In previous posts on Parker's books, I've discussed how much I enjoy his stories even though the central plot is less than riveting. BACK STORY continues with that theme. I wonder how the novel would have read if Spenser's reasoning for risking his life, Susan's and Hawk's, made more sense. I know I wouldn't irritate a mob boss for six Krispy Kreme donuts.
Continuing my quest of enlightenment, I must first say Sunny Randall is my favorite Parker character yet.
Shrink reiterates what I've already been picking up from Parker. A good novel doesn't have to be about the central story. All that advice I've read in style books and agent blogs isn't necessarily hooey, but Parker shows over and over again that the characters, their lives, and their environment are the key to ensuring a good read. Of course you can't forget the plot. But I've learned so much about the importance of personality, quirks, side-interests, the gritty detail of emotion, needs and wants, and the physical hurdles and beauty the characters find around them.
I find it amazing what I learn from editing someone else's work.
I can see their…er… shortfalls… more easily than I can see my own. Yet when I turn to my own work, all the comments I made on my partner's piece smacks me side the head like a t-ball bat. Ouch!
I wrote a recommendation today to my partner, that during an edit pass, to consider how every passage could be made more visceral, live, less telling, and more in the character's point of view. I went to my own work, and bam.
If you aren't spending at least thirty percent of your time editing someone else's work, I highly recommend it. The effort is extremely revealing, worth the effort.
I love Robert B. Parker's unique voice. All writers should study him to find how colorful clean narrative and dialog can be. He proves a one-word sentence can wield a lot of power.
Reading Parker is a learning experience in how to do it right, however I plan to use the following observations of Hundred-Dollar Baby to improve my own writing.
Parker's greatest strength lies in his characters. Spenser, Susan, and Hawk spring to life, however I feel Parker relied too heavily on dialog and situation, and left out a level of action the characters needed.
Word choice – I love Parker's use of language. He proves on every page simple, clean narrative propels a story. In BABY, he did an excellent job juxtaposing simple language with Susan's PhD vocabulary.
Dialog – second only to his characterization, Parker excels at using realistic and entertaining dialog. However in this novel, he relied on it too heavily. The best dialog with two characters sitting and talking, is still two characters sitting and talking. I'll take dialog creatively woven into the action any day.
Timeline – I found the transition from winter to spring in BABY spread out the limited action. The same action over a series of days would have given the impression of more action.
POV – Limited point of view propels the reader's empathy and limits her scope of interest. However, if the MC is only observing and reacting, the use of a limited view detracts. This reader requires the MC to be in the center of the action, not reacting to or relating what others do. I want the MC to be creating the plot.
Here is a good freebie FRUGAL pointed out Tuesday, if you missed it. Download a free copy of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES. Don't Kindle? Don't have the Kindle software on our PC, it is also priceless (and free-- Requires an Amazon account-- If you write, I bet you have one). I recommend all three.
As I read SMALL FAVOR, I came across a lot of scenes I could imagine an editor recommending to cut because they didn't "further the immediate plot." That would have been a shame. There are three unique stories lingering in FAVOR, and they enrich the dynamics of the characters and setting, and pump up the overall excitement level of the novel.
Just as there are scenes that could have been culled, there is detail out the wazoo that didn't have to be there. Guess what. The reason I read fantasy is to feel inside a different world. Jim's detail provided that. So there goes another general rule I'm glad FAVOR broke. And I don't buy that detail is simply needed in Fantasy. It's a tool a writer can either use well, or muddle his narration with.
A third rule I'm glad Jim ignores, is limiting characters. Without Jim's voice, all of the antagonists could have weighed down FAVOR. Instead, every chapter led the reader to a new experience. Kudos.
"Voice" is a cliché. You don't want your story to sound like someone else wrote it, yet it still needs to flow so it doesn't slow down the reader. So how do you insert your personality without weighing down your words?
I've received tons of rejections the last three years, and few explain why they've rejected my manuscript. I got one rejection last month in which the agent stated she didn't prefer the voice. Getting a specific why was nice. But, what and the heck was it about the voice that didn't fit?
The nice faded to a new pain. Voice is the reader's overall experience. So overall, the agent felt I sucked. Oh, how pleasant.
In our critiques we frequently get "didn't work for me." I've come to believe those are cues that our unique voice is stepping forward. It isn't a bad thing. Just like some don't like fantasy, I don't care for cozy mysteries. Doesn't mean the writing isn't good. It is a matter of taste.
Don't simply whitewash those areas that didn't work for your critique partner. But do edit the hell out of it. Is it concise, clear, say what you intended, with consistent language? If yes, then your voice is probably showing.
I have evidence there are, in actuality, no remaining literary agents in the world. All those bloggers are fronts for a conspiracy.
We are all aware the agents who previously existed were editors and readers laid off from the publishing industry giants (who by the way have all merged into one super-goliath, blood sucking entity).
The off-shoring has taken another devious step since. The publishing industry has created a fractal, geometric, analytical PCS (plot-character-setting) generator. This computer program produces everything that is now published. From as few as eleven plot and a dozen character templates, setting and character name lists, everything published the past seven years has been a computer generated novel.
Face it. How else could James Patterson publish something new every three days?
There are no live authors being published any longer. Those you've met at book signings are actors hired to perpetuate the appearance of original stories.
It's all a lie.
All the queries we send out go to the same place, like our letters to Santa when we were four. A random number are replied to, asking for excerpts/manuscripts, just to keep us buying their generated novels. After all, who else reads anymore, anyway.
Think about it. How many original sounding plots have you read the last ten years? They just switch the setting from Philadelphia to Boston, Narnia to Pern, change the protag's profession from clinical psychologist to nuclear scientist, dragon questor to vampire hunter, put a twist on the insanity of the antagonist, and voila, a new novel.
They have a database of names, height, weight, personality quirks, personal preferences, hair color, eye color, sexual deviances, etcetera, etcetera. Mix and match. It all makes sense to me now.