Are Readers Being OD’d On Angst?

Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?

I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.

Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.

Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.

Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict

Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?

I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.

They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”

I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?

That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.

Put More STORY in the Story

I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.

Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.

Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.

For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.

The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.

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Opening Doors

Doors + quote

Good Speech

by Archibald Lampman

Think not, because thine inmost heart means well,
thou hast the freedom of rude speech:
sweet words
are like the voices of returning birds
filling the soul
with summer, or a bell
that calls the weary and the sick to prayer.
Even as thy thought,
so let thy speech be fair.

Archibald Lampman

Sites For Free E-Books

There’s an old joke from back in the days when service stations all had an outside air pump so you could fill your own tires whenever they got low. Maybe most of them still do? I don’t look after tires anymore. 🙂

The joke goes something like, “The first Scotsman who discovered FREE AIR, trying to get as much for free as he could, blew out all four tires.”

Yeah, I know it’s not politically correct to make ethnic jokes anymore, but I thought of it when an e-mail popped into my In-box this afternoon. It said, “65 FREE e-books, various genres.” With all the free novels being offered by various services, being of Scottish ancestry myself I just might blow out the memory in my e-reader. Thankfully that can’t happen.

Anyway, I went to Book Cave Direct and looked over the list. A few might interest me; a lot of the stories aren’t the genres I’d read or recommend. I did see one book that instructs writers on how to format their Word documents for publishing on Kindle. For someone wanting to publish their own e-book, that could be handy. Here’s the link if you want to check out the list yourself.

The second last book on their list, Blue Hydrangeas, is one I have read, really enjoyed and would recommend. This is the story of a senior husband whose wife has Alzheimer’s. He dreads the thought of putting her in a nursing home, so is caring for her at home but he’s finding it an every-minute-all-day job. A poignant and realistic novel. Read my review here.

Two days ago I also got a notice from one of my favorite writers, Dan Walsh, informing his fans that his book, Remembering Dresden, is free on Amazon until tomorrow. I already have this one; it’s on my “To Read Soon” list.

I’ve gotten some really good books from BookBub, too; they send out a new list of free and specially priced books daily or weekly, as you prefer. If you’re interested, you can find them at bookbub.com. There’s also storycartel.com (where you agree to do a review in exchange for a free book), instafreebie.com and half a dozen others.

Do you have a favorite site that offers free e-books? If you’re a writer, have you found these sites really helpful in promoting your book? I understand authors have to pay a small fee to get their books on the lists sent out.

My goal for this winter is to read the books I’ve already downloaded and write reviews for these. The whole idea behind authors giving away their books through these sites is to generate more reviews. Being a writer myself, I want to lend support where I can, so be prepared for a bunch of book review posts in the next couple of months.

The Sorrow Tugs

by Edgar Guest

There’s a lot of joy in the smiling world;
there’s plenty of morning sun
and laughter and songs and dances, too,
whenever the day’s work’s done;
full many an hour is a shining one,
when viewed by itself apart,
but the golden threads in the warp of life
are the sorrow tugs at your heart

Oh, the fun is froth and it blows away,
and many a joy’s forgot,
and the pleasures come and the pleasures go,
and memory holds them not;
but treasured ever you keep the pain
that causes your tears to start,
for the sweetest hours are the ones that bring
the sorrow tugs at your heart.

The lump in you throat and the little sigh
when your baby trudged away
the very first time to the big red school–
how long will their memory stay?
The fever days and the long black nights
you watched as she, troubled, slept
and the joy you felt when she smiled once more–
how long will that all be kept?

The glad hours live in a feeble way,
but the sad ones never die.
His first long trousers caused a pang
and you saw them with a sigh.
And the big still house when the boy and girl,
unto youth and beauty grown,
to college went; will you e’er forget
that first grim hour alone?

It seems as you look back over things,
that all that you treasure dear
is somehow blent in a wondrous way
with a heart pang and a tear.
Though many a day is a joyous one
when viewed by itself apart,
the golden threads in the warp of life
are the sorrow tugs at your heart.

From his book A Heap O’ Livin’
© 1916 by the Reilly & Britton Co.

Books: 5000 Words Per Hour

5,000 WORDS PER HOUR: Write Faster, Write Smarter
© 2015 by Chris Fox

In preparation for NaNoWriMo I’ve been rereading this short, motivational e-book. The writer gives his system for improving your writing skills to the point you’re whacking out 5000 words per hour. Can you see yourself doing that?

