I haven’t been writing much recently, which is a result of my head being in too many directions at once to focus on a story. What I’ve been doing, in hopes that it will jog my muse into action, is reading. This can go one of two ways: I’ll be inspired by really good writing, or my muse will spitefully say ‘I can do better’ when I run into the bad.
What I’m not sure it will do, is the mediocre. I was reading a series – two, actually, by the same author – which I won’t name as I’m not going to be kind to them. It’s not an author I know or who knows me, so breathe! Both of them shared the same problem. As a matter of fact, I started reading the second series to see if it had the same issues as the first. Don’t get me wrong – I finished both series, a total of eight books (Indie novels, so shortish) – the author will get paid. They weren’t badly written, technically sound, just… the premises were fantastic. The delivery was sheer wish fulfillment.
There was no real tension or conflict in either series. Sure, there were contrived moments where I could tell the author intended the reader to feel some alarm for the characters. There was even a plot point where I wondered if a secondary character (and a child) would be sidelined to the main characters plans and goals (this did not happen). Overall, though, everything the MC wanted, the MC got. One of the series involves the MC giving up her freedom, which set my teeth on edge. I don’t know if it’s just me, having been in a position where I had no autonomy, but the MC shrugging and going along with it almost had me walling the book (gently, as I was reading on my phone). In both series, the MC is given almost unimaginable power that will grant them everything they could possibly desire, and there’s no consequence to it. Not really. Some unpleasant jealousies, but never any real danger.
I was talking to a couple of friends when I finished the second set of books, about my irritation with them. One of them, who may be the best judge of character I’ve ever met, pointed out that it’s likely the author has never had to deal with real hardship in their life. It’s difficult to write a try fail sequence that has real weight until you know what that feels like. Or at least have sufficient imagination to model it in your characters. I’m not actually saying you need to have an awful life to write conflict. You definitely do not. But you must realize that life isn’t about getting everything you want, without a few scars along the way (both mental and physical).
The other problem that played into this feeling of wish-fulfillment is pacing. Since the books were short, there was little time to spend on developing the plot points. Which meant that there was more telling than showing, especially when it came to character development and (sigh) romance. Characters trusted one another far too easily and quickly. Alliances formed that felt all too convenient to the author, without any real foundation built for them. It was all too easy.
Which likely means my muse is going to be a cast-iron b^%$ to the next story I dive into… l apologize to my characters in advance!
I read for escapism, so I don’t mind unreal books. I really love a good happy ending. I resent when that is given too cheaply to the characters. You know what’s a really good book with a happy ending? Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice. It’s not an easy book to read, it’s based solidly in very real war, pain, and tragedy. But the ending is… wonderful. Hopeful. Makes me hug the idea of it to my heart where it can warm me and give me courage to keep on.