I may have to take a short break from reading my favorite genre, the cozy/traditional mystery with a non-PI female protagonist. I think I'm waaaaay overloaded on the common tropes, situations, and standard characters. Writers are often exhorted to write about what they know, but I think I'm seeing far too much of that lately. I read for excitement and vicarious experience as well as for escape and fun, and if I get the same-old-same-old, it's . . . well . . . (whispering) boring.
You see, I undertook a little experiment. I downloaded ten e-book cozy/traditional mysteries selling at Amazon and read them over the past couple of weeks with the intent of analyzing what's going on in the market. I discovered some new authors (good), but found some trends that bothered me (bad).
DISCLAIMER: None of these were Oak Tree Press books/authors. I didn't want to be influenced.
Rule one of writing: "Don't be boring." If your work becomes boring and mundane and repetitive (notice how this sentence is an example of what it describes), readers will begin skimming, then skipping, then tossing your book out the window.
I believe that a book set in an unusual place or with a protagonist who has an uncommon profession will appeal more to readers who are sick and tired of the usual tropes. For instance, I can't stand one more mystery/suspense tale in which the heroine is a recent widow, yet starts going out with the detective immediately. Or someone who holds all her conversations in the car on the cell phone or in some boring coffee shop. Authors: people like to learn something when they're reading, so why not do some research and set your next book in the Grand Canyon or on a hot-air balloon--or at least something different from the usual fare? I have found that if I call just about ANYONE and tell them I'm a novelist and need their expertise on Amtrak trains, automobile engines, ham radios, or cave exploring--take your pick--those people are eager to tell me all about what they do and how it's done. I usually pick up some fun factoid or two that'll fascinate the experts and make them think I've actually done whatever it is I have my characters doing. I've even called the local police to ask them about police procedure . . . I'm probably listed as a "person of interest" by now. (LOL)
During my experiment, I discovered such close similarities between the various stories and the characters that populated them that I found myself skimming and peeking ahead to see if anything interesting might happen, rather than putting the pieces of the puzzle together or trying to figure out the crime myself (as I usually do). I kept feeling as if I had read this story somewhere before, even though the plots and characters were not quite the same. I flipped back to check the title of the book to be sure I hadn't made a clicking mistake on the Kindle and therefore was re-reading a book. Nope. Different books. There just weren't many surprises.
That wasn't really what bugged me, though. I kept seeing scenes set in the same old places over and over: the car (usually the heroine alone), restaurants (with one dining companion), home, office, supermarket. After a while, these places all blurred together. YAWNNN. Listen, folks, we are making this stuff up, so why are we making it boring?
One reason I set my books in unusual places (Marfa, Texas, in the middle of an artist's colony with Mystery Lights, and BDSM bars, for two) is to entertain readers. I give my heroines unusual professions if I can. It's something that can capture a reader's attention. Wouldn't you rather read a scene set on a hot-air balloon than yet another "generic restaurant" scene with the concomitant chomping on salads and slurping of coffee? A chase through a winery instead of yet another office?
True, SOME of a book's scenes must be these common things. The hero's clothing is sometimes important, so we have to put up with the "I got up and got dressed" stuff, and often it's easier to deliver a clue via cell phone conversation than to go to all the trouble of having a scene. Some percentage of a book will be like that. But surely the remaining scenes can be more dramatic and have interesting backdrops. Right?
Maybe you don't think you know about an interesting profession. But is your spouse, parent, cousin, or child involved in a hobby or job that would be something readers aren't familiar with or are curious about? It can't hurt to jazz up the story by not having all the usual tropes. Can it?
Okay, time for the readers to speak out. Do you find that you get bored by books that are too vanilla or too much like other books? (Maybe not, and that's fine if it's true. Just asking.) Do you even think about it--meaning that as long as you like the story and aren't irritated by the characters, anything goes? How far can an author go before it gets too outlandish for you?
How do you feel about this? Are you a reader who wants a series to keep the same basic formula with a few variations, or do you like to see originality and creativity? Or are you somewhere in between?
I think I'll take a little break. I'll go back to re-read Richard Brautigan (the last of the Beats, I think), Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut. That should wash out all traces of the too-formulaic stuff!