I’ve always been a reader, but for some people I guess it’s just an occasional thing. On the on-line writing course I’m doing, we’ve had a few articles and discussions about the importance of reading, and what writers can learn from reading other writers. This is an exercise we had to do:
Choose a book you’ve read and liked, and one you’ve read and disliked. In 100 words, explain why does one book work, and in another 100 words, why does the other not. Think about –
- how effective the characterisation is
- whether you want to read on – or not
- how and why you consider the book works or doesn’t .
So… a book that works for me:
Not 100 words but…
I’ve been reading the Inspector Sam Tay books (Jake Needham) set in Singapore. At first you might think Tay is poorly described and characterised; he doesn’t do much except smoke cigarettes and think about things. He’s very cerebral but in a low-key, indolent way, an observer not an action-man, almost depressed in his antipathy to the way the country is run, the hierarchy in the police force, and the hopelessness of most things.
So why does such a negative character leap off the page, realistic and believable? What’s more, why am I now reading the 4th book in the series as I find him so compelling? Most people’s lives are humdrum and ordinary, most police work is routine and dull, most crimes are sordid in some way or another, so Sam Tay is truly believable. The action is often in his thought processes, but there is real action, especially when his sergeant, Kang, or his mysterious spy friend John August are involved. Set against the background of Singapore, an ultra-modern, but ultra-controlled country, with an occasional foray into a seedy tourist town in Thailand, I find the books, gripping, readable and addictive.
… and a book that doesn’t:
‘The Girl in the Moss’ by Loreth Anne White didn’t really work for me, although I did read it right through to the end. It’s a police procedural set in Canada, and one of a series; I felt it was drowning in back story – as a new reader I felt burdened, and if I’d already read the previous stories it would have been boring to rehash it all.
I didn’t engage with the main character because she seemed so contrary and put herself in dangerous situations in an unrealistic way. Yes, most books in the genre are unbelievable but readers must be able to suspend their disbelief and become involved and caught up in the narrative. I just couldn’t… I was intrigued by the mystery, but there were so many false endings that again my interest waned. I just didn’t care about Angie, the main character – if a reader doesn’t care then the writer has lost them.