Before I get too in depth, I’m going to point out that I am not your average reader. I come from a family of readers where the love of books is encouraged. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know why. If this is your first blog post that you’ve read from me, let me just say that the television was turned off when I was in my pre-teens and never got turned back on. This left our imaginations, books and for me, eventually writing. So, what follows is the opinion of a long time book lover. It is simply my opinion, while it may be controversial, no one has to agree with me.
I have mentioned before I have hard time finding good books. One of the reasons I do is because of shock writing. Shock writing is when the author does something horrible to the character to grab the reader’s attention and ‘shock’ them into continuing reading. Usually it comes out of nowhere. Most of the time it is something that the character was shown capable of handling before it happened, but it happens to them anyways. It is a writing device that keeps the reader engaged in the book just so they will see ‘what will happen next.’ Shock writing is almost as bad as cliffhangers at the end of every chapter.
I despise shock writing. It is a deal breaker for me. Reading books is and always has been about escapism for me. I don’t read a lot of realistic style fiction. Realistic fiction is either tedious and boring or like taking a trip through a sewer in a glass bottom boat that reveals the worst sides of humanity. I am also a very firm believer in what you put into your body, mind and spirit is what is going to come out of your body, mind and spirit. When I am reading something escape the mundaneness of mortal existence, I would much rather read about the positive sides of humanity rather than the negative aspects of it.
There are different types of shocks. The most common for female characters is rape. The most common for male characters is death of a loved one. Other types of ‘shocks’ that can happen to a character are wrongful imprisonment, kidnapping, loss of abilities, abuse (any and all types), and torture. Huge character reversals can also be a shock, whether it is personality traits or opinions or abilities. Another favorite shock is giving the character a terminal illness.
While having one of these in a book is enough to make me toss it across the room into the Becca box especially if my patience tolerance is low due to other factors with the book. There are writers who like to string along these shocks one right after another throughout the entire book or series, until me, the reader, is so completely tired or disgusted with such a good potential idea or character absolutely wasted on shock, after shock, after shock. These are the types of books where nothing good happens to the character ever and you have to slog through a lot of bad, mostly outside of the characters’ control to get to an end where maybe there is an ounce of hope and bang the book is over. By the time the book ends, I just can’t muster up the energy to care anymore about the characters, the world or the writer.
A good writer can have either these ‘bad things’ properly set up or can have them happen in such a way that the character can still have good things happen to them and have power. Otherwise, it feels like they just couldn’t come up with a decent plot. So, they took the lazy way out and created a checklist of things the character has to go through to get to the end of the book. It’s uncreative and often, trite. (And if the most I can say about the book is ‘hey, at least she wasn’t raped,’ it’s pretty bad.)
This is especially true when I know the writer has the capability to have bad things happen to their characters and give those same characters power. It isn’t a bad thing to put characters into bad situations. The trick is giving those characters the power and abilities to get out of those situations. That is the reason why someone like me is picking up the book. This character is in trouble, how do they get out of it? I want someone to root for! I want to be in the character’s corner, eyes glued to the page as they work their way out of the situation that they’ve put themselves or been put in.
And then, if it is a series of books, as the series progresses, I want to see the character use their newfound skills and abilities to get out of further troubles. I want them to change for better or for the worse. Do their new abilities make them arrogant and into the people they hate? Or do they use their new abilities for good? (And is that good really good or is it actually bad? And will there be mind numbing horror when the character figures out their actions have doomed someone or something?) So, if further on, one of the shocks is to have these abilities stripped away, then why do I want to read the book? If the author has made the character too all powerful that they feel the only way to have an interesting story is to strip those powers away from them, then maybe they shouldn’t have given them that much power to begin with! Suddenly, I’ve been divested of the character I was rooting for! Because these abilities make up a large part of who they are and to take them away is turning the clock back on the story so we’re at the first book again. There is no point. I suddenly feel like I’ve wasted my time and my emotional investment.
Being emotionally invested into a character is what brings a reader back time after time. When you sever that emotional connection and trade that emotional investment for a cheap writer’s trick. You lose the reader. The last thing you want to do is lose a reader! (See, those readers tell other readers, and suddenly you have a slew of readers who don’t want to read your book, or some might read it for the train wreck factor. But it’s a crap shoot either way, you don’t know what you’re going to get.)
A good writer can create emotional connections to the reader without having to gut the reader to do so. There is more than one way to create emotional connections. Readers and humans are complex beings. We all have shared emotional moments of happiness, joy, sadness, loneliness, grief, being overwhelmed and out of control. It is possible to tap into these emotions without having to first jolt the reader in an excuse for the character to have such emotions. In fact, emotionally connecting with their reader is part of the writer’s job. It takes skill and talent to connect through words to another person. Shock writing is like taking a baseball bat and banging your reader over the head with it. A good writer can evoke emotions without the reader being aware that is what they’re doing. This is the difference between a thug and a pickpocket. Both get the job done, one does it with skill and finesse and the other with brute force.
In way, shock writing has become a fad or even a way for writers to turn out books quick to make a profit. (If I’m wrong and the writers who do this are tired, please, take a break and recover enough to come up with something better.) Quickly, we need a plot that involves a certain character! Throw a dart at the board of common plot tropes for female characters! It’s lazy. It’s uncreative. It reflects the worst aspects of our society without addressing why these things are the way they are, dealing with the consequences or offering any sort of useful solutions.
I will continue this topic tomorrow…