Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dead Butterflies



Caveat: Reading is a subjective exercise. One woman’s masterpiece is another’s mess. I read a book not long ago, by an established author from a major publishing house, that I thought was pretty awful. It suffered from a ton of Telling, not Showing. The plot had holes you could drive a Hummer through. The heroine was schizophrenically passive/sheltered/feisty/yeah, there’s a strange drunk guy in my bed, let’s get it on ; the hero the usual “I’m not a real rake, but you’ll think I am because the heroine keeps catching me in the arms of my old lover whom I hate but I’m rescuing because I’m rich and a nice guy.”

Here is a sample:

Most of the privileged, rich and well-connected guests had already arrived. Swarms of titled, wealthy and influential people invaded the house, lawns and terraces, their colourful gowns, jackets and painted parasols echoing the bright colours of the flowerbeds and the graceful sculptures.

Lady____, widowed after just five years of marriage, was flitting among them like a butterfly. With her confident manner she presented an imposing figure.

Umm, a confident, flitting, imposing butterfly-widow. Privileged, rich, well-connected, titled, wealthy AND influential guests, in case you missed the implication. House, lawns, terraces, gowns, jackets, parasols, flowerbeds and SCULPTURES, brightly coloured. I’m picturing a giant Bob’s Big Boy or maybe a Ronald McDonald on the widow’s lawn. I know I’m being snarky, but somewhere an editor was asleep, or possibly deceased, at the switch.

I go through long bouts of deadness myself, and when the muse is not flitting like an imposing butterfly, I usually prefer not to write. God help me if I ever have to write to a deadline. I’ll have to invest in a whole lepidoptera house. With my luck, the little buggers will stay caterpillars and never flit at all.

Read any bad stuff lately? No names, please. Has writing spoiled reading for you? If you’d like, please indulge your inner editor and revise the passage above.

15 comments:

RevMelinda said...

Besides the imposing butterfly thing and the bright colored sculptures--there's a whole lot of threes goin' on.
-privileged, rich and well-connected
-titled, wealthy, and influential
-house, lawns, and terraces
-gowns, jackets, and parasols
(and three of those threes are in the same sentence!)
All those threes are kinda spooky.

I catch myself doing this same thing all the time in my writing--only I tend to go for the twos: "in our homes and communities" or "our choices and our challenges" ad infinitum. It's not bad, but then I string them together with four, or maybe five pairs in the same sentence. Gack!

And Maggie, pretty much all my "professional" writing is done to a deadline: you know, start the sermon on Saturday, preach it on Sunday morning kind of thing. It does tend to sharpen one's focus.

Maggie Robinson said...

RevM, I too noticed the Trinity, and I'm not even in your line of work. :)

I used to write all my college term papers early in the morning of the day they were due (and I did graduate with honors), but I don't think I have it in me anymore. The book I quoted here read like she was just going for the word count. But she did give me a blog topic, so bless her!

TiffinaC said...

Oh wow...what an 'interesting' read. Not so good, eh? and it must be brit/canadian...since you spelled colour the correct way *w*

When I'm writing, I do very little reading. It takes me a few hours to read a book. But for the last two weeks while I've been under major edits, and writing for NaNo... I've been reading the same book that whole time. And I sometimes find if I can rip it apart while I'm reading it, I put it down for later, when I'm out of the write/edit mode so I can enjoy it at a later date.

I find too, if you read an amazing book... the ones after are just doomed to read as utter crap...

BernardL said...

"The scene looked torn from a ‘Great Gatsby’ party page, complete with landscape matching the plantation grounds of Tara from ‘Gone With The Wind’. Lady ______, worked her soirée like a well oiled Merry Widow machine with iron resolve."

I described it like Phillip Marlowe in a Raymond Chandler novel. :)

terrio said...

Writing has made reading without analyzing more difficult. The same thing happened when I took film and television classes in college. I'd see a shot that crossed the plane (major no no) and start yelling at the screen. Not good.

Now I have a hard time not thinking, "I'd have switched that sentence around" or noticing things an author does that I'm told over and over NOT to do.

Thankfully, if I'm lucky enough to find a really well done book with a great story, I can read for the fun of it again.

Maggie Robinson said...

Tiff, you're right. Good books sure do spoil us for bad ones. I realized today when I was at the bookstore I have an ever-increasing list of authors I will not buy anymore, even when I'm desperately bored. I'm becoming super-fussy.

(and I knew you'd pick up on that spelling, which my spell-check objected to strenuously, LOL)

Bernard, I love it. I can only imagine how you could improve the whole book. Victorian romance by way of noir novels...you may start a new genre!

Terrio, like you, when something is really good, I sail right through it with a smile on my face...leaving my critic's cap in the corner. But lately I've had the urge to bring out the red pen!

Janga said...

I recently read a book that came highly recommended by some Bon Bon buddies, and while I was less enthusiastic about it than these friends, I thought it was a fairly good read--until I read the first love scene--sizzling, explicit, and plagued with purple passages. Lines like "I want your body and soul" took me right out of the story and made me laugh. I think I am bothered more by such awful moments in what promised to be a good book than I am by a book that is just badly written.

Gillian Layne said...

The only thing I've been ripping apart lately is my own work . . .

I crack myself up when I go back and read, especially because I tend to repeat one word over and over. Funny how you never notice when you're doing it.

Gillian Layne said...

Oh--I adore your picture in the corner, those flowers in the vase.
Gorgeous!

Maggie Robinson said...

Gillian, thanks. I am officially in my Fall Mode now, and looking for something suitably wintry. I had to scrape ice off my windshield yesterday when I went in to work early. And now I want to know, what is your over-used word?

Janga, I'm coming to the conclusion that very few people can write good sex scenes, probably me included!

TiffinaC said...

Let's pretend we are all perfect at writing our sex scenes.

Janga, I've read book that were good, that turned purple. It depends how engrossed in the story I become if I actually get pulled out and start laughing with purple prose, sometimes I won't notice it until I go back for another read. And believe it or not there are a couple authors I love because of their flowery way in writing, it's just their style and they do it with style...lol, that I'll keep going back purple or not.

terrio said...

I'm with Gillian. The other day I realized I had typed the word "beneath" about six times in one or two pages. What was that about? LOL!

Ericka Scott said...

I try not to edit while I read...else I'll drive myself to distraction and not enjoy the book. Unfortunately, I've done that a lot recently...

I can seldom read while in I'm in the throes of writing...However, a couple of books I've picked up have made me break that rule!

Janga said...

Tiff, several of my autobuys write lush prose that I luxuriate in. They are writers whose rich palette includes lavendar--and even occasionally a deep purple, and I love their style. But I know what to expect when I choose to read these writers. It the writers whose melodramatic declarations catch me off guard that make me cringe.

Maggie, from what I have read of Paradise, I don't think you need worry about your sizzling scenes. :)

Maggie Robinson said...

Ericka, now that I know all the "Thou Shalt Nots" of writing---or some of them, anyway--- I am so much more critical of stuff. I almost wish I was my old ignorant self. ;)

What lies beneath, Terrio? *g*

Thanks, Janga! If anything, I'm probably not explicit enough, more concerned with feelings rather than fumblings.

And Tiff, you're absolutely right---we're all perfect!