Saturday, October 11, 2008

I just finished reading a novel by a major American novelist and found it quite boring. There was no opening hook to grab my interest; I kept hoping that on the next page, a gripping plot would suddenly develop, but it never did. I slogged through the book by sheer determination. There was little action, little suspense, long unbroken passages of dialogue, and I found myself skimming over much of the book, just trying to get it over with. The only reason I continued to read was my interest in the subject matter of the book.

Many aspects of this book did not match up with what I had been taught about basics. Because of the author’s reputation, and my contrasting lack of knowledge and experience, I wondered if the problem was somehow me. I thought, who am I to question the technique of a popular established author? Am I off-base here? Perhaps I lacked appreciation for what others thought was actually a good book. I knew how to find out what others thought: I went to, did a search for this book, and read all the reader reviews.

I was relieved to find that most readers’ opinions were similar to mine. I gained confidence in my ability to critique the writing of others. I realized that just because an author is talented, not every piece of his or her writing is guaranteed to be equally good. Each piece must stand or fall on its own merits.

I have just started on another of his books--again, because of my interest in the subject matter, and because it comes recommended by someone else. I’m half way through the first chapter and am still waiting for it to “grab” me. I doubt I'll read this book. I have always loved books and am willing to give the author many chances to hook me, but other readers may not be so forgiving. I think a weakness of many books is to start by laying the foundation for the story, instead of jumping right into the action, filling in the details and background as it goes along.

As a writer of books for children, I know that I am competing with TV and computers. I only have a page or two in which to hook a reluctant reader, and each chapter must leave the reader wanting to know more. There must be action, dialogue, little narration, and opportunities to “hear” what the protagonist is thinking, so that the reader almost “becomes” the protagonist--seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, feeling what he feels. This is what I work towards.