Monday, April 26, 2010
Writers as Readers; Readers As Writers
This from John Taylor....
When I read fiction, I have to lull myself into a suspension of disbelief. I know I'm reading something that didn't happen--most probably based on life experiences, but fictionalized nonetheless--and to maintain my suspension of disbelief, I rely on the author's writing skills to keep me in this temporary hypnotic state. We've all been there. Think of the times when a story is so well written that we become oblivious to our surroundings. We are not sitting in our favorite reading chairs, perhaps on a rainy day, sipping at a steamy cup of tea or coffee. No, we're where the writer has taken us: a humid jungle, a parched desert, a frozen ice cap. We devour each word and the only thing that matters at that moment is where the writer is taking us. And then the phone rings or a dog barks and our suspension of disbelief is shattered. The "real world" intrudes until once again the writer pulls us back into the story.
I know this is a glorification of the obvious, but writers themselves also "shatter" readers' suspension of disbelief. All it takes is a typo, a misused word, or sloppy sentence structure to make the reader momentarily pause and reflect on the error. Far worse are writer gaffes which reflect poor research or lack of knowledge about a particular subject--I recently read a very fine novel that nonetheless had me shaking my head, when the author described the murder weapon as a .380 revolver and had a mortician performing an autopsy. These are the obvious mistakes and I'm as guilty, guilty, guilty as any other scribe for poor editing. But there's another mistake that's far more deadly to destroy suspension of disbelief: mishandling the plotline that causes the reader to seriously question the author's credentials or the veracity of what she/he writes. When I read comedy fiction, I allow the writer a great deal of latitude in embellishment and exaggeration to achieve a comedic effect. A classic example is Heller's, Catch 22, where his absurdic depictions defy rationality yet are overwhelmingly accepted by readers. But in dramatic fiction a writer can't get away with even minor mistakes that will stretch the reader's credulity. There's a Vietnam War novel out now, Matterhorn, which deserves to be and will be a best seller. It's the finest war novel I've ever read--and I've read a lot of 'em. But even this excellent piece of work has a few major flaws that had me scratching my head, wondering why the writer took the plotline in this or that direction.
OK, time to fix myself a cup of tea, settle into my favorite reading chair, and suspend my disbelief by reading Mike Orenduff's, The Pot Thief Who Studied Ptolemy.
Publisher's Comment....John and Mike will be at PSWA again this year! John's newest novel, LAND OF A THOUSAND DANCES will debut there...and Mike will be taking a respite from his bigger and better Book Promotion Road Trip. I'm counting the days!