What a writer can learn from a disappointing read

Ebook Reader - photo by James Tarbottom/Unsplash

Ebook Reader – photo by James Tarbottom/Unsplash

I love my e-reader! It weighs less than a pound and holds 100s of books. For Christmas, I get gift cards from 3 of the guys I support (administratively, that is, at the office). Plus, there are lots of free and cheap e-books available from various sources.

Summer, for me, is a time for lighter fare, and I have been reading my way through such e-books. A week ago, I started what I hoped would be a light-hearted mystery-romance but, instead, turned into a disappointing and not very satisfying read.

So I asked myself: What can I, as a writer, learn from this experience? Here are a few of my observations:

  1. The right title is important
    1. It should attract readers by promising something about the content. Yes, it can be enigmatic, or a teaser, but it should be accurate (unless it’s a satire or a humorous work)
      1. The book I am writing about is titled “Murder in the X x X” and is set in a part of the world that conjures up images of the glamorous rich, gliding in sleek yachts across blue waters under sunny skies. True, the book began there – but instead of a murder there was a disappearance and a kidnapping and the action quickly moved to Atlanta, Georgia (USA)
      2. The disconnect between title and content was jarring (in an annoying way), but I persevered, wary but curious.


  1. A strong start will hook the reader and keep his or her attention (even through weaker bits)
    1. As a reader, I like to enter a story quickly, to be drawn by the characters or the plot or both
      1. This novel began with an American woman in a café, attended by a surly waiter disdainful of her accent, while she waited for the mysterious Englishman who would help her find her kidnapped niece
      2. Once over the disappointment of no murder and the relocation, I accepted the story line, drawn in broad strokes: the woman came to claim her long lost sister’s missing daughter, whom the Englishman had located, for a hefty fee paid by the woman’s well-to-do father, and take her ‘home’ to the US
      3. From there, additional characters, family, co-workers in her office, an old friend, and the troubled little niece came together in an uneven patchwork quilt of a plot


  1. Connect readers with your key characters early on – so they have an idea of what’s going on and care about them and what happens
    1. Establish rapport with, empathy for or interest in your key character(s) by
      1. While I sympathized with the main character’s loss of her sister and confusion at the newly discovered and traumatized-by-kidnapping niece, I did not connect with her – or any of the characters – on an emotional level
      2. Context for the characters was provided in due course, but it did not flow well
      3. I was not particularly interested in the characters (a couple of them annoyed me due to their mannerisms or way of speaking) and I did not really care about them.


  1. Provide detail – the right kind; for understanding and context and to entice further reading – and the right amount; too much is cloying and too little can be confusing
    1. This book fell short in every way.
      1. It opened in an exotic locale that was hastily abandoned without the enjoyment that I as a reader had anticipated
      2. The characters were not fully formed enough to garner sympathy or interest
      3. The plot quickly became cluttered and confusing – questions arose – when and why did the sister disappear? who was the niece’s father and where did he fit in? what was important about the relationships between the additional characters? – but the answers were slow and haphazard


  1. A strong and satisfying wrap up – with enough dangling threads to entice further reading (this was book one in a series)
    1. I have read many serial novels over the years and the good ones always leave me interested in reading further. This one did not.
      1. There was some unfinished business – how would the romance between the main character and man with unresolved issues end? – the 5 year old niece slowly coming out of her trauma, what would become of her? – the main characters former boss and his wife move halfway around the world, would they stay in touch?
      2. As a reader, I had only a mild passing interest in the answers to those questions. I had not connected deeply enough with any of the characters to pursue them further
      3. I know there were 4 more books written in the series, though – so either I’m off the mark, or the writing gets better. Do I want to read and find out? Nah…


  1. The indisputable fact is; you cannot please every readers. So – who do YOU write for?

About verawrites

Progress not perfection - that's my goal. Live and learn - that's my motto. I like to share bits of wisdom and glimmers of insight gleaned on my life journey of 50+ years. My hope is to encourage, perhaps inspire, fellow journeyers. Each of us has something to share. Let's be generous, gracious and compassionate with one another. I am blessed to be a blessing... so are you!
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