I picked up my new science fiction door-stop of a book from a well-known author on Saturday and sat down last evening to languish in the sense of wonder.
Half an hour later the book was in the hall to go to the charity shop. Rejected.
I felt disappointed and let down. The author had totally failed to deliver on the promise that he had made to me when I picked that book up.
As a writer, I mulled over the reasons it had failed to capture my interest while doing the washing up. As you do.
Someone else loved this book.
I know how hard it is to create a stonking huge multi-layered book like this, so I am very loathe to criticise any author, and the book had some good reviews and quotes on the cover, so this has to be a VERY personal assessment so that I can learn and go forward with a better understanding of my own expectations.
By the end of the first chapter:
* I did not have one scrap of empathy or sympathy for the main character – I simply did not care about him or his world.
* I had no idea what he needed or wanted in his life, or what mattered to him. I had no clue what he feared most in life or what would happen if that event should occur.
* There was no energy in the writing. It was full of info dump and exposition and felt flat, even though several characters were involved in a dialogue for most of the chapter.
* There was no Inciting Incident/Trigger/Call to Action which would shock or encourage me into reading on. As a result, there was no Central Dramatic Question for the story to answer.
I had just been looking again at one of the best Young Adult Science Fiction books at the moment – ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. It was quite possible that I was comparing the opening of the two books without realising that I was doing so.
By the end of the first chapter of The Hunger Games:
* I had deep sense of empathy and sympathy for the main character Katniss – I cared about this young girl who had to fight to look after her family in her hard cruel world – often by breaking the rules so that they could survive.
I had engaged with Katniss and her world.
* I understood what she needed and wanted in her life, and what mattered to her. I knew what she feared most in life and the motivation behind that.
* The writing was first person single. Action based. Constantly moving but still inside the head of the main character.
* The Inciting Incident/Trigger/Call to Action shocked me into reading on. It was the very thing that Katniss feared would happen.
And this event forces her to make an irreversible decision in a moment of high pressure. Revealing her character.
The Central Story Question was simple and easy to understand. The rest of this book was going to be the story of whether Katniss is able to survive this ordeal or perish in the fight.
The stakes were completely clear – her life and the life and survival of her family were dependent on the decisions she would take and what she would do in the coming days.
Now all I have to do is use these learning points and create the same dramatic tension in my own work.
GULP. High Standards indeed.