Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Do You Mean,"I'm Predictable and Contrived"?

If you recall from past posts, I've opened up the option of visitors or commenters offering something they'd like to see discussed here.  Just in time for the new year, someone had something mentioned in a review and was bemused, perplexed and a bit taken aback because there was no meat to the heat.

What do I mean?  The author can understand the opinion but without giving a hint as to what made it contrived and/or predictable, the author can't adjust, fix or advance in her craft to address that which the reviewer thought let her/him down.

Yes, I realize what we reviewers say is mostly opinion but if what we say didn't matter, review sites would have cyber-crickets for readers.  Thing is, reviews matter and often do become helpful tools for authors to know not only what doesn't work but what does work. 

Although this is my blog and I'm only one voice in the vast array of reviewers out there,  I think it's good to hear from the other side of the coin, in this case, the author.  

With her permission and because I think it's a valid point and I do try to express the meat behind the heat in my own reviews, I'm going to share:

"if you write a review...and have less than glowing things to say, there is always a good chance you're right or at least what you have to say has merit, BUT think about it from the perspective of the author...if there is something bad or less than stellar, wouldn't you want to KNOW what's wrong? Simply saying something is poor or written badly isn't wrong, per se, but you might want to say why it's written badly. Did the author use purple prose? Repetitive statements? Plot seem so far out of left field you couldn't buy into it? If it's predictable, first, remember that in romance we WANT a HEA...we want to see the hero and heroine get together. BUT, how else was it predictable? Did the hero seem to show up at the right time? Did the heroine seem to say exactly what was needed to cool the hero down?

If you're the author, you want to know so you know what to improve for next time. We're human, so we know we make goof-ups. It happens. But if we don't know why you think something is less than stellar, we can't work on it for the next story."

I think her statements are worth reading.  And, in previous posts here a CC, I think I've addressed the need for reviewers to put what scenes or elements make them feel anything, good or bad.  Making a blanket general statement is perhaps fine on Amazon where there is a thirty second attention span. But on a review site where a reviewer is free to explore and expound upon the virtues of a book and they don't ... it's a let down.

In a book I recently reviewed, the word 'contrived' came to mind. There was more than enough to drag it down to a three rating so I didn't feel the need to heap on the negatives.  I will share that the overall affect of the story for me was that it was forced. Events that would otherwise not occur in such a fashion were compelled to happen just so the opportunities for their sexual relationship could be explored.  Yes, it was a short story and I realize they are very challenging to write. However, I've read shorts before that had a logical and natural progression with characters acting within the world building -- not against it as this book did.   It felt as though the scenes were written at a whim to make a certain thing occur and it felt rushed and shallow.  It had enough elements and dialogue for me to find enjoyment, hence the three rating, but by no means would that kind of writing end up on my keeper shelf.     If I had written in the review that the book was contrived, I would have pointed out what made it so without spoilers. Being contrived isn't necessarily a death knell for a story, just a point reduction as far as a review goes. (unless you were reading a mystery, then it just might)  Combine it with other things, like bad editing or a heroine TSTL, well then, that might sink the ship.  

So what do you think?  Is a book being predictable or contrived enough to make it a wall-banger? Is it enough to state that opinion in a reivew with no information to back it up?  Or should there be a few examples or mentions as to why? Or is being predictable someone else's idea of a relaxing story to while away the day?

Comments?  Counter Opinions?   I'd enjoy another perspective.


Wendi Zwaduk said...

Right on! You make great points authors and reviews alike can relate to. Thanks.


lastnerve said...

I totally feel that if you give a negative comment, you need to be respectful of the author's feelings and state it in a constructive way. Another biggie for me is I HAVE to tell the author exactly where they went wrong or the review did no good at all. I am a reviewer and I liked what you said about writing the scenes that I liked in there! I will start doing that from now on. Thanks for the blog post today, it was very helpful.


Nancy G said...

I've always said that, as a reviewer, I look at each book I choose as a prospective best book. I wouldn't have chosen it otherwise. whether they all live up to that rating is another story. In fact, those are rarer now for me. I try to tell what makes or breaks a book for me, but sometimes it is hard to do, without giving spoilers. I do try to explain why, when a story just doesn't work for me, after all it is only my opinion, and someone else may love what I found less than satisfying. Thanks for the insight, and the author's note as well.

Xeranthemum said...

Thank you, Wendi!
and your welcome.
Nice to hear from you.

Xeranthemum said...

You're very welcome, Val.
I'm so glad that you found my post helpful.
I know it's hard to refer to parts in a book without using spoilers especially if something has you really excited, but sharing how it made us feel is totally cool.

I just had THE most awesome response to a recent review where the author stated she was so happy that I "got" what she was trying to say about her characters. The hero was so complicated and damaged and broken by torture but he came back as what I thought was a stronger man with a core of inner steel - with a few quirks that kept him very interesting to me the reader and to the heroine.
I could only hint and tease about what the hero does that had me giggling and snickering but that was one of the things about my review the author enjoyed. Her response made my day.

So yeah, sort of mentioning certain scenes without letting too much go is great because then the author recognizes the part you are talking about, and then when you share your feelings, she'll know whether she got her point across or not. You know, if she thought it was funny when she wrote it but the reviewer thought it was a dud? Then the author would know there was a disconnect and she'd have to re-evaluate how she writes humour, or something....

Gosh, I love talking about reviewing, but then I start rambling... sorry.

Val, thank you so much for stopping by!

Xeranthemum said...

Hey, Nancy!
You're welcome.
I'm glad you found the post helpful and your feedback helps me too.
We all want to do our best and it's great to hear from different viewpoints as to how to do it. What amazes me is how alike many of us are. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
So glad you stopped by, Nancy!

Beverly said...

When I write I review I try to state at least one specific reason why I felt something didn't necessarily work for me. I also make it clear that is my opinion alone. I do the same with things that I like, but I know others may not. A great example is I recently did a review for a story were the character used a lot of profanity. I personally did not see it as a problem but can understand someone else not wanting to read 2-3 f-bombs in statement so I made sure I warned potential readers.

Beverly said...

I too struggle with spoilers sometimes. This is especially true when a particular scene in a story really stuck out to me for whatever reason. I feel the need to point out that particular moment without giving away the author secret sauce.

Xeranthemum said...

the author secret sauce ROTFL, I love it, Beverly!!

Oh I hear you on warning readers about things. I don't mind the f-bomb so much. I just read one where the female area was referred to as the C-word - all.the.way.through. I don't find that word romantic at all. I made reference to it but I didn't actually come out and say what the word was. I just said it was overused and didn't appeal to me personally. Because, like you said, it's our opinion and I made it known. I do like you do and state that it's my opinion because I know there are those out there who are actually okay with that word. Ew.

And yes indeed, walking the line between spoiler and tease can be tough. That's why I pester the editor when I hit a glitch. Sometimes it's a simple switch of words that makes the difference.

I'm happy you stopped by, Beverly and if there is anything you want to discuss here, just let me know. I can't have covered everything there is to say about reviewing and since it's a favorite subject of mine, I'm always looking for topics to discuss to help myself and others learn and grow.

Thanks for commenting, Beverly!