TL;DR: The Problem With Big Books

This may make me sound like a traitor to readers everywhere, but I am generally not a fan of big books, specifically ones that exceed 450 pages in length.

That’s not to say I don’t like any large books. One of my favorite books of all time, Gone With The Wind, is nearly 1,000 pages long. However, in recent years, it seems to me most of the thicker novels I’ve suffered through have been long purely for the sake of being long.

Unfortunately, I believe I know the reason for this.

Across the literary community, there is this presumption that if a book is large and takes ages to read then said book is deep and important and the reader should take it seriously. After all, so many classical works of literature boast a heavy word count.

“Why use one word when you can use twenty, my good man?” say the classic writers, smoking their pipes and not raising their ten plus children. “Why not add in a stock character and detail their entire lives even though they will ultimately have no baring on the plot whatsoever?”

I’m not saying I’m incapable of being patient and waiting it out, but you got to give me something book.

Don’t string me along for 300 plus pages just because I’ve become invested enough in the plot and characters to wait.

Don’t put in pages worth of padding just so you can disappoint me with a predictable twist and cardboard villains.

One of the most aggravating reads I’ve ever sat through was The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, a hefty 720 page monster that took me over a month to finish. I stayed with it for so long because it had an excellent premise which the author got to…eventually. But in the meantime the reader had to slog through hundreds of pages of extraneous material that had no impact on the story at all.

Honestly, I have no idea how it got past an editor’s red pen of doom. The main character doesn’t even show up until the novel is almost halfway over. How do you even get away with that?!

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Then there was The Magus by John Fowles which was the most dense, pretentious, and mind-numbingly dull book I’ve ever read. Getting past the annoyingly self-congratulating attitudes of the main characters, the readers is subjected to page upon page of backstory that can be summed up in a paragraph or two.

(Sidenote: If you’re having difficulty sleeping, listen to the audiobook for The Magus on Youtube. I haven’t slept this heavily in years.)

That’s not to say a story should never be long, but there has to be some criteria, wouldn’t you agree?

I’ll answer my own rhetorical question with a non-rhetorical yes.

Here are a handful of justifications for writing a large novel:

  1. It takes place over the course of many years/months.
  2. There are multiple characters whose prospectives help increase the depth and overall quality of the story.
  3.  The story requires time devoted to explaining the world and how it operates to further engross the reader and create a feeling of realness.
  4. Extra time is needed to tie up loose ends.
  5. It is creating an atmosphere that will help with the climax’s pay-off.

If none of the reasons above are applicable, then I have no interest in reading it. I’m sorry, but there are hundreds of books out there that I could be enjoying and I don’t want to waste my time with a story that just wants to meander on forever.

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My Emotionally Abusive Relationship with Daphne Du Maurier

I can say with unshakeable certainty that Rebecca is one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read. It wasn’t an action-packed gore-fest like many books of the same genre, but in my mind that’s what makes it one of the greats.

It’s a British novel positively dripping with atmosphere and dramatic tension with an excellent pay-off.

It’s for this reason that I’ve found many other of Du Maurier’s works to be…less than stellar.

After reading Rebecca, I thought I had discovered an unsung hero of classic literature. Why had I gone so many years without knowing who Daphne Du Maurier is? Why had I been deprived of knowing her name?

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I looked farther into her works and rejoiced to find My Cousin Rachel, a novel that promised more atmospheric English countrysides, three-dimensional characters, an intriguing storyline and a gut-punch ending…..

Well, three out of four isn’t bad….

You see, the more you read Daphne Du Maurier, the more it seems that you run into this problem. The woman can write. She is a wonder at creating haunting environments, interesting characters and working up mysteries.

The problem is, more often than not, her endings tend to be woefully underwhelming. And when they aren’t, they’re just frigging weird.

One such example is Don’t Look Now wherein a couple that has just lost their child decide to go on holiday to Italy. While there they meet a pair of elderly twins, one of which purports to be psychic and prophesies doom for John, the main character. Well, the story keeps you on the tips of your toes in true Du Maurier fashion. Red-herring after red-herring is thrown at you, Then…the climax and……!

He’s murdered by a serial-killing midget…..

A serial….killing…midget….

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Kay, that was f*cking weird, but the next ones gotta be….!

Okay, guy is randomly murdered and random weird greek symbolism that doesn’t…really relate to the climax…

Okay, this next one will….! Okay, massive homophobia-

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In spite of the many times she’s disappointed me, I just can’t give up on her.

