Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing Ignorance is Reading Bliss

In most cases, a person's love of reading is what inspires them to write. At least, I know that's what happened to me. My whole life, I've loved books with an intensity I don't even feel toward most people (should I have said that out loud?).

Anyway, I noticed a change in the way I looked at books once I started writing, and here it is in a nutshell: ignorance is bliss.

Before I started writing, I could read a book and decide whether or not I liked it based on simplistic factors: did I enjoy the story? Were the characters likable? Did I get a clear picture of the people and setting? Is it something I'd read again?

Back then, I never would've found myself thinking, holy crap, how did this author's editor not make her change all these passive verbs?! Or, holy info dump! Or, this character's voice is way too adult for a teenager! Or, gee, could this plot be more cliche or formulaic?!

Nope. Because back then, I didn't know a passive verb from a preposition, and voice was just the thing that came out of my mouth when I talked.

Attempting to write my own novels changed all that. I kind of miss being able to look at a story through naive eyes and take it at face value. Because the more I learn the ropes, the harsher a critic I become. And, the harder it becomes to not compare my own work to published work, and wonder what I'm doing wrong.

Does this happen to any of you? Is it harder to enjoy a story for the sake of the story, now that you know the rules for writing one?


  1. Oh, it totally happened to me! And now I'm unable to start a book without noticing the author's choices in terms of prose. However, with the truly excellent, I soon forget about it. With the really good, I only notice it a few times throughout the book. With the so-so, I am reminded of it frequently but it's not a constant thing. Anything more distracting than that, and I have to stop, because I won't be able to enjoy the story! Great post.

  2. Yes, it has. I would love to say I can just read a book without making comments, but it's hard to do at times. For a good book, I don't notice. But one that isn't that great I hardly ever finish.

    Great post.

  3. I am aware I've become more critical of the elements that make up a story than most readers. It's nice once in a while to meet a regular reader who can put everything back into perspective and say, "I liked it. Just Because."

    It shouldn't matter so much if the voice was a bit too young or the plot was a little slow in some places as long as the reader comes away with a good overall reading experience.

  4. Totes. I just started [and stopped] reading a book that I thought I would love (because a lot of it's foundation had to do with languages) but I stopped reading after 20 pages. There were so many adverbs, and the setting didn't make sense and I didn't really care about the characters. Sometimes I do wish I could just go back and read for pleasure without being such a critic!

  5. See, I think writing rules are writing rules because they make stuff easier to read. They make the writing melt away and let us see the story behind it. So stuff like passive voice, adverbs, and purple prose, and sometimes even info dumps, have always bugged me.

    BUT. One thing I was always able to ignore pretty well were plot holes, and character density (AS YOU KNOW.) So, yeah. Now, I have a really hard time enjoying stuff. You're so right.

  6. Ha, this has definitely happened! I'm so much pickier about books now, and sometimes that's incredibly frustrating. I just want to enjoy it!

  7. Yep, so there! Most of the time, anyway. Like Sarah said, the truly magnificent make me forget I'm even reading, they transport me to magical places ;)

    At the same time, in a strange kind of way knowing the rules enhances the reading experience too. I am rarely surprised by plot twists, but I love figuring out how other writers practice their crafts, unravel what choice they made and why :)

  8. I have this problem too, but it's the same with films, or song composition. I guess if I notice that I'm not noticing, I know it's something really good - or something I can learn something from.

  9. it definitely does suck that i can't just read a novel, without a bajillion editor-y thoughts running through my head, but at the same time, as a writer, it's something i really appreciate. i don't mean to sound all mean or whatever, but reading bad books sometimes really lifts my mood. like, OMG, i can't believe how this book got away w/using THAT many adverbs in one paragraph/having characters talk like they walked straight out of a lifetime movie/this nonexistent a plot. i mean, what can i say, it's encouraging. :D

    know what i mean?

  10. Well, obviously you read my mind. It's gotten to the point that I can't even read books that I like without finding the smallest flaws in them. But I agree with Aleeza--being able to find the flaws in a book makes me feel better about my own writing. >.<

    But then it also makes me feel bad because I can't figure out how they're published if it's that bad.