A tick-box novel

Sometimes you read a book and although there are things which don’t work, or are annoying, or confusing, or distracting, or muddling, you keep on reading right to the end, and are intrigued enough to want to read another by the same writer. Maybe the next one will work, will not confuse or muddle, will  not distract with side plots and backstories and far too much detail… Maybe I can or should look at the annoying book and think to myself, actually, many of the things i found a detraction are things which i do myself in my writing.

One of these things I found difficult was the amount of backstory; it became hard to sift out what was relevant and contributed to understanding a character or their actions, and what was just padding. Maybe the writer needed to know all this extraneous detail in order to have a fully rounded individual in mind as they wrote. I know some people create full biographies for their ‘people’ including schools they went to ,best friends, favourite colours/football teams/flavoured ice-cream – details which never appear on the page but contribute to the depth of character. I really try and go through what I write and cut out all the bumf – in some cases whole scenes and episodes; i save them and might use them another time, but usually they get deleted!

The writer also seemed to have had a tick sheet for characters, gay, straight, drunk, smoker, Asian, black, druggie, and more. Of course writing a novel set in the present should reflect society as it is, but to have quite so many people where an issue is made out of an aspect of their identity just wasn’t convincing. The main character was a heavy smoker and it was continually mentioned, over emphasised for no real reason; she would light up in a car with another person beside her, which seems unrealistic these days. The other main character was an alcoholic and the detail of his addiction became a distraction. I guess it became a distraction to me because it didn’t seem to add anything either to him, or to the story line – he came on duty  hung over and even drunk which surely would have been noticed.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the locale – it’s something I know I’m not good at, but excellent though they were, they didn’t always blend into the narrative,  and became repetitive. Coupled with the geography of the area was the history, and again I found it interesting, but it wasn’t woven in, either as the character’s thoughts, or as part of the story. Again there seemed to be a tick-box element – description/geography – tick, history- tick, political point – tick, magic/folk lore, tick.

I read the book to the end, which these days i don’t always do, and at the heart of it was a good story and good characters. However it was as if the story was a first draft and the characters were cartoons. I finished it feeling frustrated, frustrated not just because of what I’ve tried to explain above, but also I guessed the culprit (although there needed a whole extra chapter to explain why they did what they did) and because there were so many errors – spelling, grammar, repeated words and sentences which didn’t make sense. I won’t mention the book’s title or the author until I try another by them – then, good or bad, I will name them!!

PS It’s made me think about my writing, which is good! and PPS the image is just a picture of a lazy kangaroo!

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