Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Can't Tell What You're Thinking

I read a book not too long ago that absolutely did not work for me. The reasons were many and varied, but one of them was the fact the book was written in third person. Only, in some parts, you sure could have fooled me.


Her scent filled his nose, made his lungs ache with every inhale. He shouldn't be here. I knew better than to come. Yet here I am. Crossing the room, he paused beside her chair.

I wouldn't have had an issue if the above snippet was presented this way:

Her scent filled his nose, made his lungs ache with every inhale. He shouldn't be here. I knew better than to come. Yet here I am. Crossing the room, he paused beside her chair.

By placing the thoughts in italics, you can plainly see where our hero stops acting and starts thinking. We've been conditioned to accept that is the norm for thought delivery. We see italics, and we know we're dealing with a series of thoughts.

Without them, you have a jumble of third and first that makes me grind my teeth. I realize it's possible this could be a house style issue, which would be sad, but it doesn't change the fact I'd never seen it before reading that book. I was jarred from the story the first time it happened, and I don't think I ever recovered.

While I've seen the argument that an informed reader should hit those patches and keep sailing, knowing what they are, that's not my issue exactly. I knew what they were, but those sections ripped me from the story and became such an annoyance I almost actively searched for the next slip up.

(Which means the author had lost me. My attention was not on the story.)

As writers, that's the opposite of our job. We're supposed to become invisible. Readers are supposed to enjoy every word on the page without a hitch. When you make someone stop and think, the spell your words had cast is broken. It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz in the sense readers should "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain".

How about y'all? Any recent style changes or other shifts driving you batty?


Liia Ann White said...

I've had that same situation drive me nuts. You do get lost focussing on the grammatical/tense issues rather than the story itself.
During edits recently, my editor changed a couple of lines to italics and changed the tense etc, which just made the entire paragraph read a lot smoother.
I think in the case of the book you read, the editor (if there was one) let something go they really shouldn't have.
But I must say, since I've been published and gone through crits, betas and edits, I'm a lot more conscious of errors than I used to be as a reader.

Annie Nicholas said...

I went through a similar thing with one of my favorite author. I recently bought his last release and couldn't finish it. Not because of formatting but for depth of chartacter and point of view. This wasn't his usual writing style either. It seemed like he got lazy and didn't place any effort (or his editor) into the book. So sad for so much work.

Hailey Edwards said...

Liia, that's exactly it. Editors are a reader's last line of defense.

Annie, I see "recent" and "he" and think Jim. I've been talking to so many people about that book since it released.

I'm still unsure how I feel about a lot of it. I felt like it was a good book, a good story, but I'm also grading on a curve. We saw JB struggle to execute a series-wide shift during Changes. Ghost Story was a continuation of that, I thought. I'm hoping the next book, Winter Knight, is a return to business as usual. If it's not...I'll have to think real hard about my investment in that series. :(