when good books go bad

bookcase

So many books to be read!

We’ve probably all had the feeling–reading along in a book, engrossed in the beginning of the story…and then it happens. We start to lose interest, we find we can no longer suspend disbelief, and we become so fed up with where the author has taken the story that we set the book aside to be left unfinished. Or perhaps we even throw it across the room for good measure.

As a writer, I don’t ever want this to happen with one of my books. The hope is that people will stay engaged with the story and the characters all the way to the end, and even want more after the story is on that last page. As a reader, I have had the experience of losing interest in a book, which is hard enough to concede. But there are so many books out there to be read, that it makes no sense to continue on if the book is truly boring. However, even worse is the experience of no longer believing in the story. To find yourself saying “WTF??” or “No way!” is not a good sign when reading a book. These are the ones that for me end up being thrown across the room.

My question is, what makes a good book go bad? How can a story that starts off with such promise suddenly go off the rails?

I suspect that some of these happen because the writer stops following the characters’ leads and instead starts forcing them into a strict outline. It is important to listen to our characters. Even if it means having to go back and rewrite an earlier section of the book, as just happened to me, as long as we are staying true to the characters it should end up taking us down the right story path.

Sometimes I think the writer loses confidence, either settling for the easy, predictable way out of a problem in the story, or veering off wildly. This veering off into totally unexpected territory can work if it makes sense in the lives of the characters, in the truth of the story. But to grasp frantically at some extreme solution as a way to work out the loss of confidence is not so good.

Writing takes courage. You have to take a running leap of faith as you pound those words out onto the page or screen. If you let yourself believe in the story you are more than halfway there. Don’t give up halfway across the abyss–keep on flying!

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