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First Novels and Expectations

October 19, 2015

I’ve read a number of first novels this year. Some were better than others, because that’s how these things go, and there haven’t been many that have been solid from start to finish. Most have had typical first novel rough patches, including:

  • confusing climaxes
  • simple plots
  • simplistic writing styles
  • climaxes resolved by deus ex machinae
  • weak or obvious character development
  • not quite reaching the thematic goals
  • hitting the thematic goals and then some
  • not having the plot and character and theme gel properly
  • being technically solid but lacking any sense of gosh-wow
  • failure to research key aspects of the story
  • failure to think through some of the world-building

All pretty standard stuff—you’ve all read books with these issues too, I’m sure—but still disappointing to see because I keep having high hopes for the publishing industry and keep having them dashed. These sorts of problems also trigger my own insecurities, because I don’t want to have those problems (does anyone) and yet I can’t tell if I do or how to fix them or anything.

Writing is hard.

I tend to start a novel without much awareness of whether it’s the first or the twenty-first, and with an open attitude towards the writing and the story. Will I like it? Will I hate it? Will it fall apart halfway through? Who knows! But there have also been novels this year that I’ve heard talked-up beforehand, by coworkers or the internet, and which everyone has said are fantastic, absolutely fantastic, who wouldn’t love this?

Me, apparently. There were a couple mysteries which were very good, well-plotted, interesting, page-turners, and so forth, but which I thought were just “good, would maybe read the next” when I know people who’ve torn through them and can’t wait for more. There was a rom-com which I was totally the wrong audience for, as it turns out. There was a fantasy that was technically brilliant but never quite clicked with me. (I think I just don’t like that writing style? Not sure.)

And of course, since they’ve been talked up so much, I went into all those with high expectations along the lines of everyone loves this so I will love this and the fall from that pedestal was pretty jarring. I don’t know which hurts more, though, realizing you don’t love “the best book ever” or realizing that you don’t share as much reading taste with people as you thought you did. I try not to let it get to me, though.

I don’t think it helps either that I’ve started reading with the brain of a writer and an editor, instead of merely the brain of a reader. I notice the tricks more, I notice the flaws more, and when the flaws build up, I start thinking of ways to fix them. It probably distracts me from stories that I’d otherwise be really into, but then again, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe I’d never have liked that one book after all?

Then again, if flawed novels can still get published, surely I can too … right?

Writing is hard.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2015 6:15 pm

    Do you know who Ira Glass is? This American Life? Watch the video at the bottom of this post… http://honestlywtf.com/art/the-gap/

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      October 19, 2015 7:16 pm

      Thanks for the link!

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