Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Cynic Factor

It's no myth that the more we read, the harder it is to impress us. Just goes with the territory of expanding our knowledge. But I've also found that the more writers' work I critique or beta read, the more cynical I become. But let me explain ...

Currently, I'm reading a novel for my Book Club's selection. It's an adult women's fiction and it's wonderful. Very well written, and relatable characters. There was a scene I just read where a robber hold's up a convenient store with one of the MCs inside. She's a budding reporter, and she's got her microphone still on and tries to report the scene to her cameramen in the van outside.

She ends up getting shot in the shoulder, but because she's such a dedicated, ambitious reporter on the rise, she wraps up her shoulder and presses on, helping a scared little boy behind the robber's back and continuing to report the scene in real time.

All the time, I'm thinking to myself, "Come on. She'd be in shock, or pass out or something. She's only 25, and naive. She's not a special agent."

Ends up after the robber is caught by the police who storm the premises, the MC does pass out, but only after establishing herself as a hero, which reaches national news within days after, therefore creating a celebrity. Plot device? Or good old fashioned storytelling?

It didn't ruin the story for me. I can accept it, even if I don't %100 believe it could happen. I mean, who am I to say? Crazy stuff happens all the time in real life, and people are often braver than we give them credit for.

But my point is that during this scene, my cynicism pulled me out of the story. I questioned it. Just like I do when I critique or beta read. Because that's what readers do, right? Honestly, I didn't use to. Before I became a serious writer, I read to enjoy a good story. I allowed the author to whisk me away and as long as the writing was decent and my feelings and imagination were provoked, I loved it.

I can't say that anymore. And I don't know if I like it. It's kind of like being a writer myself, and reading other authors' stories. I can't suspend my disbelief as much anymore. The story is coming from another writer, and if it's a writer I'm critiquing for, I analyze everything for fear of something slipping by that may hurt their story.

But why? Writers have to be the hardest readers out there to impress. We look for errors and believability in everything. This also means that there is still a large population of readers who aren't writers, and still read just to enjoy. I think those are readers worth reaching just as much as our fellow writers.

What do you think? Is it better to be a cynic, or is it just a hazard of the trade? Do you miss the old days when you could read just to enjoy? Do you think as writers we're too tough on other writers' work? Please share ...

40 comments:

RHYTHM AND RHYME said...

Yes I do miss days of reading to enjoy but say that there are some very good books being written today,

Yvonne.

E.J. Wesley said...

Just a hazard, I think. I've found I have to have a quick 'get over it' factor to enjoy books now. Even the stories I LOVE (George R. R. Martin's Ice & Fire series, for example), I'm stoping to think, "That was an odd word choice." or "That one slipped by someone."

And I'm certainly not an editorial writer! Still, it works both ways, I more often note things I should be doing a better job of.

Seen a lot of this discussion lately, and it makes sad to think that maybe most writers can no longer enjoy reading. :-(

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I notice plot contrivances more than anything, although I can still ignore the typos. (I guess because I ignore them so well in my own writing!)

S.P. Bowers said...

Hazard of the trade. I rarely am able to sink into and purely enjoy a book because I'm too busy analyzing the plot and craft of the story. Sad but true. I don't think of it as being hard on the writer. I'm not writing reviews or anything, I'm just learning how others do it.

Eliza Tilton said...

I know exactly what you mean. I was reading a ya contemp that I was excited about and as I'm diving in, the word so caught my crit radar. Not once, but consistently. I stopped reading and thought, how could an editor and agent miss this??? I ended up finishing the book and loving it, but man that word drove me nuts. Before I started criting, I probably would never have even caught it

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Suspension of disbelief is one of the most important tools in a writer's box. I think that as a critiquer, it is your duty to point out that this kind of scene ruins suspension of disbelief and then leave it up for the author to decide. I would welcome feedback of that kind. And I wouldn't label you as being a cynic. It sounds like to me, you have an eye for things that make you a valuable resource for any author that would want to produce their best work.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

I just finished "Breakfast of Champions" by Kurt Vonnegut and near the end his writer character relates a joke where a man reads a very realistic novel and takes it back to the library, unhappy. The librarian asks why he didn't like it and he says, "Because I already know about real life."

Anyway, stories were never meant to perfectly simulate real life. They're supposed to entertain and symbolically relate ideas to people.

T. Drecker said...

This is one reason I can't win a 'love' for ebooks. I see something on the computer screen and click into beta mode. :)

nutschell said...

I agree with Alex. Plot ploys irk me more than typos :D

Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

KarenG said...

This doesn't sound like cynicism to me but the author's inability to enable you to suspend your disbelief, which is her fault not yours.

Old Kitty said...

I wish I'd not be so aware of all the different POVs as these days when I read something I find myself thinking "uh-oh POV jump there" "yup and there too" and backstories, I'd be like "now why is this bit dragging and why am I yawning!??! Oh yeah, back story overkill". LOL!

Take care
x

VikLit said...

I think the more we read critically the more we take that into our reading, definitely. We do want to get the red pen out. That shows we have that bit of our brain switched on! However it is the author's job to switch that part off and win us over and maybe it means a part of that book just didn't manage that? Interesting topic!

J. A. Bennett said...

This is so true, I used to just glide through books without a second thought and now I question everything. But mistakes actually make me feel good, "This huge author made a mistake, I'm not alone!"
anyway plot problem defiantly bother me more. Although I believe the reporter story because sometimes, if you want something bad enough the adrenaline kicks in and keeps you going. Sometimes I miss the old days but I'm glad to be learning more about what I like to write and what I can't stand. anyway, rant over :)

Cally Jackson said...

