Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Keep turning the pages

I read two thrillers recently. One was un-put-downable, even when I was only halfway through, while the other, though I was definitely interested, was easy enough to leave for the next day’s reading till I got near the end. For myself, I’d like to write so the reader is hooked all through the book. So I found myself trying to analyze what the two authors had done differently.

Both books were thrillers. Both involved somewhat unlikely premises about the characters that required me to temporarily suspend disbelief. In one case, I wondered how the author would make the premise more plausible. In the other, the information that worried me was just background to the character. So perhaps I should learn to make sure that any special features feed more directly into plots.

Both books included flashbacks and background information on the characters. The character studies in the slower book were fascinating, but often answered questions I hadn’t thought to ask, or not yet anyway. The other story moved much faster, with questions left unanswered for longer, and memories introduced as they fit the events. The technique left me wanting more, and eager to read on. So I should keep my readers guessing I suppose, and not give away too much.

Both books involved quite a mixture of showing and telling. The faster book invited the reader into the thoughts and backgrounds of the most important characters, but left some really interesting people shrouded in mystery. The slower book showed the thoughts and memories of many minor characters, reserving secrets for the ones whose true identities were hidden till the end. Was it the number of heads I entered that posed the problem, or was it a question of their relevance to the plot? I’m still wondering about that.

And both books were good. I have no doubt of that. But the only one my husband’s likely to read is the faster one.

I hope I learned something from the exercise. I'll try to put it into practice anyway, and maybe, if I ever get good at reading like a writer, I might write like one too.

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