Reading an unsatisfactory book

Sometimes reading an unsatisfactory book can have a positive aspect – it can be an example to a writer of where things might go awry in their own work. Obviously this could be anything, from careless editing to poorly drawn and unbelievable characters, to being just plain dull. I finished a book last night, which stretched the bounds of what was realistic, but had sufficient hooks and twists to keep me reading. It was the latest in a popular series, another police procedural, my favourite genre so I was familiar with the characters  and their idiosyncrasies. I don’t think it bears much resemblance to real policing, and certainly the grotesque and extraordinary crimes seem so far-fetched that I confess I did a lot of sighing. However credit to the writer, I kept reading to the end, and if/when another in the series is published, I daresay I’ll read it too. If someone in my writing group shared something written like this, I might suggest they showed a little restraint, ‘don’t lay it on with a shovel’, as my dad would have said, or ‘try to be more subtle‘ as my mum might have advised.

Having read about three-quarters of it, and arrived at various characters being missing, presumably abducted by a sadistic killer, the end seemed to be in sight, which made me think it was going to be a trick ending – the sort where you think oh thank goodness that’s over, the baddies are caught, the goodies triumphant, and then find that you’ve been duped by the writer and there are more twists to come. In this book, however, a chapter further on, the hero police officer, wounded but determined, tracked the perpetrator to their lair – and this was still quite a way off the ending. This is where, in my opinion, it  began to go off the boil. There was an endless conversation between goody and baddy, then an incident between them where the tables seemed turned, then more conversation, then a surprise – except I wasn’t surprised because although I didn’t know what it would be, I knew a huge spanner was going to be forcefully thrown into the works of the goody overwhelming the villain. And so it went on. Having recently told myself off for being a bad reader and skipping bits, I tried to read every word although my eyes were glazing over. At last, almost at death’s door, (not me, the main character) good triumphed over evil, the hero was rescued by their gallant crew and all was set fair for another in the series.

I started off by mentioning how some unsatisfactory aspect of reading a book can be helpful to a writer. This book was a very good lesson in judging endings, pacing the plot, balancing the events in the narrative. and trying to be aware of a potential reader’s boredom level!

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