Monday, April 5, 2010

Anatomy of DNF, Part II


As a person trying to figure out what works in novel-writing and what doesn't, Apprentice Writer is always especially interested in books unfinished. How does a book make her give up after it has done the heavy lifting of convincing her to bring it home?

The lesson drawn from the most recent DNF episode was:

BEWARE THE DANGER OF OVERWRITING.

Ask any published or aspiring writer what they think of this statement, and the agreement rate would probably be 100%. Where to draw the line on what is reasonable and what is too much, is, of course, the tricky part, and a matter of personal taste. The first pages of the current candidate made clear that AW's threshold is well below that of the author. This is a debut effort; for that reason, title shall remain nameless. AW doesn't need the bad karma of standing in a freshly-hatched author's way.


Where did it all become too much?

1. Driving home points with a sledgehammer:

'He was angry. Horribly angry. Livid. Enraged. Furious.'

2. Redundancy:

'May we discuss our private matter privately?'

3. Taking advice to show emotion by describing involuntary physical actions/reactions to the extreme:

During the space of four pages devoted to a conversation with her brother, a minor character:

froze
shot a nervous glance
twisted her hands
coughed and started anew
shivered
blinked and looked away
glanced down both sides of the corridor before turning her nervous glance to his face
stammered
her cheeks leeched of color
her lips trembled
tugged her bare fingers
jumped
her response was a vivid blush and violent shake of the head
slumped against the wainscoting
her shoulders shook
nibbled at her lip
tossed him a nervous glance
clenched her fingers together so tightly the knuckles went white
her pale brow furrowed
her words trailed off as another crimson stain spread up from her throat
started and blanched
her eyes widened
looked away, eyelashes quivering
he could smell the unease in her sweat

Here was the point that AW knew: this was not the book for her.

If this amount of scrutiny is devoted to a minor character, at the beginning of the story, how much jumping and slumping and blanching and quivering were in store for the main character once the plot actually heated up? What in the world was the hero going to smell in her sweat? Apprentice Writer just didn't want to find out.

Gentle Reader: do you appreciate spare writing, or do you prefer lots of descriptives? What makes you stop reading a book?

m.

7 comments:

Rachel said...

Hi m. Great idea for a post! I prefer spare writing. I want an author to trust me as a reader to be engaged and bring my experiences to the book and fill in the extras. 'Lead me where you want me, but please let me do something when I get there' is how I feel.

That being said, unless the writing it truly horrific or offending, I give a book 100 pages to get me. If I'm still not interested at that point then I figure it's not the story for me.

M. said...

Rachel, you are more lenient that I am. I give a book half as much time to ensnare me (fifty pages) before moving on, and in this case, I think I was at the 30 mark before I gave up. I love your '....let me do something to get there' philosophy. That's exactly how I feel!

pussreboots said...

If I find myself needing to re-read long passages to know what's going on, it's time to mark the book DNF.

Rachel said...

"fifty pages"

Do you mind if I bring this up when people think I'm too harsh with my page rule? ;)

Julia Smith said...

LOL! *nearly choking on my lunch*

That was hilarious, M, but only because I didn't have to suffer through it myself.

I'm actually reading a book right now that I won on a blog contest (over at Romance Bandits) and it's so horrible I'm not going to review it. I have a personal vow to only review the books I enjoy. Meanwhile, I have every intention of finishing the book because I can learn from horrid writing even better than I can learn from lovely writing.

Your post here has given me an idea, however, of how I might address the hideous book without identifying it.

M. said...

puss - yep, that's another good rule of thumb for DNF!

rachel - feel free! but: really? people find your cutoff line harsh?

julia - i'm torn about honesty regarding books i don't like. on the one hand, i really don't want my highly subjective views to stand in the way of any hardworking author, on the other, i personally am sometimes startled by sites that seem to give 10/10 ratings to every book they review. it's a dilemma i haven't solved.

Julia Smith said...

M - Perhaps the 10/10 reviews are like mine - because I only like to showcase books I can stand behind and support.

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