Thursday, January 18, 2007

Writer's intuition

This Miles Kington piece in yesterday's Independent Online made me chuckle. It begins:

Hello, there.

Today I am going to tell you how to write a book review.

I am constantly surprised by the number of people I meet who have never written a book review, or, if they have, did not realise they were doing it at the time.

It is different with novels.

All of you, of course, will have written a novel by now.

Some of you may even have had it published and remaindered.

So you will know all about the art of fiction, which consists in telling the reader about your characters.

But what is book reviewing about?

Book review writing is very much the same, except that instead of telling people about characters, the idea is to tell the reader all about YOU.

But surely, I hear you protest, the idea of writing a book review is to tell the reader all about the book under review, and the writer.

Oh, please. This is no time for naivete.

It's a short, fun read, so click over there and check it out. I'll wait right here.

[Crickets chirp. Brenda reaches for her cafe latte and stares out the window as she sips meditatively.]

Hey, thanks for coming back. Mr. Kington was being a little silly, but he made some good points, don't you think?

I don't review books here at NRJW and I don't critique manuscripts or judge contests for unpublished authors. I have absolutely no talent for those things, and I believe talent is required to do them well. Sure, I can tell you if I liked a book; I can even tell you why I liked it (or didn't). What I can't do is tell you, for instance, why a book is bad. I just know it's bad, that's all.

I read the same way I write--purely by intuition. Don't ask me to find the topic sentence in a paragraph containing two or more sentences.* Don't ask me to describe the character arc in a romance novel, even one of my own. I can't, and when I tried in the past I edged uncomfortably close to insanity, so I gave up.

I know some of you nutty people get all thrilled over analyzing the structure of novels. I admire you, truly. I'm just glad that you're you and I'm not. And I will continue to leave my share of book-reviewing and manuscript-critiquing to you. Thanks.

*I have long been baffled by paragraphs. When I first started writing, I assumed my editors would correct my improper paragraph breaks, consolidating some paragraphs and dividing others as necessary. But they've never done that, and I mean never, which leads me to conclude (1) that I am accidentally getting it right, or (2) that proper paragraphing isn't an exact science, or (3) that the whole paragraph thing isn't nearly as important as my teachers wanted me to believe.

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Marianne McA said...

Reminds me of something I read last night, when I was mindlessly clicking links whilst waiting for the washing machine to finish.

". .At the paragraph level, there's a whole lot of nothing going on in a lot of published stories. Instead of recognizing that sentences and paragraphs can do triple or quadruple duty, the writers are using them merely to advance the story. But you can encode paragraphs with a lot more information about character, setting, and subtext without actually making them longer. But a lot of writers are apparently looking ahead to the next event rather than understanding that the events occur on a word, sentence, and paragraph level as well as at the level of action or conflict."

Just makes me feel so inadequate as a reader. It's not only that I wouldn't notice those details when I was reading - it's that even after reading an explanation like that, I don't know what I'm not noticing. What would an event at word level look like?

(Quote is from a Jeff VanderMeer, and it's quoted on a blog called The Reading Experience, which I came across on GOB's sidebar.)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think you must have got the hang of paragraphing by osmosis..Your paragraph structure was fine in a Family Forever!

Alison Strobel Morrow said...

Well that's a great way to get people to read your stuff--I'm totally curious, now, to see how you write and how you structure paragraphs! As an ex-teacher and current editor/writing tutor, paragraph issues stick out to me like giant flashing red lights. They drive me crazy.

(Your comment about thinking up tags for blog entries totally cracked me up. I have my own tags and have never thought of looking to see what technorati's are. I guess I should do that one of these days, but talk about a totally boring task!)

Brenda Coulter said...

Marianne, I actually saw that blog entry the other day, and like you, I didn't understand it. But rather than allowing myself to feel like an inferior reader (and writer), I chose to believe the guy was talking rot.

Aw, Bonnie. Thank you.

Alison, if you're really that curious about my paragraphing skills (or lack thereof), you can read most of the first chapters of my first two books online:

Finding Hope

A Family Forever