Friday, May 22, 2009

How many great scenes make an amazing book?

Drunk writers is not a review site. We sing the praises of the authors we love, and happily, but we never really speak critically of books, or authors, at least using specific names or titles.
But recently I read a book, Broken Wing, which had been given amazing reviews by at least two review sites I really respect.
And while there are some wonderful aspects about this book, I can not say I loved it. I can't really say I even liked it.
That this book was a labour of love was clear on every page, the characters were wounded and dark, normally characters I love, but the plotting, and pacing, was uneven, to the point of slow.
Scene upon scene, all really lovely written, went nowhere, and really didn't progress the plot. There was a ton of telling, and so many pages that I skimmed, or skipped, and in between, gorgeous, lush scenes that were dark and dramatic and compelling. For every one lovely, entrancing scene, there were five that didn't seem to do much.
I feel like I'm missing something when it comes to this book, because some of my favourite review sites are calling this book the best historical of the year. To me, it needed a good editor and a complete rewrite.
But is it just that as historical readers, we've needed a dark, dramatic Laura Kinsale type romance for so long, we'll take a book with deep flaws and some greatness and love it anyway?
Or is is that three, or five deeply emotional, amazing scenes in a book can make it great, despite the other scenes?
Or is that I need to go back and re-read this book and figure out what I missed?


Maureen McGowan said...

Interesting questions... I haven't read that book, as you know... but I do think that what many people remember at the end of a book are those few amazing scenes. BUT... I totally agree with you. If the stuff between those great scenes isn't compelling enough to keep me reading, then I'm never going to get to those few amazing scenes.

I think maybe the world is starved for darker, angsty historicals. I hereby predict a resurgence.

Simone said...

If you go to the AAR board there's a thread about exactly this - readers who bought Broken Wing based on the blog hype and were underwhelmed. So you're not alone.

It certainly was uneven. Some scenes terrific, others sort of like first drafts. As a writer I actually enjoyed picking the writing and scenes apart. Which, um, was probably not the effect the author was going for.

Sinead M said...

I'm hoping for a resurgance... thanks Maureen..

And Simone, so glad you get this one as well. Did the same thing, mentally cut the unnecessary scenes, and tried to figure out what would work and sadly gave up reading close to the end..

most of the time I really trust AAR's reviews, but this one time, I did not agree..

Molly O'Keefe said...

This book is such a funny animal - because I'll tell you truthfully, I got angry when I read it - due in large part to the amount of the book I had to skim - there was a lot of telling. But what worked in the book has stuck with me - I think about that scene when they stargaze often. It was a perfectly written little scene.
I think more scenes like that probably would have landed the writer far more acclaim and success, but one never knows. perhaps it was just the suprise of it that the reviewers loved - but I hope she's gotten a huge boost in sales because of all that buzz.

M. said...

YES! YES! I felt the same way! blogged about it here:
and actually quoted something from a talk Molly gave (without naming her since a) don't know how she feels about it and b) don't know if I accurately grasped her point)

The feeling I get is that people who rave about the book tend to be 'pure' readers, while people who feel ambivalent tend to write themselves.

Sinead M said...

Nice point, M. Because all the review sites loved it, but most of the writers I know found it flawed.

For pure readers, those wonderful scenes, especially the star gazing one Molly referred to, were enough to make the book excellent..

Pure readers.. love that term.

Kimber Chin said...

I'm a simple gal.
If a book makes me laugh or makes me cry, it is a good solid read to me.
If I want to reread it, it is a great read.

So yeah, one great scene can make a good book.

This discussion reminds me of the discussions around Twilight. So many writers say that series isn't well written either yet it works with the target audience.

However, as an aside, I DO know there is a readership out there looking for 'different' romances (or 'strange' romances as one reader called my book Invisible). When they find these romances, they go a bit gaga over them.

Maureen McGowan said...

Kimber, I think you're right. If a book or story is exciting us, and "working" for us, we'll forgive a lot. Readers who aren't writers are even more willing to forgive, or not even notice.

