How dost thou irritate me? Let me count the ways…
After reading Camille’s excellent post on irritating reads of February 8th on “Hopping Heads,” I had to think long and hard about what to write about this time out. I immediately reviewed my “most irritating novels list” and came up with some things that set my teeth on edge: Sloppy Plotting and Shoddy Research.
Sloppy plotting goes hand in hand with shoddy research. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the two are related… Perhaps they’re brother and sister? Well, let’s say kissing cousins instead.
Let me give you some examples. As always, I won’t mention any names or titles, nor will I post any pictures of the books in question. They’ve been thrown on the floor and against the wall so many times that they’re pretty much unrecognizable anyway. Suffice it to say, many of them were written by “bestselling authors.” Let me step aside to address a minor irritation that’s connected to sloppy plotting. It’s that many times when a writer makes that all-important bestseller list, he or she thinks they don’t have to work anymore. They feel they’ve reached the point that their name recognition (and their publisher’s clout) will carry them to the bestseller list again and again. Unfortunately, many times they’re right. How many times have you picked up a book by one of these highly successful authors only to find that it ain’t quite as good as their earlier books? They’re going through the motions, but just barely. They’ve reached that unfortunate plateau where they can turn in a bunch of substandard writing knowing their publisher will print enough copies that it’ll be an automatic bestseller regardless of how many people buy it. And many will, simply because of the name recognition factor. Thus, these authors feel no need to do proper research or even think their story through.
One of these guys was questioned about how much research he did for his books, and he freely admitted that he didn’t do any. “That’s why it’s called fiction,” was his retort. Well, I think he left out an adjective. In my opinion, he should have said, “That’s why it’s called bad fiction.”
I made the misfortune of picking up one of his books to see what the fuss was all about. He obviously writes by the seat of his pants, but I felt like giving him a kick in that area to jolt him into reality. Putting your protagonist in a dangerous spot is the stuff of thriller writing, but having him escape due to a totally ridiculous turn of events is an offense worthy of scorn. In this particular case the protagonist is held at gunpoint by the bad guy. The gun happens to be a semi-automatic pistol, which the protagonist had seen earlier. Since the magazine had been left fully loaded, the protagonist conjectured that the spring would be so worn that the gun would not function properly. Where he got that idea, I don’t know. It’s total malarkey. Plus, if there were a round in the chamber, it wouldn’t matter if the magazine would malfunction or not… That first round was already in the chamber, and with that particular weapon, the gun would have fired the round in the chamber whether the mag was in the pistol or not. Thus, the hero would have been shot. Want to bet your life on that?
Incidentally, this same guy mentioned in another interview, how effective it is to head-butt someone in a fight. He has his heroic protagonist do this quite often in his books, with devastating results. While I can’t disagree that being butted is not a pleasant experience, it’s usually not incapacitating. I was head-butted in a confrontation when I was on the job. It hurt, left a goose-egg on my head, but I was never out of the fight. In fact the guy had conveniently bent over to deliver the butt, and seconds later I decked him with an uppercut.
I’ve talked before about a writer who had a police officer carrying around a gun for an entire novel without realizing it was a water pistol. That was the book I literally threw against the wall in anger. I felt anger because I’d felt cheated. It’s like Bullwinkle saying, “Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat,” and then pulling out a rhinoceros head instead. I loved it in the old cartoon, but if I’ve invested my time reading a novel, only to find out that the author did such a slip-shod job of plotting and research, I put him or her on my “Never to be read again” list.
Now I’m not against using a little artistic license from time to time, or even saying that I never make a mistake or stretched credulity a bit in my writing… But at least I give plotting and research my best effort. Nor am I suggesting that you engage in a fist fight or grab a gun and start shooting to see how it feels. As far as writing the Executioner, trying to experience everything first hand that Mack Bolan does is virtually impossible unless I could arrange to do some ride-alongs with the Delta Force. But at least I make an effort to research things a bit. It’s a matter of respecting your readers and respecting the writing process. Have pride in your work. Do the best you can with researching and credible plotting. Every time you sit down at the keyboard, you should give it your best.