I was recently reading a book that was somewhere in the vicinity of 500 pages. It was holding my attention well at first but eventually those few things that weren’t connecting with me as a reader (mostly craft but a little bit characterization as well) kept pushing me further and further from the story until I got to around page 400 and abandoned the whole endeavor (possibly temporarily, possibly forever, who knows). However, I remain fascinated by the book being a perfect example of what I don’t like about my own writing.
My own writing, I must say, is a meager and not oft seen thing. I enjoy writing and have outlined dozens (hundreds?) of stories but I seem way too easily distracted by “research.” Reading is my favorite brand of research but I can be distracted for weeks on random scientific or historical topics in the internet rabbit hole. Despite that, I have a distinct aspect of craft that never changes no matter what writing challenges I might otherwise explore. I like using the fewest words possible and I like writing built as much around what is not said as what is.
So, back to this book I was reading. Scenes were constructed and dialogue used in eerily similar ways to my own writing. But to my own writing that I discarded or re-wrote because I wasn’t quite hitting the right balance. The exact right balance is a thing nebulously defined in my own head and constantly refined as I write (seriously, I’ll go back and revise something I wrote 10 years ago just because I think I’ve finally found the exact right turn of phrase). But, whatever it is, this book was not hitting it. I was constantly editing it in my mind and rearranging scenes or dialogue to tell the story better. It was like I was revising a first draft and who wants that in a reading experience? I might have got over it but I was also finding the main relationship between two brothers increasingly tedious (turns out there is a finite number of fist fights I can tolerate between two people before I’m over it) so it was time to set the book aside. But, but, but! I’m glad to have come by it as I thought long and hard as to why someone who employs my own darling craft preference could be so majorly striking out with me. And now I have words! Words!
There was no emotional resonance.
The thing about saying less and using what is not said as a way to communicate with your reader is that, if done incorrectly, connections can feel abrupt and flat. An emotional connection with the characters or situation becomes a lot more difficult. Obscure dialogue or interactions can result in an inquisitive reader avidly turning pages or to a confused, disinterested reader not much bothered at giving up 4/5s of the way through the book.
What I want is the balance of less leading to that tug in my chest that means I can’t imagine not staying with a story on its emotional path.