Friday, March 9, 2012

What I've Learned About Writing From Joining a Book Club

I probably shouldn't have joined a book club. It's not like I don't have enough to read. The good thing, however, is that we read pretty much anything and everything I'd probably never pick up on my own. Maybe that doesn't sound like a good thing, but it is! It helps me branch out and grow as a writer. And not only that, the feedback from the rest of the group has shown me what different readers (different genders with different tastes) really do and don't want in fiction.

So what have I learned about writing from my book club?

1. Multiple POVs or scene shifts can be confusing or annoying
If there's not a reason to shift scenes or POVs every page or two, then maybe think twice about doing it! I know it works for some authors, especially those who are more established, but some members of my book club bring it up time and time again. The constant POV or scene shifts are too much!

2. Relatable characters are a must
Yeah, we writers hear this all the time. And hey, now we know it's not a myth! Readers are looking for characters they want to root for and if they don't like the character, they're not going to want to read about them for several hours and several more pages.

3. Ditch the description
There are readers in my group (none of them are writers, by the way, except for me) who are fans of literary fiction and genres that tend to have more description. And even they are saying, "I ended up skimming the story for pages and pages because there was too much description." It's worth it to watch your words and make the most of page space. It might result in a devoted reader instead of one who wants to put your book down.

4. Misleading back page summaries are disappointing
I know much of this has to do with the publisher, and authors don't always get a final say. But if you do have some say when your book is published, the closer the summary resembles to the book, the better.

5. Pacing is important and first pages are really important
Gotta start with momentum and keep it up. Also, as far as pacing, it's great to switch between description, internal thoughts, dialogue, etc. Paragraphs upon paragraphs of just one thing gets overwhelming. Mix it up!

6. Don't write too many subplots
Yeah, my other book club members dislike too much of this, as I do. It can get confusing if not done well, and hard for readers to get one defining theme from the story. Which brings up my next point...

7. Tie up loose ends
Along with all those plots comes several threads that need to be wrapped up. Readers don't like to be left hanging. It makes the reader not trust the writer. They want to know that the time they invested has a conclusion, and a good conclusion at that!

Have any of you ever been involved in a book club and what have you learned about writing from it? Or, if you haven't, what kinds of things do you dislike as a reader?

Cindy is a Colorado native, living near the mountains with her husband and three beautiful daughters. She writes contemporary Christian romance, seeking to enrich lives with her stories of faith, love, and a touch of humor.

To learn more about Cindy, visit her at her personal blog,


Anonymous said...

This is so funny. I'm up in the middle of the night and just joined a book club myself. Maybe just reading your summary would have been easier. I'd just add one thing to the list and it's related to the backcover description. I noticed tons of bad reviews on Amazon complain about not knowing the book was Christian. These folks weren't interested.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I think mixing it up is key. I get tired of paragraphs of description, then paragraphs of introspection. Mix it up with dialogue or action. Everything should be "sprinkled" through out.

Great post!

Lindsay Harrel said...

Totally agree about too much description! I tend to throw in tiny details here and there to build a scene instead of taking a paragraph to describe something. I try to weave it in lightly instead of splatting it all in one place.

I've not been part of a book club in a long time, but I LOVE to analyze maybe someday...

Jeanne T said...

Great thoughts on book clubs, Cindy. I've never been part of one, but it sounds like you've found some great take-aways as a writer. :)

One thing I dislike as a reader is when the ending doesn't fit or conflict is resolved too abruptly. For example, a man and woman don't get along for the entire story, and then, in the last 10 pages, everything works out and they're walking down the altar. I don't find those endings particularly satisfying. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks so much for this post, Cindy. It's helpful to find out what readers really want. I hear all the time what other writers and publishing pros think they want, but there's nothing like going to the source: readers themselves.

Joanne Sher said...

Great post, Cindy! I've never beein in a book club, but LOVE the idea. Just curious, are you the only writer in your book club?

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi, Diane. You bring up a good point about reviews. What's said or not said can definitely skew readers perceptions before they even read a book. I hope the book club you joined is open to all different genres and discussions. Thanks for stopping by!

