Friday, September 09, 2005

A Book Rant--Part One

Today I wanted to rant about a couple of books I recently read. I so wanted to recommend both of them, but I can't. I'm not going to say what they are because it's irrelevant to what I want to write about. I want to write about my opinions as a writer, not a reader. And it would be a disservice to them to imply they're not worth reading because I think nonwriting readers might enjoy them more than I did. I decided to do rant number two in a separate post, since the two together were way too long.

One writer is a woman's fiction writer. I don't read a lot of women's fiction, but I like this woman's books. This book is several books into a series. In woman's fiction and in genre Romance there seems to be a convention that you have to summarize the previous books in a series, bring the reader who comes into the series late up-to-date on the character's lives as told in the previous books. This works fine, if the series is short, up to three books, maybe four. When the series is open-ended, though, the backstory sections interfere with the reader following the current story, especially if she's read the previous books in the series.

To complicate things further, she spends a lot of the book setting up the story for the next book. All of that takes page space away from the current story. You're waiting for her to get back to the story the setup from the last book promised and don't really care much yet about this new storyline.

The format of the book is a bit unusual, too. She tells ongoing stories about the series characters. The only connection between the stories is the characters' relationships. There's no connection between the events themselves. It's just the life events of the ongoing characters who live in the same place. It reads like a bunch of novellas, but instead of being an anthology, they're broken up and sections of each story take turns being chapters in the novel. This format makes the stories feel disconnected, both as individual storylines and from each other. The story she set up in the previous book doesn't get any more weight or page space than any of the other stories, so it doesn't feel like a main plot. That would be OK, if it hadn't been promoted as the "big" question for this book by having that huge setup in the last book. But the way it's written, it feels like a letdown because so little of the current novel is given to that particular story.

If I were asked to make suggestions, first I'd suggest that the author defy the convention of putting in all that backstory. It doesn't work for long series. Put in whichever aspects of it are pertinent to this story and leave out the rest. If people want to know the details, they can buy the earlier books.

My second suggestion would be to omit the elaborate setup of the next book's story. Rather than setting up the events of the next book, introduce us to the main character. Instead of having that character start to deal with the problem that will be the main one for the next book, involve her in the main problem of the current story.

My third, and strongest suggestion, would be to tell the current story in the current book. Strengthen that story and make the other stories subordinate to it. Better yet, connect the individual story events in more than one way, not limiting the connections to the characters knowing each other, being relatives, or living in the same place.