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Monday, October 14, 2013

To Review or Not to Review, That is the Question

"Oh no," I hear you say as you sigh, "not another whining author complaining about a bad review."  Well no, actually, it's not.  Today I'm wearing my reader/reviewer hat, not my author bonnet, to share my latest dilemma.  

Anyone who visits my blog regularly will realise that I've been AWOL a fair bit recently.  No, not busy writing, sadly, but doing the next best thing, reading.  I read for pleasure, and also for a couple of review sites and there is a vast difference between these recreations.  When I read for pleasure, I choose for myself, and I'm experienced enough and discriminating enough to make choices that rarely disappoint.  If they do, I stop reading, simple as that.  Life's too short to plod through a book I'm not enjoying for the sake of publicly humiliating the poor author with a negative review.  

But when I'm reading for a review site, both the element of choice and ease of switching to something else are taken away from me.  We all know reading is subjective (as are reviews) and what delights me may bore you and vice versa.  I'm not a nasty person and I would do my utmost to avoid being unpleasant about someone else's hard work, even if I couch it constructively.  

So what are the cardinal sins of writing that invoke wrath from readers/reviewers?  I'm sure everyone has their pet hates and I'd love to hear yours, but here are just a few of mine.

Poor editing

Surely that has to be everyone's number one?  It seems to be the most common insult hurled at self-published authors, though rather unfairly, in my opinion.  Many of the smaller presses are just as guilty of this as authors, more so, in fact, because they take payment in the form of royalties from the author for this very purpose.  An author (or publisher) who can't be bothered to edit his work simply insults his reader.  Poor editing pulls the reader out of the fictional world with a rude jolt; it can often hinder understanding or even create misunderstanding.  Either way, it spoils the flow of the writing and damages the reading experience.  

Wrong or Poor formatting

This can have the same effect as poor editing, jerking the reader out of the story at the wrong time.  There is also no excuse for it in this internet-driven age, where the answers to every problem under the sun are available at the click of a mouse.  

It's also up to the author to send the reviewer the format requested.  Your publisher should send you the appropriate copies for this very purpose, or if you self-publish, then the onus is on you to create the files from your original word document.  There is a plethora of free software out there to help you.   

Mary Sue Characters

Leaving aside all the other potential problems with characterisation, this one really is my pet hate.  As an English teacher, I often received reams of creative writing samples from students (usually teenage girls) that they handed to me with faces aglow with pride or excitement. They loved writing it; it was the best story they'd ever written and so on.  I didn't have to plough through many paragraphs of their self-indulgent fantasising to realise why. Self-insertion is usually a sign of immaturity; it creates superficial, unbelievable and unlikeable characters no one wants to read about, except the writer and possibly her bezzies.  

Unrealistic Dialogue

Convincing dialogue comes alive in the reader's head, therefore speech or conversation should sound natural. When talking, we don't say 'I do not know,' or 'I do not think so,' (unless for specific emphasis) yet so often I see such formal styles being adopted in casual dialogue.  It's not true to the character and can grate on the reader.

Stretching Credibility

I'm willing to suspend disbelief when I pick up a novel, but I resent being asked to accept fabrications because of the author's ignorance or laziness.  When a character performs unimaginable feats without any pretensions to super-human powers, I grizzle. When I'm presented with an event or situation I know to be inaccurate, I feel cheated.  Nor do I take kindly to lies because the author didn't research the truth.  I want a modicum of verisimilitude in a story, no matter how far-fetched its plot.  It may not be probable but at least it should be possible (unless it's fantasy, about which I have no opinions since I rarely read the genre).

For you it may be poor plotting, POV problems, telling not showing or any number of other hurdles we as writers have to manoeuvre   Do leave a comment and let me know, while I ponder over my dilemma of whether to tell the author I can't review his work, or simply leave him a negative review.


Jacqueline D. Hopper said...

Wonderful post, Lynette. The greatest favor you can do for a writer--if you have the time--is compliment their strengths and point out their weaknesses. The smart ones (the ones you'll want to read later down the road) will take your constructive criticism and run with it. The egotistical ones (the ones who will find a fan base among family and friends) will shrug off your invaluable advice and continue writing the kind of manuscripts that'd make true readers cringe.

ManicScribbler said...

Hello Jacqueline - lovely to see you here. I so agree with you and, for my part, I always prefer to hear the negatives (as long as they are constructive) than the positives. As you say, that's the way to learn and improve, which is what the writing journey is all about.
Thanks so much for dropping by :)

Paula Martin said...

Great post, Lynette. I agree with everything you say. My other pet grumble is characters who call each other by name all the time - which people don't tend to do in 'real' life!

ManicScribbler said...

Lovely to see you here again, Paula. I know EXACTLY what you mean...but, I've actually watched myself doing just that in real life. Am I odd? I do try to curtail it in my writing, however. Promise, Paula... xxx

guiltless reader said...

I was wondering about that "do not" and the unnatural dialogue. I thought I was being nitpicky :)

Tara Fox Hall said...

I agree with everything you've said, Lyn :) I'm guilty of self insertion sometimes, but the characters are hardly perfect and usually flawed. I really don't like cookie cutter in any capacity in a book. FAB post :)

ManicScribbler said...

Not at all, guiltless reader. Unnatural dialogue is a turn-off; if you have to stop your reading and wonder if anyone really speaks like that, then it can't possibly be a good thing. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

ManicScribbler said...

Too right, Tara, but have no fears. Your writing is always unique and your stories wonderful. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. As ever, it's lovely to see you on this side of the pond.

LD Masterson said...

My personal peeve is logic errors. Even in fantasy or sci-fi, a break in logic will pull be out of a story faster than anything.

ManicScribbler said...

I agree with you, LD - that's one of the things I meant by stretching credibility - when the reader is in no doubt that something is wrong and we're asked to accept it as fact. Ughh!

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