5-18 Powell's City of Books, World's Largest Indie Bookstore by Judith Ashley and Sarah Raplee

Friday, March 23, 2018

When Being Lost in A Story-Isn’t A Good Thing

By Linda Lovely

Most of the time when I say I was lost in a story, I’m praising the book. I don’t want to turn out the lights because I’m into the book. I just have to turn the page and see what happens next.
But, there are times when I’m lost in a story that I want to do just the opposite—put the book down and never open it again. This happens when the author has confounded me—often unnecessarily—with poorly selected character names, story inconsistencies, and barely-mentioned characters popping up as the real killer in the final chapters.

Let’s start with character names. When I start reading a book, it takes a while for me to “know” characters and their roles in a story. Authors who insist on giving their characters similar names make that task all the more difficult. There are 26 letters in the alphabet, so why on earth would an author choose to name several of the main characters with names starting with say “D.” Dan…Don…Donna…Dena…Dora…Dennis…and the list goes on. (Belatedly, I sympathize with my mother who invariably called Don by the name Ron and vice versa when I made the mistake of simultaneously dating two young men with similar-sounding names.) 

If someone has blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes in chapter five, I somehow doubt that he’s picked up colored contacts. And that makes me wonder what else I should believe in the story. Similarly, it’s annoying if someone eats two lunches because the author forgot they had lunch in the last chapter. Character’s personal vehicles that transform from sedans into trucks without a visit to a dealership also raise my suspicions that the missing ingredient in the story is proofreading. Hey, I’m not saying that I haven’t made (or won’t) make similar mistakes. But if there are a multitude of such gaffs, then the author needs to get a new editor.

I’m put out when a mystery reveals that the REAL killer is someone who was mentioned fleetingly in chapters three and five, but is unveiled as the killer without any intervening clues in chapter twenty. To me that’s cheating the reader, who likes to see if she can unravel the mystery along with the book’s main character.

So what takes you out of a story? Would love to hear your opinions—and, if I’m guilty of any annoyances, seek to reform my copy in my next endeavor.


Judith Ashley said...

Had to laugh at some of your examples, Linda. In my soon-to-be released "Visions of Happiness," I (thankfully) caught the hair and eye color mix-up and, oops! a different name for one of the characters. My excuse for all of it is these are spin-off characters from an earlier book and ... well, I thought I'd checked/remembered. Just ever so grateful me editor and I caught them before the book is released. I totally agree that even if it is a good story, if it is sloppy and I have to suspend belief (when did the character get the colored contacts?, go to the dealership for a new vehicle?) it isn't worth my time and energy to finish the book.

Linda Lovely said...

Judith, it's easy to make mistakes. If I can't remember why I went to the pantry two seconds after I started there, it's quite easy to understand that I might forget a character's eye color one hundred pages later. That's why editors are worth their weight in gold.

Maggie Lynch said...

Linda, I hear your frustration though I admit I've been a person who did both of these things in first or second drafts. Fortunately, I caught them before going out. Another bib "no no" that I've committed is used a similar sounding name for another character later in the series. In my Sweetwater Canyon series, one of my characters had a baby with an A name and in two books later, another character had a baby girl also with an A name that was VERY similar. Needless to say, when I got the two families together in the book I realized I was trouble.

Now six books into my series, I honestly don't remember the names I came up with or the family lineage. So, I paid one of my fans to do a series bible for me. She has been an ARC reader and has read ALL the books. I told her I wanted to build a character tree with parents, grandparents, friends, and descriptions as I initially wrote them down. It has been invaluable and caused me to change things as I'm getting ready to put out a second edition of earlier books.

My editor is good at catching inconsistencies within a specific book but not across books. As a pantser, I'm not good at planning these things for an entire series; thus paying someone to do a series bible. It's a lesson I will take into the next series so I don't make this mistake again. :)

Linda Lovely said...

Good idea for a book/series bible. Haven't found anyone willing to do it for me! So I'm struggling to do my own as I go, but like you I'm a pantser.