She’s just good enough at what she does that she is able to draw me in again and again. But those endings…man, those endings kill me. And not in a good way.

I just don’t understand how someone could have such a strong character and personality, only to demure when it matters the most. She makes all of these promises and she never keeps them. She beguiles me with gorgeous imagery and diction, only to leave me crumpled on the floor like a used tissue.

Why? Does she feel too much pressure to perform? Am I more invested than she is? Has she just moved on to bigger and better things?

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Why, Daphne? Why didn’t Rachel just kill Philip when she had the chance? It doesn’t make sense, Daphne.

I’m currently working on Jamaica Inn and I’m fretful that I’ll drudge through it and experience the same kind of disappointment again. But I’m just so curious….I have to know what happens.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe she will have that jarring jump-out-of-your-pants ending I’ve been waiting for. I mean, it’s not like all her endings were that, bad right? Maybe I was being too hard on her. Perhaps I’m the one to blame for my high expectations.

I’ll give you another shot, Daphne.

I can’t quit you.

Editing is the Worst Thing Ever

Is there anything quite as beautiful as writing the first draft of a story?

Every moment is primed with intrigue, wonder, and mystery.

You just paint everything on the metaphorical canvass as you see it in your mind’s eye. Ideas pour forth from you like a soda fountain filled with Mentos

You pat yourself on the back for every clever line, every twist and turn, every unique character.

Then, once the dust has settled, you must look back on your writing….

And realize that literally everything is horrible.

There are plot-holes everywhere, nobody’s motivation makes sense, the action is either too slow or too fast, the plot is too predictable or disjointed. The list goes on and on.

The worst part is realizing you’re actually going to have to fix this crap.

All it takes for your hard work to be torn asunder is the word “why.”

Why didn’t they just do this? Why didn’t they do that? Why didn’t he ask her this? Why didn’t she stay at home instead?

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You will have to answer these questions and many, many more 😀

Not only that, but you may have to remove some of your favorite sequences in order for the new continuity to make sense. That means hacking away at that razor sharp dialogue and those gorgeous descriptions, leading you to meander down a road rife with uncertainty.

Well…you could ask someone to be your beta reader and get their opinion, but then they may question your literary genius.

You can’t have that.

But really there’s nothing for it.

It’s just another stumbling block on the road to success, or, as is often the case with writing, another mine in a minefield of never-ending despair and disappointment.

Perhaps in between drafts you should take a break. Let it sit for a while and then come back to it when it’s had time to cool. Then you can turn your keen eye to the festering pile of dung that is your first draft with a clear perspective and can dispose of it accordingly.

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Regardless, I think this may be one of the hardest parts of writing. Besides… everything else.

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The “13 Reasons Why” Controversy

I read the book 13 Reasons Why in high school before this Netflix series came out and it’s always stuck with me. From what I’ve read on social media, it would seem that the TV show has had the same effect and it’s become a hit amongst teens and adults alike.

However, like any good show, it would seem that it’s not without controversy.

Many have watched this and are concerned that it “glamorizes” suicide and that it’s “dangerous” and “harmful” to teenagers. To a point, I can see where they are coming from. Hannah is most definitely trying to get back at those who wronged her so there is an element of revenge-porn to this. Not to mention there’s this overarching theme that each of the students she sent a tape to are “responsible for her death.”

To me this is a problem as I am a major supporter of the concept of free will. I believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own actions and blaming one person for another person’s life choices is a slippery slope.

On the other hand, I am careful to draw the conclusion that this show is harmful and needs to be stopped. For one thing, many people seem to be arguing for the hypothetical. Someone somewhere might do something, therefore, we must stop that someone who may or may not exist from killing themselves because of what they saw on Netflix by cancelling this show! Here’s the thing: If someone kills themselves because of a show they saw on Netflix, it’s doubtful that they weren’t already considering suicide as an option. It’s not the show’s fault.

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Secondly, I like that this show has many realistic situations and feelings that come with being a teenager. It has the potential to open up a lot of dialogue about suicide, and allowing teens to relate to a character that has the same thought-process as them can have a positive impact.