Keep thinking about a huge coincidence problem in the Star Trek movie. It's pretty huge (unless I missed something.) Yet, it didn't bother me one bit, because I was enjoying the film so much. If I'd been even vaguely bored or disappointed, it would've made me crazy.

Amy Ruttan said...

I haven't read the book, but I want to.

So many books and so little time.

Corey said...

Really thought-provoking post. I wonder if it's possible to figure out what the tipping point number is on great scenes in a book that makes it an amazing book. When Molly said (to paraphrase) that she got angry when she had to skim a large part of the book, it made me think of all of the books i've read this year (majority romances) where I've had to skim through great chunks just to get through them. That's a pretty good rule to follow. If you're skimming and not savoring each word, chances are it's not a good book. Even if there are some great scenes.

Maureen is dead-on with her prediction. There is more than enough room in this crowded field for darker, more angst-filled historicals. Especially ones with female angst and more developed female characters.

When Maureen first introduced me to romances not so long ago, I had no interest in historical romances. Until Laura Kinsale. Unfortunately, after reading The Shadow and the Star, which was brilliant, I've read many historical romances since and have been sorely disappointed by most of them. It really sucks reading a few wonderful books in this genre and then having to plow through masses of tripe in order to find another gem.

I read all of Kinsale's stuff available via Kindle/eReader and also loved Seize the Fire and The Prince of Midnight. Her books have such rich character development, and not just male CD. I don't know about you guys, but I am deeply frustrated by the lack of female character development in many romances. In Kinsale's, the females are filled with flaws, insecurities and have complex pasts. Plus, she ends The Prince of Midnight with possibly one of the best sex scenes ever, involving a horse. I'll just leave it at that.

Maureen McGowan said...

Hi, Corey

Prince of Midnight is Sinead's favorite book... I think Shadow and the Star is Molly's. I was introduced to both (and the genre) via them.

If you want some great, recent, more female-focused historicals try: Sherry Thomas, (I loved Private Arrangements), Joanna Bourne (Spymaster's Lady), and Elizabeth Hoyt (for me, the Leopard Prince, although I've heard her just released one is fabulous, too). Sherry Thomas has a new book out, as well.

Thomas's Private Arrangements is light (vs dark and angsty)... but so witty and the heroine behaves so badly (and in ways I found completely atypical of the genre) I couldn't put it down.

Sinead and Molly can probably recommend others I haven't gotten to, yet.

Corey said...

Just wanted to post a follow-up. I read Broken Wing, sort of, and feel equipped to enumerate the flaws with this book (Warning: spoilers ahead). Caveat -- I skipped from when Gabriel first left Sarah to when she finds out that he was washed overboard (nearly the end of the book). Honestly, I don't think I missed much. I already knew what was going to happen, and basically what had happened in between.

So, here's what I think went wrong. 1) Character development occurred too often in retelling of stories rather than describing actual experiences as they were happening. Gabriel's character would have been better served if his story were developed in the beginning of the book, instead of jumping straight to Sarah and Ross finding Jamie and Gabriel. I had a somewhat difficult time having sympathy for him and understanding Sarah's motivations because her character was grossly underdeveloped, as well. 2) I have discovered that I don't enjoy when the author blatantly describes how a character is feeling "Gabriel was confused and resentful" (first page of Chapter 2). It makes me feel manipulated instead of allowing me to draw my own conclusions 3) The predictability made it easy for me to skip basically half of the book to the end, because I knew that everything would be explained to some degree. 4) Sarah and Gabriel too easily fell back into the swing of things at the end, which was ludicrous. I could understand her celibacy, given the time period and her circumstances, but the fact that he would remain celibate during their four years apart seemed, well, unlikely.

I suppose I could go on an even more extended discourse on what worked and what didn't, but this book didn't do it for me. Thanks for suggesting Sherry Thomas and Joanna Bourne, Maureen, read a couple of their books and really enjoyed the writing and the stories.

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