Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Making Reader Connections

Elizabeth Lyon, (an independent editor and writing instructor with whom I've worked many times at the Surrey International Writers' Conference), said that it's important to open your novel with helping the reader connect with the protagonist. She warned me against opening book two (Deception) in Kien Bartheylen's point of view, because the reader will automatically assume he is the protagonist. Then I'll have to work that much harder to help the reader connect with Kyer when we meet her in scene two.

One of the things I love about the way Elizabeth teaches is that she never says, "Don't do this, it's wrong, it's a bad idea." No, she simply warns you of the potential hazards so you can be sure your decision is right for your story, and allows you to forestall those problems. When I was reading at 5:00 this morning coz I couldn't sleep, I discovered that she was right.

This is the same book that has the long and boring prologue, by the way. Chapter one opens in the point of view of a girl, the daughter of the title character. Chapter two opens in a different point of view, and we spend a couple of chapters with him. Chapter three turns to another character.... It's not that I can't follow the story, it's just that I keep wondering when we're going back to the girl. And when are we going back to the second character? I'm having trouble settling in. I don't know who the protagonist is! Not that I can't still enjoy the story, but each POV change does pull me out of the story a little.  This new understanding will affect the way I review my own Book Two when I get back into it.

The other problem I'm having with the book I'm reading is where/when it begins. A murder has taken place, which is usually something that a reader can connect with emotionally. But in this story the information has come out in a rather distant way, in that the girl has finished writing a letter to her brother telling him about the murder. Because I hadn't had a chance to connect with the character, because it followed the aforementioned prologue, and because the murder came out in such an indirect way...I didn't connect with the information.

The issue of the murder came up again a few chapters later, and I found myself thinking, "Have I heard about this before? It sounds sorta familiar...." So I went back and basically re-read all of chapter one again to get the story of the murder straight. How irritating! Why not open the story with the girl hearing about the murder firsthand? Then I'd be able to feel the same emotions she feels as she hears about it, and it'd be pretty unlikely that I'd forget having read about it.

It's interesting to read a book critically and figure out what works for me and what doesn't. Trouble is, I haven't been able to read a book for pure enjoyment in years. Flawless books are hard to find.

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