Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kill your restless darlings

I've just started reading a book set in early 11th century England. I'm not about to say what book it is, or who the author is, as I know she has a tendency to take any sort of criticism all too personally. Anyway, it started well, the usual writing quirks appeared, but that's fine; it's just the author's style. It tends to cause my eye to 'trip' and I have to re-read, but I can put up with that (at this point, Sarah may well know who I'm talking about!). Then something occurred which I am becoming increasingly familiar with, and have seen in recent novels by other authors. Namely, the building up of very likeable characters, which the author then kills off to serve the main character in some way. I think these characters historically die, but were they so likeable? It doesn't matter, the point is that as a reader, I feel manipulated. It's all too obviously a device. Don't get me wrong, the authors who do this are successful, their books sell. However, my suspension of disbelief is now faltering badly with this book.The author generally writes characters who are pretty nasty, so it's not diffcult to pick out the sacrificial lambs.

And then I got to thinking. Have I done this in my own writing? I don't like writing characters who are so extreme, though there are one or two. There is one very nice chap who gets killed in an ambush - his death has tremendous repercussions for the story. To some extent, he's such a trusting character he opens himself up to danger. There is another who just hates my lead character, and I try to show an explanation for that. But am I doing the same at the authors I'm complaining about?

And then there's the restless narrative. In the 11th century book, the narrative swops to various people. Just when I'm getting in to the main lead's story, it jumps elsewhere for a couple of chapters. But I want to know what's happening to so-and-so! Grrr! I know for certain I haven't done that in my writing - I don't like reading it, so I'm not going to write it.

Perhaps all this is just down to reader preference. These authors are successful, so perhaps I should just bog-off and find books with the type of story-telling I like.

Oh, and this 11th century book is going to include one of the characters I'm thinking of writing about at some point - Thorkell the Tall. That'll keep me reading, as I'm dying to know how she interprets him :-)


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