Thirdly, while I don’t believe any one person is “responsible” for another’s suicide, it demonstrates how someone’s actions can greatly impact another’s life. Each time someone let her down by being selfish, or cruel, or a bully, it drove Hannah closer to the edge. None of the actions alone were enough to make her take her own life, but they all piled up which caused her to reach her breaking point. It shows that you should be kind to everyone because you have no idea what’s going on inside their head. Even if you think you’re just looking out for yourself, you can seriously hurt someone without realizing it.

Then there’s the argument that this show “glamorizes” suicide and, therefore, must be removed from Netflix. As I mentioned earlier, I will concede that there are unhealthy behaviors being exhibited in this show. But to argue that it “glamorizes” suicide? I don’t see it. Hannah is dead. She doesn’t watch the events unfolding gleefully like a vengeful wraith. She only appears in flashbacks.

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However, even if it did “glamorize” it, don’t we already expose teenagers to works that make suicide look attractive?

Like….Shakespeare?

In the schools I attended, both Romeo and Juliet as well as Hamlet were required reading. As I’m sure everyone knows, the climax of the former ends with both lovers killing themselves in a desperate attempt to be with one another after having known each other a whopping three days. That’s not exactly setting a healthy precedent.

My senior year we devoted hours analyzing Hamlet’s To Be or Not To Be Speech which is a monologue entirely devoted to Hamlet contemplating whether or not he should off himself.

That is the most beautiful way to describe suicide and it’s complexities that I’ve ever heard.

“To die, to sleep, perchance to dream.” 

I’m not sure you can describe death more poetically than that.

Regardless of how you may feel about 13 Reasons Why, not talking about suicide isn’t going to make it go away. If parents are genuinely concerned about the effect this show might have on their child, then they should have a conversation with them, not just insist that this show be removed.

While I recognize this story, in book form and TV form, has issues, I also believes it is a predominately good story and deserves to be told. It puts a spotlight on a delicate subject and encourages discussion about depression in teenagers; a subject that is normally ignored or poorly handled by adults.

I recommend you read/watch it for yourself. It really is worth your time.

Why You Should Love Unloveable Characters

I hear readers complain time and time again that they cannot get into a story because the character is a “bad person.”Now I can understand not wanting to read something because the character is unbelievable or underdeveloped, but a bad person?

I say “bad people” make some of the best characters. Why? Three reasons:

1. They’re more like us than we want to admit. 

As much as many of us would like to think that our thoughts are squeaky clean and we would never wish death on the person that cut us off in traffic, that’s very rarely the case. What makes unlikeable characters great is that they give a voice to the inner demons that exist inside all of us.

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I get a lot of wish-fulfillment out of watching these characters go about their lives. It’s liberating to see someone who isn’t afraid to let their hair down and screw around with society’s expectations.

2.They’re more complex (and therefore more interesting). 

The writer can’t rely on their MC spewing political correctness in order for the audience to feel sympathy for them. To pen a good character who is also unlikeable, an author has to bestow upon his progeny traits that make up for their lack of niceness. If anything, a writer has to work even harder to write a compelling nasty character than they do a nice vanilla one.

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That’s why behind every unlikeable protagonist is a damn good backstory. I have a great deal of respect for people that chose these types of people to push their story along. You may think it’s difficult to write a good “good” character, but it’s even more difficult to write a good “bad” character.

3.They’re unpredictable. 

If a character is a good one, it’s unavoidable they will screw up and do something morally ambiguous at some point. However, it’s pretty obvious they won’t fall too far, otherwise they won’t be a good guy anymore. This is one of the reasons why whenever a benevolent character is faced with a moral dilemma, I find myself looking at my watch. I already know they’re going to not kill that person, or pick the “easy” choice that might result in harming others.

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But when it comes to an unlikeable character, all bets are off. You have no idea what these people are capable of. You think you know them, then, all of the sudden, WHAM!!

They keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.

Which is great if you’re a seasoned reader who has become jaded towards formulaic writing.

A.k.a me.

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Don’t worry. Liking bad characters does not make you a bad person.

It just means you’re more in touch with your devious side.

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Being a Reader in an Unliterary World

Growing up, it was difficult to find people who loved to read as much as I did. Or people who read at all, really.

I’ve always baffled by people who claim reading is boring, and yet spend hours and hours in front of the TV watching reality television.

“How can you read so much?” they ask. “It’s so boring. Now excuse me while I watch a rich woman I’ve never met before have her nails painted following a fifteen minute shopping spree.”

How…how is that more interesting? How? I do not understand.