Motivation is a powerful force, he says. And he knows, because he’s motivated himself to lose 100 pounds and write a dozen novels plus half a dozen other books on writing and editing. So he’s not just whistling Dixie. He has developed this system and shares it because it has worked for him.

We start with short writing practices or sprints, typing without pausing to edit in any way, including correcting typos. Here’s where I digress. While I see merit in what he’s saying, I simply must correct my spelling mistakes. (I make one or two for every ten words.) If it slows me down, so be it.

He advocates using the same “sprint” system for editing. Don’t agonize over each word during the first edits. This thought helped me a lot. I tend to want Chapter One perfect before I move on to Chapter Two. I never do get to the last chapter.

Anyway, as you practice every day and chart your progress, he promises you’ll see improvement in both speed and also your ability to plot out your scenes in advance and catch your writing flaws. By the way, this author once a pantser who rarely finished a manuscript, is now a confirmed plotter. You need to be one to crank out this much content without stopping to wonder, “Now what happens next?”

I’d encourage any writer to read his book and see what you think. Some of us older ones are so set in our ways I’m not sure it will make a lot of difference — but they say you can always learn something new.

Even if you don’t get past, say 2000 words an hour, you’re still going to ace NaNoWriMo, where you need to do just over 1670 words a day for a month to get your 50,000 words Winner’s Badge. I did a fifteen-minute sprint and my word count was 650 words, which would give me 1300 words in half an hour — spelled right. 🙂

Practice every day, the author says. That’s the ticket.

Books by Cindy Bell

Something Old, Something New — Part B

Author Cindy Bell has written a number of cozy mysteries and has several series on the go. I’ve read and liked four of her Dune House Cozy Mystery Series. I’d rate them at about 3.5 stars. She’s up to #11 in The Dune House series and her Sage Gardens series now.

I’ve also read three of her Heavenly Highland Inn Cozy Mystery Series and was rather unimpressed. Drama, but not a lot of logical behavior by the main characters. I see she has put out #7 in this series now. Bekki the Beautician is up to Book #14; there are four books in the Wendy, the Wedding Planner series plus a couple newer series just starting. So whatever else one might say about her, she’s certainly been prolific.

I find her books quite light reading, very simple plots. In the few I’ve read she tends toward stereotype characters rather than developed emotional ones. Behavior isn’t always very logical to human nature. Writing is pretty simple, too. However, she has lots of 4- and 5-Star reviews on Amazon.com.

The book I’m reviewing here, a relatively new one for this writer, I downloaded as a freebie and have given my honest opinion. Someday I may read more in the series just to see if the characters start to behave more like normal people in later books.

Birthdays Can Be Deadly (Sage Gardens Cozy Mystery Book 1)
by Cindy Bell
(Feb 2015)

James, a resident of Sage Gardens retirement community, dies suddenly during his birthday party. The official word is that he died of a heart attack, but three other don’t accept this story and set out to discover the truth.

The story starts out with a lot of narration, the writer telling us about the characters and what they are thinking. IMO the story would be quite improved by showing us, through the use of dialog and sharp action, instead of a lot of flat statements. So much narrative, done in short sentences, makes the book’s opening chapters rather boring. For example:

“Walt always felt at ease around Samantha. She never forced him to do anything, but he always ended up doing anything that she asked. When he had first moved into Sage Gardens she brought him a basket of muffins to welcome him. He appreciated that each was individually wrapped, and there were exactly six. He liked things to be even. She had struck up a conversation and Walt had been surprised that he didn’t mind her company. Instead he found it to be quite enjoyable.”

As the story unfolds the action does speed up and dialogue replaces so much telling, but the characters, especially the retired cop, are unrealistic, overly scowling, self-righteous and yet breaking the law himself. Bullying people into confessing may be standard fare on police dramas, but it isn’t natural or likely in a casual setting where people don’t have to talk.

“Make them mad enough and they’ll spill it all,” is the theory. So the amateur sleuth gets in suspects’ and witnesses’ faces, demanding, insulting, infuriating, and the victim tells everything they know. I sure wouldn’t! Maybe writers do this to save the sleuth some tedious detective work? It definitely shortened this story.

The ending scene seems overly melodramatic and not very well thought out. A reader has to suspend a lot of common sense in order to swallow this scene as written, especially the part about an intelligent man thinking he can dispose of evidence by throwing it out the window.

I’m giving this book three stars. As light, easy reading and as a mystery, it’s average. It could be better written and the characters could be more believable, but if a reader likes touches of melodrama and isn’t too worried about realism or legalities, this story works