A post over at Musings of Mistress of the Dark Path entitled Important notes on what readers do not want to see in a story got me thinking. You see, her list of things readers don’t want to see in a book sounds almost exactly like the list of problems readers are finding with the book my son and I are writing.
Her list of things readers don’t want includes:
1) A weak beginning-
2) Poor editing/proofreading-
3) Slow Pacing-
4) Bogging down the story with too many details-
5) Weak Dialog-
6) Misrepresented Characters-
First of all, I should say that our book has not been accused of having all these failings, but we seem to have hit most of them. And we have tried to correct some of these, but others make me wonder. Do we really need to follow this guidance or can we give readers a few things they might not think they want?
The obvious answer someone is waiting to shout out is, “No, if you don’t care about selling your book, you don’t have to pay any attention to this at all!”
But, equally obviously, we would like to sell our book, so we need to think about these things. But I think we need to make our own decisions about what we want to change and what we don’t.
The weak beginning is something we have struggled with. It’s funny how many of the problems with the book are with things we have added because someone said we needed to do such and such. We needed to show our character in his non-stressed condition so the big problem would look problematic. So rather than start with the chapter that introduced the problem, we added a chapter that explains a little about Katsuro and his life in the castle as well as explain why he wasn’t at home when the problem took place. It makes for a slow beginning but it introduces the reader to the character and to the environment. People who have read the introductory chapter either like it a lot or don’t like it at all. Do we chalk that up to differences of opinion or do we follow the more traditional view that the first chapter has to grab the reader with excitement?
Slow pacing is another problem we have. We spend time in the thoughts of the main characters. We tell rather than show sometimes. The main characters talk to each other and it doesn’t all advance the plot. But it gives insight into the characters. Part of this material was added when people wanted to know more about the characters. I was fine with that. This is not an action book as much as a book about people. If you don’t know the characters and care about them, why read the book?
Weak dialog isn’t precisely the complaint we have received, but readers have stated that some of the dialog is stilted. And it is. But it is intentional. The main character is a very traditional samurai. We have him speaking very formally. And it sounds odd to those of us who speak in contractions and fragments all the time. But we believe out character would not speak the way we do — so he doesn’t. But will readers accept this? Will they understand?
For me some of this comes down to the question of whether we should write the book we want to write or try to write the book we think readers want. We are sticking with writing the book we want to write. So far, at least. But I wonder if we are limiting our audience by doing that. Can we give readers some of these things they don’t want and still sell books? I guess we’ll see.