The Under Ground Writing Project

Making writers right since 2008.

Notes from Under Ground Post New Entry

Dumb Books

Posted by Ali on February 27, 2013 at 6:45 PM

I live by the principle that life is too short to waste time with books I don't like. I'm quick to abandon books after readying a chapter or two because the tone doesn't work for me, I'm not invested in the characters, it's just too easy to put down, or, as in the case of a recent book, it's getting on my nerves.

Recently, I stumbled on a book while I was searching for another and read the synopsis out of curiosity. I'm not going to name the book or author, because that would be mean, but here's the overview: Historical fiction. A woman who's heartbroken after a broken engagement becomes a mail-order-bride and goes off to marry a widower and look after his kids. The marriage is supposed to be symbolic rather than romantic, but then they grow to care for each other. But, what about the bad secret in the woman's past? Will it threaten their burgeoning affection?

Based on the synopsis, I thought, "Sure, it could be interesting." After a few pages, my impression quickly changed to, "What? That's obnoxious. This book is dumb." I read two whole chapters, then tossed it aside with a feeling like I'd accidentally put my hand in something wet and sticky. I mean, seriously, ick. So, here's what went wrong.

1. Flashbacks.

Chapter one starts with two paragraphs in the "present" then leaps backwards in time. Two paragraphs is too little time to actually get anchored in the first scene before getting tossed around. The trend continues throughout the chapter, a few paragraphs here, a few paragraphs here, and by the time I read three pages, I had whiplash. Done right, flashbacks can be wonderful, but in this book, they were melodramatic, irrelevant, and distracting. I jump from the heroine on a train to her fighting with her parents, to back on the train, to back home again, to back on the train, to... Flashbacks are not an adequate substitute for good writing. In this case, I was annoyed, not intrigued.



2. Incoherent/nonsensical motivation.

Our heroine had her heart broken by some cad, so she answers a wife advertisement and immediately heads off to marry a stranger. During the flashback argument with mom and dad, it is revealed that our heroine comes from a moneyed family and is dropping out of university to become a mail-order-bride because of the security the marriage offers. Um, what? Since when do rich girls marry poor farmers for "security"?  Puh-lease.

She also tells her parents that, even though she has never met this man's children, she already loves them and must go be their hero-mommy! Ugh, gag me with a spoon. So, at this point, instead of thinking the heroine to be a noble gal who's following through with a hard decision because she's honorable, I just think she's an over-emotional idiot. I mean, clearly, she did not think this through. Maybe, if she was marrying the guy because she had fallen in love with hiim through his letters, I'd buy it. But, the author explicitly points out that love is NOT the point of this union. The point is that he needs help and she wants to get away from her heartbreak. Okay, but why does that require marriage? Have these people never heard of people hiring other people to help on the farm? Why does she have to go off and be his wife when she could just be his housekeeper? The more the author/character tries to justify the action, the more alienated I became.

3. Artificial conflict.

Our heroine gets off the train to meet her betrothed. She has purposely never asked him for a photo (didn't want to be superficial and find out if she actually thought the man she swore to marry was good looking), and he has never asked her for one. So, now they have to find each other without knowing who they're looking for. I was unimpressed by this contrivance, and grew less amused as the author tries to milk it for drama. Could that be him? No! He's not coming over to her. That guy sure is cute, though. But, who cares, her betrothed clearly isn't here. He's abandoned her. She must buy a ticket back. Oh no! The ticket guy was mildly rude to her. Ack! The world is ending! Oh dear, the cute guy is coming over here. Uh oh, awkward moment. Oh, wait, this hottie is really her intended! What a revelation!

Come on all of this nonsense when all she had to do was keep an eye out for a single guy, and say, "Hey, are you Bob?" People do this on blind dates all the time. It's not a crisis, really. Or, you know, the characters could have had half a brain between them and one of them figure out that it's easier to meet someone at the train if you have an inkling of what they actually look like. Yeesh. The characters are dumb and the conflict is prolonged to the point of eye rolling.

4. The Mary Sue effect.

Our rich, noble, and smart (well, she's supposed to be, even if her actions convince me of the opposite) heroine thinks to herself how she's never thought herself pretty, despite the way men are interested in her. Because, surely, having men flirt with her can't possibly mean she's pretty, because she has to be humble, right? Of course, as soon as we get a second in the POV of her betrothed, all he can think of is how gorgeous she is. Another gag me moment. So, our heroine is clearly Miss Perfect in every way. She's a victim of unfortunate consequences that are not her fault at all. Now, here she is, having made a poorly thought-out decision, but she's landed a total hottie who's also very sweet.

Put it all together and you end up with a book I had to write a whole blog post about because I honestly think it is just that awful. I'll skip the part where I wonder how this book even got published, because I think this saccharine stuff definitely has a niche, and go straight to the point where I tell you that it's okay to abandon books. Some published books are bad. Some books that sell a ton of copies are bad. Some books, my friend, just aren't worth your time. So, please remember: Life is too short for bad books.

Now, please tell me - have you abandoned any books lately? What writing crimes have made you abandon books in the past?

Categories: Books, Lists, Publishing

Post a Comment


Oops, you forgot something.


The words you entered did not match the given text. Please try again.

Already a member? Sign In


Reply Debbie Meldrum
1:11 PM on March 1, 2013 
It's weird, because the "inciting incident" sounds familiar, but I can't place it. If I did start the same book, I didn't finish it either.

I'm struggling with a book right now. Award-winning, modern, lots and lots of fans. I agree the actual writing is brilliant in a "love this prose, how does he do it, hate him" sort of way. But there is not one sympathetic or likeable character so far. A few friends who did make the slog tell me I will not encounter one. So, why continue?

Stubborn? Well, yeah. But it's more than that. This is supposedly one of the seminal books of our time. I want to make it through in order to figure out why it's gotten the kind of attention and praise it has. So, I will be diving back in. I'll let you know if I need you to throw me a rope.
Reply Jenny Maloney
11:50 AM on March 3, 2013 
I think #3 is the writing crime that MOST irritates me. Always, it's a sign of a weak premise -- because a strong premise will manage to be troublesome without all the bells and whistles.

I recently put down two books (which is a frustrating number when you're trying to get through 100 books) because of the contrived conflict. Both just felt forced.

Oops! This site has expired.

If you are the site owner, please renew your premium subscription or contact support.