Back to Basics

First off, I apologize for how heated last entry’s post was. I don’t apologize for how blunt I was, only that I had to be so…fiery about it.  You can tell I ran into yet another series which needlessly triggered a friend, can’t you?  Anyway. Let’s move on to lighter topics, shall we? Let’s analyze the book-making process a bit.

Author: Writes the best book they can, according to their own tastes, whims, and desires, their own drive for story.  Authors live half in this world, half in the book’s world, and what spills over goes on the page.  Mostly.   Authors can write sparingly and barely touch the story’s brush to the page or they can have a firmer grasp on articulating the story and get nearly all of it in black and white print. Yet the whole story can never fit exactly on the page.  So what the author experiences will never quite come through clearly for the rest of us to read.

Editor: Takes what the author has written and turns it into something “marketable” aka “something more people than just one or two will enjoy”.  This includes things such as readability (clarity: can we tell what is going on?), internal logic (making sure everything adds up), pacing (is this book in harmony with current pacing trends and expectations?), and making sure we care about characters (motivations, emotions, aspirations, etc.), and so on and so forth.

They also are in charge of checking how much of the story in the writer’s head actually made it to the page. Or rather, that there are enough things on the page to tell a complete, satisfying story.

Copy-Editor:  Edits according to grammar and spelling conventions.

Reader:  Takes his or her own experiences, yearnings, and imagination and adds it to the world of the book, often fleshing out the story in unpredictable ways.  This is how two different people can have an entirely different experience reading the same book.  The words are the same, but the readers are different.

So perhaps sometimes (keyword!) it’s not the book that is bad but that the reader’s experience wasn’t expected.  Or perhaps they read things that simply weren’t there on the page?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since rereading Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s first trilogy.  The first time I read the series I read it as it was coming out.  I loved the first two books, and I reread the previous book(s) as each of the new ones came out. However, the third one disappointed me. Or rather, it left me on unstable ground.   It wasn’t until I became chronically ill and reread the series that I realized just how clever the author was as she wrote the third book.

In fact, she was almost too clever. All the characters were “in character” for their decisions, the plot tied back and mirrored and reflected the other two books in interesting ways. The third book raised a lot of things to ponder and question that I had completely missed out on my first time reading.

And you know what? I missed out on my first reading because I was reading too much  into the story. I was adding to much of my own imagination to the characters, shaping them in ways that they wouldn’t be shaped if I’d been reading the text more closely. By the time I got to book three I had invested so much of myself into the novel that I wanted control over what happened and why and the motivations.  So when the story went places I didn’t think were right for it to go, I got upset.

But now being sick, I see the words clearly on the page. I saw the characters clearly as they were and not who I wanted them to be. And I loved them even more for that.  I also saw exactly what the author was intending and had in mind as she wrote the book.  The third book in the series, my least favorite when I was younger, suddenly has become one of my absolute favorites.   Granted, I still wished for a meatier ending.  My request was granted because on her website she rewrote the ending and fleshed it out.

But my whole definition of “good book”/ “bad book” shifted.   Because my internal mechanisms have changed so much since becoming ill, I experience all of the books I reread completely differently.  A lot of my energy, memories, and overactive imagination have been stripped from me. I watch old movies and experience them for the very first time even though a year ago I had them memorized.  I reread books even from a couple years ago that I’ve reread a million times and experience the words on the page as they are written rather than projecting my imagination onto them.

Reader expectations seem to be what drive a good book or a bad book more than anything else. A reader’s need for control or a reader’s imagination can run rampantly across a page or not at all.

It’s really quite fascinating.

There are other ways a book can be labeled a “bad book”, of course, but this has been on my mind for a while: a reader’s role in making it a good one or a bad one.

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