Don't yell at me!

I'm not talking to you, gentle reader, but to authors. Two authors specifically, but others have also crossed the line. What line? The line between writing and yelling, between forcefully making a point and polemic that hurts to read.

During my recent Winter Break, I read Doctorow's Little Brother and then recommended it to Thing Two. His feeling was that the points being made (about security and privacy) were being made Forcefully, and that perhaps he (being almost exactlly my advanced age) was not the intended audience. That ties in to my reading of the book: its hyperbolic stance on privacy and the overreaching of government agencies in the name of security are intended for a younger audience, and one that is less well-informed about what's going on in the world today. Goading readers into being informed and involved does not always make for a good read.

The other book was Lionel Shriver's So Much For That, which I actaully could not finish. The characters appeared to exist only to advance his cause (the inequities of the health care system), with diseases and problems so intense that they couldn't possibly have been created for another reason. There was no moderation here, no character that made me, the reader, feel that I was seeing the action through their eyes. Instead, the constant lectures made me run as fast as possible to another, calmer read.

I'm not saying that having a cause, or that the need to inform/cajole is a bad thing when writing. But to me, the best books are those that don't make that their only raison d'etre. Those books that do owe their lives to a cause don't feel organic, they feel forced. The characters are there to serve the cause - rarely living in my mind as I'm reading.

So please, authors, if there's something that you desperately need to convey to your readers, consider waiting until a story happens; hammering a square character into a round plot just leads to dead trees and weary readers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re. the Doctorow book:

"Forced" is the apt word here.

He makes a big deal of included real and actionable (god how I hate that term) tech details in every chapter, but to this somewhat tech-savvy reader they come off as limp recitations of items which can be read in any PC World article over the last 15 years. Perhaps that is because I am old enough to have been reading that mag for 15 years. The audience for whom this book is surely intended has not been reading that long.

And because he does not have the chops or the desire to drop in outré science fiction twists we get no sniff of the flights of fancy which might make the worthy tech stuff more palatable.

The admittedly heavy-handed messages about America's betrayal of its principals in the wake of the mass murder on September 11 *did* resonate with me. But I did not see people jumping out of buildings or smell the pall of death and destruction in my city for weeks after that day.

FWIW - I did care, mostly, about the characters and it was a page-turner for me. A page-turner even as it became more and more clear that I was not the intended audience.

Possibly a re-post, but Doctrow has an interesting article about reactions to another part of the novel here: http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2009/11/cory-doctorow-teen-sex.html

Thing Two

PS - Apropos of the "not the intended audience" thing. I am interested in the mental gymnastics which older readers mus go through when they read this stuff as part of their job. Is this a learned behaviour which comes with training, professionalism and experience?