Sherrinda, I totally agree! I good mix is so important and it will help keep the reader interested.

Heidi Chiavaroli said...

Thanks for this, Cindy! I haven't been a part of a book club, but as I read what you've learned, I'm starting to think it's a good idea. ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lindsay, it sounds like you've got a good tactic for using description to its best advantage. Being a writer is already kind of like being in a book club, right? We read largely in one genre and analyze what we like and what we didn't like and what worked and what didn't. But it's great to hear outside opinions!

Oooh, Jeanne! Yes, that's definitely a great thing to point out. What's worse than feeling let down by a writer? If we invest time with characters and a story, we want a conclusion that's going to fit the time we invested.

Keli, I agree! Readers have a more interesting way of giving feedback, too, right? They may not know all the terminology, like pacing or hooks or whatever, but they can definitely put their finger on what they don't like and what could be done to improve the story for a better reading experience.

Joanne, I hope you get to join a book club someday! Yes, I am the only writer in this book club which I really enjoy. There is such a diverse amount of feedback on each book that it really helps me see a new perspective.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hi, Heidi! I suppose it's our job as writers to use different avenues to make sure we're offering readers what they like to see out of a book. Being involved in a book club is one way, but there are many others (like studying craft books, reading reviews, etc.). Always so much to learn, right? :)

Casey said...

I'm not a member of a F2F book club, I'd love to be, but there isn't one in my community, that I know of.

But I love your tips, really great one, Cindy and the kind that apply to all writers.

Unknown said...

This is an excellent post, Cindy! You're making me think that a book club is a good investment of my time. Also, It's interesting that people get annoyed with multiple POVS and frequent shift changes, because I see it in novels all the time!

Heather said...

This is so interesting. I agree with your points. With respect to descriptions, I definitely like some description so that I can picture the people and setting, but it doesn't need to go on and on.

Ashley Clark said...

This is such a good post, Cindy. Every point you made had be going, "Oooohh, yes. I hate that too." The back copy thing is frustrating because I feel tricked, and the relatable characters thing is so, so true. I will put a book down if I feel irritated with the characters. I recently read a novella with a ditzy heroine, and it frustrated me so much every time I sat down to read it. The only reason I stuck with it is because I kept hoping she'd get some sense... she never did. ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hey Casey, yes! It's been very insightful. And while it keeps my plate full, I've learned a lot.

Gwendolyn, it is interesting, isn't it? The last three books we've read have had those multiple scene and pov changes, and someone has brought it up each time. I definitely think the book club is a good investment of time, especially if you can really vary what you're reading or get a good discussion going.

Heather, I totally agree. I love to get just enough to give me a foundation for the scene, and then I want to imagine the rest :)

Oh, Ashley! Isn't that frustrating. It's hard to follow through with an entire book, hoping for some kind of reward at the end (growth in a character, especially) and nothing comes of it! At least we can learn and make sure our characters are really connecting with readers.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Creative post -- shows you can cull writing tips from just about anywhere. Imagine -- from readers!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Lol, Beth. Wonders never cease! It's amazing how insightful readers can be even if they don't know all what it takes to write a book. It's been helpful! Have a good weekend.

Heather Sunseri said...

What a great post, Cindy! This is all so true!!

Kathy Bosman said...

Lovely post! I've been considering joining a book club in my area. You've definitely given me more motive to do so now. I also have a tendency to just read romance because that's what I write. Maybe I should force myself to branch out a little as the club has many different genres.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Hey Heather! You can learn a lot from readers, that's for sure ;) Have a good weekend!

Hi Kathleen, I know what you mean. I definitely gravitate toward romance because it's what I write. And while it's still my favorite genre, I've learned a lot from other genres, especially about hooks and pacing--which is important no matter which genre you write.

darbyscloset said...

Excellent observations!!! I've just joined a local book club and we have our first meeting this Thursday; I'm looking forward to being able to add to your list!
Thanks for sharing!!!