Smedley’s Principles for Good Reading: Part II
Last week, this column carried the wisdom found in Part I of Waldo Smedley’s magnus opium, “Principles for Good Reading.” More of the same found in Part II follows here:
#3 A Good Read Requires a Good Writer: Smedley contends that for a good read, the author and the reader must be on the same page, i.e., that the author must have high regard for the reader and that the story is told in an honest manner. This means that the author does not write “down” to his reader but includes the reader in on his thinking and his perspectives. What is very important is that the characters are interesting, even fascinating, admirable or not, but they must be “real.” Let’s say that the main character is a detective. We need to believe that he is truly interested in solving the crime and finding justice for the victims; that he has a conscience that he is often forced to wrestle with; and that his life has triumphs and joys, but also inconsistencies, prejudices, and a variety of failings common to most humans.
An example of a “unreal” main character will help to explain the need for an authentic one: In Sandra Brown’s recent crime novel, Ricochet, the driving force throughout the entire story revolves around, not solving the crime, but the incredible fascination the detective, Duncan Hatcher, has for the upper half of the main suspect, Elise Laird, body. Men can be the most ultimate of fools, but this obsession was beyond belief, and thus this book lost its credibility.
(Sidebar: Choosing Richochet off the bookshelf serves as a good example of what can happen when a reader fails to first preview a book using Rules #1 Bad Language and #2 Explicit Sex. Seeing Author Brown’s name on the occasional Best Seller lists, I assumed she wrote with some class. Wrong! This was trash all the way with no redeeming qualities, whatsoever. I did bail out about half way through but still, I felt compromised. Confession is good for the soul and so are lessons well-learned. Stick to the rules! Trust and Verify!)
Another sign of an author’s ego getting in the way of a good read is Rule #4 NO NAME DROPPING. This is the deal where the main character, usually an ex-cop turned Private Eye feels the need to inform his plebeian, less-than-hip reader of his vast knowkledge of the best European wines, exotic Cuban cigars, exotic French dinner entrees, or other subject known only to the rich and famous. These boring tidbits, which have absolutely nothing to do with the story, are inserted so that the reader can appreciate how extraordinarily cultured and urbane the author is.
Finally, Rule #5 No Over Writing: Perhaps the biggest sin that an author can commit is to include much more information than is needed to tell the story. It is very important to move the story along. The book should be as advertised – a Mystery – and not a Travel guide or a brochure on How To Arrange Flowers. Below is an example of over-writing as taken from a real stinker, Daughter of Darkness, which was a Christmas gift from my favorite son-in-law:
In this setting, the ex-cop (hero) upon entering his house, has walked in on a bad guy intruder and he is now scurrying to catch him on the outside of his house: “He (the hero) went down the steps and along side the house. (My italics) Just before she’d been killed, his wife planted some Korean boxwood all the way around the house. It was a low-growing hedgelike plant that kept its beauty for many long months a year.” I didn’t know that about Korean boxwoods, did you? Were these bushes from North or South Korea? I really need to know this!
Daughter of Darkness had several other flaws including mind control via microwave, amnesia, and split personalties. Perhaps my son-in-law is trying to tell me something about my daughter.