Yes, I definitely miss those days where I could read a book and not analyze every plot device and metaphor. I can tell when I've read a really good book because it actually has sucked me in and I've forgotten to analyze. Love it when that happens! :-)

Roger Lawrence said...

As I love reading Stephen King, I can live with meaningless plots; "Christine" being a prime example. But however good the story or plot is, a typo can really ruin it for me.

Barbara Watson said...

I still do (and can) read simply for the pure joy of it. Not every story is my favorite or 'my type'--but I need to read just for the joy. I spend too much time analyzing my writing, my CPs writing, and my editing clients writing. I have to suspend myself and read for joy.

Suzi said...

I'm definitely more cynnical in my reading since I became a writer. One thing won't bother me, but if I run into several in a book, then I won't enjoy it as much.

I'm definitely picking up on pacing and showing/telling problems in other books. Too bad I can't do that in my own work. :)

Shelly said...

PK,I do the same darned thing. But sometimes you just gotta let it go.

Hugs and chocolate,
Shelly

jennifermhartsock said...

I think it is most important to consider the heart of the story. Maybe the scene is not as realistic as it could be, but maybe that's the point. What is the underlying message? Fiction is supposed to convey an aspect of the human condition.

All my best,
Jennifer

fOIS In The City said...

PK, very interesting slant on how writers read. Before I began to write I was a cynical pain in the a$$ and thought nothing of putting a book down at whatever point. Many times I slogged through and was satisfied at the end.

I do not read critically perse ... but read to enjoy or as always ... to escape and suspend reality.

To research or to learn aspects of the craft, I might reread certain novels, experiment with genres I am not fond of or select work for that purpose only.

But when I sit down to read for pleasure, I leave the writer in my on auto-pilot and enjoy the ride :)

Jay Noel said...

I have a hard time just reading without having such a critical eye. It's almost impossible.

Karen Walker said...

Well, I have to admit I still am able to read to enjoy, but it has to be a good story, well-written and not have anything that pushes that cynic button. And there are books out there that fit that bill.
Karen

Alice said...

I find myself analyzing stories I read too much too and don't enjoy them as much as I used to but when I find a book that pulls me into the story and blows me away I love it and know it's an amazing story.

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Laurel Garver said...

It is a hazard of the trade. We can be excessively tough on one another. With CPs we can ask "did you research this?" with published authors, we can't really know.

As far the the heroine you mention, I didn't find in unbelievable. Adrenaline can be a potent stimulant in situations like this. You might have to experience it yourself to believe me, though. LOL.

I once got into a bike accident and didn't realize I was hurt myself (broken collarbone) for a good 20 minutes, I was so worried about the friend I'd crashed into.

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, man--I hear you. It is definitely harder to not get pulled out. I guess, though, that, for me, is the difference between a 4 star versus a 5 star story--they can both be great, but a 5 has me so far sucked in that I don't get pulled out like that.

Libby said...

We all have things that pull us out of stories, but I think we also richly appreciate a well written tale. I think it depends. The more you read the more savvy you become.

Sharon Souter said...

I'm not a serious writer or beta reader but I'm finding it more and more difficult to find books I enjoy or even read through to the end. Is it just age - or a more stressful lifestyle? I don't know - but even us 'ordinary' people share your frustration. I'll stop reading a book if I find it too predictable, clumsily written or self consciously manipulative.

Michael Sirois said...

Hi, Pk--

I think it's just a hazard of the trade. The more I write (and the more I learn about the craft) the the harder it is to let go and just get sucked into the story. Now I find myself analyzing the author's technique even when I'm trying to read something light, just for enjoyment.

On the other hand, if I do get pulled into a story, and it keeps me there, I know it's an author I want to learn more from.

Michael

Talli Roland said...

Hazard of the trade, I reckon! When I'm deep in edit mode, I always read non-fiction. It's the only time I can turn off the inner cynic!

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michelle said...

Very interesting topic. Quite often, I find myself analyzing something, but then remind myself to let it go... reading for pleasure means enjoyment...

michelle said...

Very interesting topic. Quite often, I find myself analyzing something, but then remind myself to let it go... reading for pleasure means enjoyment...

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James Garcia Jr. said...

Hi, P.K. I think I still do a pretty good job of allowing the book to take me away - which is what we all want, right? The thing I try and stay away from is judging my writing against the book in my hands. I don't think it's a very healthy state of being and makes me feel "icky" inside. Know what I mean?
You have a great week!

-Jimmy

William Kendall said...

I'm having something similar in an edit-beta read I'm doing at the moment, and I'm waiting until I'm finished the draft before I really decide if it's off. A reporter gets injured by an explosive going off- enough that he'd need medical care- and in the aftermath when all's settled down, he's more interested in filing a story to the studio

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

I think I would pass out if someone shot me! Chalk that up as one experience I would love to not have in order to write about it.

DMS said...

I can totally relate to this post. I find that I still love reading- but I definitely analyze a lot more while I am reading. I used to just read and enjoy a book and now I think about repeated words, aspects of the book that seem unbelievable, and typos. I can only imagine what it must be like to be an editor!
~Jess

Donna Yates said...

Great post. I really think it is because the more we write, the more we teach ourselves to watch out for mistakes or something unbelievable. Alas, then we see it in other books, tv shows, and movies.