I defy you to give me a convincing reason why watching Kim Kardashian breaking down over shoes is more interesting than a young boy wizard fighting an evil order with a leader so terrifying that just saying his name sends people into throes of agony.

What also confuses me is how many people seem to take pride in their illiteracy. They’ll gaze at you with a wide grin and tell you  “they don’t read” or “they don’t have time to read.”

Yeah, they don’t have time to read, but they can punch out an entire series on Netflix in two days. You aren’t fooling anyone. 

Besides I can attest to the fact that if you read for maybe 10 minutes a day, you should be able to finish a full-length novel in a month. Bookmarks exist for a reason.

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People often ask me what the point of reading is. Why would you read when you can wait until the movie comes out and see everything rather than having to imagine it?

Well, for one thing, books are longer than movies and therefore have more time for things like character development, setting up atmosphere, and give you the opportunity to be inside peoples’ heads without the use of half-assed voice overs.

It’s also been proven that people who read novels  generally have more empathy than people who don’t. This makes sense to me since most books now are told through first-person. You are constantly viewing things from the perspective of other people.

But reading makes you anti-social, Rachael!

Pop quiz: how long were you on your phone when you went out to dinner with your friends or significant other? Do you talk to people on the bus, or do you just listen to your music? Do you prefer texting as opposed to talking on the phone because it gives you the power to reply later if you don’t want to talk right now?

Pencils down. Ooh. These results are not good.

I apologize for my saltiness.

If I sound bitter, it’s only because I’ve had to defend my hobby countless times. I don’t get why it’s so hard for people to see why I read, or treat it like it’s some sort of ailment  rather than a perfectly healthy leisure activity.

Oh, well. At least Darcy understands.

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Enough With The One-Word Book Titles!

Is anyone else getting tired of one-word book titles?

They’ve exploded in popularity in recent years and seem especially prevalent in YA lit. Particularly with covers that feature attractive female teens wearing extravagant ballgowns and holding their hair up promiscuously.

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I realize there are many good book titles with a single word or name, but it’s becoming more obnoxious because people are using less imaginative and eye-catching words.

More and more I’m seeing books titled things like Skating or Dancing.

That tells me nothing and doesn’t encourage me to find out what the book is about.

Think about it. Would you do that in this sort of situation?:

Co-worker: Hey, Bob! How was your vacation?

You: Turquoise.

Co-worker: …….

See? Turquoise is a perfectly nice color, but it isn’t that compelling.

Compare this to The Woman In Black. When you see a title like this you’re forced to speculate. Who is this woman? Why is she wearing black? Is she going to a funeral? Is she a ghost?  I wonder what this book is about.

Same thing with The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Nighttime. What was the incident? What did the dog do? I’m interested.

I don’t get that same reaction from a single word, unless it’s a person’s name or not commonly used in day-to-day speech.

I’ve heard the argument that it’s often used because people have low attention spans, but I personally think that’s crap. How lazy are you if you can’t take the time to read three words? And if you happen to be that lazy, you probably aren’t the type of person that reads books anyhow.

Think about it. Would you rather read a book called Maze or Maze Runner?

A book called Fahrenheit or Fahrenheit 451? Okay, that’s technically a word and a number, but the number at least makes you question what could be cooked at that temperature. It sends your mental gears turning.

All I’m asking is for one more word, publishers. One more word and I’ll be happy.

Bookish Culture On the London Underground

We spent a day in London, which basically means we spent a day in the London Underground.

Our professors told us to dress in layers since it was predicted to rain quite a bit that day….

So there we were, wearing long-sleeve shirts and rain coats in 75 degree weather  (23 degrees celsius) and thick humidity, cramped into glorified tissue boxes that threw us around like loose change in a tin can.

Much to our dismay, the Tube is not equipped with air conditioning. In fact, most places in London aren’t (at least from what I experienced). Consequently, we were made to sweat buckets in the company of strangers who all looked as if they were a Sarah McLachlan song away from shooting themselves in the face.

But it wasn’t all bad. At least from my book-nerd point of view. Because while trapped in the Devil’s Lipstick, I saw something I haven’t seen in quite a while in my neck of the woods: people reading paperback books in public.

I’d seen people with novels on the airplane ride over, but I’m not used to seeing people with anything other than their phones in their hand while frequenting public places.

The reason for this change is likely because there is no cell service underground. Or at least I couldn’t find any with my international plan.

