’s just too boring. It moves soooo slow.”
Two episodes of another series followed by three episodes of yet a third one found us no closer to fully investing ourselves in a fictional series world, for one reason or another. With our hope for success but a flickering spark, we journeyed onward. Attempt number four did not disappoint. Engaging, entertaining, unique, and intriguing. But alas, this new series had but one short season currently available, so our thoroughly-hooked experience ended much too soon.
I face a very similar quandary when I choose reading material. I can often tell within a few pages whether a particular book will live up to my admittedly high standards. If it passes this first marker, I’ll give it a chapter or two, possibly three, before deciding if I will fully invest my time in this fictional world. Many books on my Kindle display the proof that I began but did not finish the story, noting the place I stopped and the percentage of the story read.
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Poor writing tops the list of reasons I put down a book. If my internal red pen cannot be quiet, I cannot enjoy a book. I have slogged through a few books despite very poor writing, for one or a combination of reasons.
- The plot was intriguing enough I wanted to see how the story concluded.
- I liked something enough that I hoped the writing would improve. Almost never happens.
- I longed to discover some redeeming quality in the storyline or the characters, so much so that I pushed myself to continue reading. Sometimes happens but the poor writing forever remains a blot on the book.
- Because of how poor the writing was, I determined to read on to see if it could possibly get worse. Unfortunately, on several occasions, it got worse.
I have a wider tolerance for poor writing if I know the story is TRUE. I still cringe, elbowing my internal red pen to zip it, but I’m more likely to continue reading a real-life story. I once encountered a book that firmly hit on every poor writing pet peeve, yet because I believed it to be a true story about a subject near to my heart, I persevered. As often happens, the writing deteriorated further. I sloughed on, continually shaking my head at how awful it was. Near the very end, I looked up the author, seeking confirmation that I had been investing my time in a true story. Guess what? Turns out it was a complete work of fiction! While the storyline did have one intriguing branch, the poor telling of the story and the lackluster scenes did a great injustice to the story’s one redeeming quality.
Nudging the reader to keep turning the pages—for the right reasons—should be the goal of every fiction writer. We soon learn that the well-crafted, compelling scenes required to accomplish this feat do not happen by chance. More often their existence comes only as a result of blood, sweat, and tears on the part of the author. And then we still ponder whether the scene is compelling enough? Does it hound a reader to turn the page regardless of the late hour and the early morning ahead?
Tina Radcliffe will join the ACFW Indiana Chapter on March 13, via Zoom, for a presentation on “Creating Compelling Scenes.” Mark your calendar now for this noon to 2 p.m. discussion on scene structure, episodic writing, and tips that will take your writing from tepid to terrific. I for one can’t wait!
Check for more information on this event on our Facebookpage.
So, what makes YOU stop reading? Share the biggest offenders in the comments below.
Beth’s experiences substitute teaching and connecting with the teenage staff at the fast-food joint where she claimed a “back booth office” helped inspire her young adult “Choices Matter” fiction series. She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. Her “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog helps people of all ages navigate the choppy waters of saving sex for marriage while her “Slices of Real Life” posts find GOD in the day-to-day moments of real life.
As a genetic genealogy enthusiast, she writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents. Her journey to find and connect with her biological family is chronicled in the blog series “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers.” All of her writing endeavors can be found on her website, https://bethsteury.com .