RAZORED ZEN: <a href=http://charlesgramlich.blogspot.com/2013/01/reading-pet-peeve.html>Reading Pet Peeve</a>

Friday, January 25, 2013

Reading Pet Peeve

I've been reading a pretty good book lately but the author occasionally does something that bothers me. I might even call it a pet peeve. He'll start a chapter with some great, eerie, description that clearly suggests that something bad is about to happen. But then he'll short circuit it with some phrase like, "Looking back on it now, we had no idea how bad that night would be."  There are couple of things about this that bother me. First, it's as if the author doesn't trust his prose to convey impending threat and has to "tell" us that there is a threat. This is the equivalent of showing AND telling.  Second, it clearly lets us know that, no matter how bad things got, the person who is "telling" us the story survived. This cuts the suspense.

Now, the story is written in first person so you have a pretty good idea that person survives anyway, but I'd still rather "see" that survival occur rather than making sure ahead of time that I know it.  I actually did this in Swords of Talera and didn't even think about it at the time. Later I wished I hadn't put it in. I don't think it's as big an issue with fantasy as with horror, but it's still something I don't really like.

How about you? Does this kind of thing bother you? Or do you not even really notice it?  If you happened to  read Swords of Talera, did you notice it? It's about mid-way through chapter 1.


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At 8:55 AM, Blogger Keith said...

This kind of thing tends to bug me, too.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is odd. I don't read a lot of first person, so maybe i just haven't encountered it often enough.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Tom Doolan said...

I admit, it doesn't seem to bother me. I read Swords, and I noticed it, but again, it didn't bother me. As you say, since it was in first person, I already knew they lived. I think, in that instance, it adds to the suspence for me because then I start to wonder "How do they survive?"

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I think if handled properly, and not overdone, it can work. I don't remember it in Swords, but I loved that book so it must not have bothered me.

My biggest pet peeve is first person where the narrator DOES die. Drives me up a wall.

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I don't remember encountering something like this but I don't like it when an author lays it out as if the reader would understand. I have seen this in a couple of books I read not long ago.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Ty Johnston said...

Didn't notice it in Swords of Talera, but it has been a year or more since I last read it.

The approach isn't a pet peeve of mine, but I notice it. It seems somewhat juvenile, or perhaps old fashioned, like something a 19th-Century hack would pen. Still, I don't let it ruin my day.

On the other hand, I've seen some few writers use a similar approach quite well. Usually not when looking back, but sort of as foreshadowing. King has done it on occasion and it's worked, ending a chapter or section with something like, "They would never see one another again." I'm oversimplifying, but sometimes such an approach works.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Chris said...

It's almost a cinematic approach, isn't it? That kind of thing seems to happen often in movies, it seems to me.

At 3:38 PM, Blogger laughingwolf said...

agreed, charles...

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Deka Black said...

This worries me.. and i only endure it igf is used in a dialogue with other character. You know, soemthinglike:

-ASnd what happened?

+-First of all, i had no idea how bad that night was about to be

At 7:43 PM, Blogger Riot Kitty said...

I haven't read that particular book, but I find that totally annoying - I hate the dumbing down of plots for the reading public. My dad just got a book rejected because he "didn't explain enough", and was asked to revise it to literally lay everything out for the reader. In a mystery, no less.

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Richard Prosch said...

I agree with Chris. I'm also weary of the narrator turning out to be the psycho or monster we spent the entire story fearing in the first place.

At 7:28 AM, Blogger the walking man said...

What you described i used to like in a bar brawl or street fight because the next blow was telegraphed but in reading please...cut the damn cord and stop with the Morse code.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Keith, indeed.

Alex, I like first person fiction, but I've seen it done in other point of view's as well.

Tom, like any tool, it can be used sometimes to good effect, I imagine. But overused, or used improperly, it can hurt.

Chris, I've seen that first person dying thing and it is, well, weird for the reader, for sure. I hadn't thought of it as Cinematic. Now you've got me wondering. I'll have to pay attention to the movies I watch more.

Prashant, because it's a peeve of mine I notice it, I imagine. I don't think it bothers a lot of readers.

Ty, maybe the issue in the book I'm reading is more that the writer doesn't seem to trust his prose to do the job of building suspense. I could see if used sparingly and just at the right moment it might work.

Laughingwolf, :)

Deka, good point. If used in dialogue it might work pretty well. I'll have to think about that.

Riot Kitty, it's a fine line to walk between explaining enough and too much. but as a reader I certainly don't want to be led around on a leash by the writer.

Richard, that's been done way too much. It might have been OK the first time but no longer. Too cliche.

Mark, yeah, in a fight I imagine it's quite helpful. In chess too. Come to think of it. :)

At 9:53 AM, Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess used judiciously it wouldn't annoy me, but if it became a device that popped up all the time, it would.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Cloudia said...

Touche' Charles. The essence of story telling is complex & wonderful. I like the truths you share

At 1:54 PM, Blogger jodi said...

Charles, I hate that too. Not only do I feel 'played', I also lose interest. That style holds no credibility for me!

At 3:42 PM, Blogger ivan said...

First building up a story, then an unexpected let-down.
In Borges' famous story, the Aleph, the numinous Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion.

Yet for some artistic reason, Borges suddenly pipes in,

"Yet it was a false aleph"

Whaa...all that wonder and poof?

...Or maybe it's my reading comprehension in my dotage.

At 9:42 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Patti, yes, I think when it becomes something writers rely on.

Cloudia, I'm glad. Thanks.

Jodi, yes it seems kind of blatantly manipulative.

Ivan, good example of it.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger G. B. Miller said...

I do not recollect reading that in "Talera" but I agree it can be a pet peeve.

Personally, one of my pet peeves is when a writer gets so convoluted and drier than dirt with a story that a reader has to re-read the pages at least three times before they get it.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Richard Godwin said...

It sounds to me as though the author is trying to raise the suspense, buit it doesn't work. I wonder who you're reading Charles.

At 2:35 PM, Blogger Richard Godwin said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Oscar said...

It hasn't bothered me, but then I have to notice it first. I'll be on the lookout.

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

G.B., yeah when the writer seems to be primarily writing to himself, it gets a little troubling.

Richard, I think they are trying to raise the suspense but are taking the wrong approach. Since this is the writer's first novel, I'm cutting them some slack and not revealing the name. :)

Oscar, I know others that it doesn't bother. I guess that's why I called it a pet peeve.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Erik Donald France said...

Formed some strange alien word via typo. . .

Here's the English version: I definitely agree with you in general but did not notice in Talera, so you're off the hook . . . ~>

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Snowbrush said...

Yes, it bothers me too. Show me, don't tell me.

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, I worried at that thing in the first Talera book, after the fact, like a tongue worries a loose tooth. :)

Snowbrush, indeed. I'm getting picky in my old age maybe too.

At 7:20 PM, Blogger NyNy said...

A really good post may I say :) By the way, I wrote a post about my own fiction pet peeves on my blog so I hope you will read and comment with your own! http://nynyonlinex.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/fiction-pet-peeves/


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