Another thing I noticed as we scuttled about frantically, trying not to lose each other, is that they had advertisements for books everywhere.

They weren’t just self-help books about how to get thin that were written by celebrities either. Many of them were fiction and the effort that went in to each of them was inspiring. They looked like movie trailers, some featuring the image of their respective authors.

I wish I could have taken a few photos, but unfortunately I was trying to save memory on my phone and there wasn’t enough time to get out my other camera to take them.

It was just so uplifting to see books being given the recognition they deserve outside of a bookstore. There seems to be more emphasis on reading over there.

I could get used to that.

London, I don’t miss your Tube all that much. But I do miss seeing an appreciation for the written word in such a public way.

 

Wherein a Writer Takes a Break From the Internet

For the past few days, I’ve decided to use one of my hundreds of unused journals in leu of battling my internet addiction in an attempt to crank out a chapter or two. I believe the results speak for themselves.

I started writing about three days ago and I’m halfway through with this journal.

That’s with taking breaks for six or seven hours to hang out with my boyfriend or take care of unfinished business.

While the pages of my journal are smaller than a piece of copy paper, I’ve still averaged about 27 pages a day.

One thing I’ve noticed about writing everything long-hand is the experience feels so much more personal. More than anything, it’s just fun.

It reminds me of back in the day when I didn’t have my own laptop and had to settle for my dad’s ancient brick when he wasn’t using it for work.

In between those times I didn’t have a choice but to use a notebook. I’ve since thrown away most of those away out of shame, but I still look back fondly on those nights when I would go through ink pen after ink pen, working on something just because I enjoyed it.

So I think the best way for me to accomplish my goals is to return to basics. I know I won’t get much “networking” done (I’ll get to that in a later post), but I miss being able to fully immerse myself in the work without the temptation of the internet.

I don’t fixate on word choice or getting the plot exactly right. I’m a boulder rolling down a hill and nothing can slow me down.

I want to write now. I want to continue the story and spend time with these characters. It feels like I’ve been backpacking through a world of my own design. Is there anything cooler than that?

The Author Knows Best: Book-to-Movie Adaptations

I’m not a purist like some readers when it comes to book-to-movie adaptations. I believe it’s okay to change certain elements, or cut out scenes if the time constraints don’t allow for them.

However, Hollywood has a bad habit of fixing things that aren’t broken.

They make badass characters completely pointless (Annabeth in the Percy Jackson films), they remove all humor from a story that is supposed to be a comedy ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie), or they just straight up give the story an icepick lobotomy (Cat in the Hat).

The main reasons movies like these fail is because those behind the movie don’t care about what made the original source material great in the first place. They just want to cash in on the book’s success.

As a result, a lot of these movies make a bit of money, then vanish into the ether, never to be watched or spoken of again.

The best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen are usually the ones where the author has had at least some influence on the production.

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Without J.K. Rowling’s input as a consultant, Alan Rickman wouldn’t have known how to approach the character of Professor Snape and the twist that Lily was actually the love of his life would have come completely out of left-field.

Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl and, as a result, it was able to successfully juggle the action, intrigue, and social commentary of the book. If this had been written by someone other than the writer, this would have likely been a train-wreck, or a dime-a-dozen thriller rather than a brilliant commentary about the media and modern relationships.

Especially since Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to write social commentary anymore.

The Fault in Our Stars was also a brilliant adaptation that captured the humor and heartbreak of the book. John Green was a strongly involved in the making of the movie and, of course, it became a big hit unlike many  YA novels that are made into film (excluding Hunger Games and Harry Potter, obviously). I believe this mostly had to do with the cast and crew’s willingness to listen to Green’s input instead of interjecting an unnecessary love triangle or “hip lingo.”

If the filmmakers haven’t bothered to read the book they should, at the very least, have an understanding of why these stories resonate so strongly with readers, and respect authors as fellow artists rather than brushing them off.

Authors may not be able to write a screenplay of their work, but they do understand the material. They spent months, maybe even years, with these characters and settings.

They’ve had to kill their darlings before so they understand that some things have to be changed for a visual medium. However, their input could prevent something important from being chucked in the bin.

Some writers may not be well acquainted with the world of cinema, but that doesn’t mean their views should be discounted. After all, they were able to make thousands, or even millions, of dollars without A-list actors, exotic sets, or fancy cinematography.

Think about that for a second.

Also, stop making movies about nonfiction self-help books.

Just…..stop.