Jerking The Reader

Reviews are interesting things. Everyone hones in on different things when they read a book and funnily enough, the writer hones in on odd things in reviews. Writers live for and hate reviews. They scrape open our weaknesses and make our scabs bleed. It’s one thing to crit our own work but oh, when another does it, it’s painful.

Which is funny because often, the review (if done by someone who reviews a lot) speaks of both good and bad. But ah, being human, don’t we always focus on the bad? It’s that scab thing.

I’m actually pretty happy with Dirty Kiss’ reviews. I read them and I hear people seeing different things. I know a book isn’t going to work for everyone. That’s just a reality. And everyone is going to trip up on different things. One reviewer said it would be better if Cole had been pure Caucasian. Ah, that’s true if DK was a standalone. That’s a TRUE niggle because the future book involving Cole’s ethnic blend hasn’t come up yet. Hell, I’ve not even written it but I know what I’m going to do in it. That’s a very valid remark from a reviewer.

Another had issue with a conversation, citing it as unbelievable. Also a very valid remark from someone reading the book. I’ll be honest when I say that when I heard of the conversation I based that scene on, I was shocked and didn’t want to believe it. The man sharing that story with me was sincere and trustworthy but the situation was one of those moments when you literally are rocked back in your brain and say; When the hell is that even acceptable?

But see, that reviewer had a valid issue because it jerked the reader from the story. That reviewer is right. Even if the conversation actually happened in real life, the reviewer is right because it pulled the reader from the story.

Any time someone is yanked out of what they are reading, then something didn’t work for them.

And that’s okay. For both the writer and the reviewer. But too many of those, then that’s a bad book.

Case in point, I was once reading a so-so book in the M/M genre and it was okay…not fantastic…but okay. Until I got to the sentence where the main character’s love interest was refurbishing his classic 1953 Ford Mustang.

A car that does not exist.

Mustangs wouldn’t exist until 1964½.

I tossed the book across the room in disgust.

I can’t tell you the author. I can’t tell you the book. But oh, I can tell you what it was that jerked me from the story. Years later and I can still see that. I can even tell you the position of that line on the page. It tossed me out of the book like it was a bouncer of a Belfast pub and I was too drunk even for the Irish New Year.

Jerking the reader is a bad thing, even in the M/M genre. Someone reading the book with the express intent of reviewing it will be going over the scenes with an intense scrutiny that would rival your mother looking at your fingernails before you sit down at the table with her mother-in-law who hates her and thinks the children from the marriage should be drowned so as not to pollute the gene pool.

I had that grandmother. We didn’t go over to dinner a lot for some strange reason.

There are other valid points made. I’m especially proud of the one that says: Rhys Ford doesn’t sugar coat things in the name of romance. It wasn’t a five star review but see that sentence…those words… MADE me happier than a glut of five stars with no review could have (This is a lie. Five star ratings make me squee). It’s what I want. It’s what I strived for. Dirty Kiss wasn’t going to change the world. I had no delusions where that was concerned. Promise. :::grins::: But that statement gave me validation for what I was striving for.

A realistic(ish) romance between a guy and the man he doesn’t understand from a world he has no connection to.

I hope to do better in the next book now that I have a feel for Cole’s world. Is it going to work for everyone? No. And that’s okay.
Doesn’t mean I don’t want to do better.

Writing is a symbiotic thing after the writing is done. The writer has to take a good hard look at it and sculpt the story again after it is written. Some things leave while others remain. Not all of those choices are the right ones. Eventually as the writer learns, those instincts are developed.

I read reviews to see where the bits I left in jarred the viewer or where the things I left out weren’t missed. The examination of the story and the characters should be taken as opinion but in a lot of cases, an informed opinion from readers who have been around the block a few times. A writer can’t cater to a reviewer. A writer shouldn’t because it compromises the story told to many and becomes a story told to a few.

But that doesn’t mean a writer shouldn’t learn to feel what others see.

6 thoughts on “Jerking The Reader

  1. I loved this post. I don’t have any novels published yet, so no reviews, and the only things sort of similar are comments on my fanfic, which were usually positive, probably because most of the places I post on livejournal tend to follow the rule of “if you can’t say anything nice….” But I’ve been reading the DSP authors board and seeing vents about bad reviews (which I totally understand, you’d want to vent even if you see the reviewer’s point).

    So it’s nice to see a post about reviews from the writer’s point of view, especially about accepting “bad” reviews. Something to definitely keep in mind for the future.

    Also totally agree about jerking the reader. The novel I’m “working” on (I’m lazy) is a historical, and I’m a little terrified that I’ll jerk the reader either by getting something completely wrong or by lifting something too obviously from wikipedia.

    Anyway, great post. I hope it’s okay to link to it (I’ve already linked to you yummy “why write m/m smex” post). 😀

  2. Ah, thank you for following!
    I do try to keep things in perspective because I’m also a reader. One of my favourite books, Warchild by Karin Lowachee, didn’t hit me in the first few pages when I first picked it up but then when I was bored and decided to give it a second chance, I was astounded by what I read… and then seriously questioned where my head was at the first time. I think it all matters on headspace of the reader.
    We as writers should definitely listen to what readers are reacting to but to keep it in balance. If there was something that pulled a reader from the story so much that they lost the thread of the book, then that was a serious issue for them. If they can recover from it, then great. If not, then it could be a mental post it note for the writer in the future. Don’t stop writing what feels “right” but at the same time, take a step back when you’re done and go over it with a flame thrower. There were pieces of Dirty Kiss I wanted to keep but really, it would have slowed down the story. So, sacrificing scenes for the whole story does has to happen. Just be sure to knit together the missing pieces 😀
    Good luck with the historical! I’ve done a couple of those and only briefly skimmed the world, just enough to place it in setting but I knew I’d fall apart if I had to do a full novel. :::grins::: That’s a great mindset to get into while writing a historical — thinking in that language of the book. Good Luck! And let me know how you are doing!

  3. Heh, thanks. Falling apart trying to do a full historical novel — that could possibly be why it’s not much closer to being finished than it was when I hit 50,000 words and won NaNo 2009. But I’m still in love with my characters, so there’s still hope, even though I occasionally skim what I wrote back then and think, “This is utter crap!” At least there’s lots of sex. That counts for something, right? 😛

    I’m not sure how to “follow” you (or another friend who just set up a wordpress blog), although I’d like to, but I don’t have a wordpress acct/page. Looks like I would have to subscribe to get emails?

  4. Ah, usually I follow RSS feeds to follow a blog. 😀 Keep going with your writing. So very important to do so. It really is. And yes, the email Subscription! Very important. I should use that too. :::grins:::
    You might want to do a very hard study of your book. Then fill in the blanks. Get a beta reader. Or several. Or join a writing group. Make sure that the readers you get are hard on you. I know it’s going to hurt but sometimes it’s good to have people read it and tear it apart. BUT keep a focus on where you want to go with the story. That’s important. 😀

  5. I’ve heard of RSS….and I see the linky thing on this page, but I don’t know what to do with it. I guess I’ll do the e-lectronic mail.
    I had beta readers back in the fanfic day (one convinced me to cut the first four chapters of a long fic, and she was exactly right, but we’d built up a lot of trust by that point :D) and a critique group now, lovely women who, when I told them I wrote m/m, said, they’d never read it but were looking forward to it, and that our group would be a no-judgment zone. I really lucked out.
    I’m not sure they’re as hard as they’ll need to be, but the group is still pretty new. We’ll work up to the whips and brass knuckles. 🙂

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