Thoughts on Reading and Writing: What Are Your Favorites and Why

This post has been pestering me for a while, but I’ve struggled to get it written because there are just so many different things to say and ways to say it that its hard to narrow it down below a novel level.  I initially thought this would be more about authors’ writing styles and creation processes or about character building and development or what makes a great writer stand out from just a good writer, but you have to note all of those things and more to really get to the meat of the subject.

Almost all of my reading material comes from the library, usually Kindle or ePub versions and only a very few am I willing to spend money on from my limited book buying budget.  Those are books written by authors that have proven time and time again to be exactly what I love and crave in a great story.  If I bought every book I wanted to read, I’d read myself right into the poorhouse, so I only buy what I know I’m going to love.

I have found that I like a pretty large variety of subjects and genres (all within the fiction realm) when it comes to reading, but I rarely love anything to the point where I know I’m going to read it over and over again.  It takes an extremely special and unique combination set of things to push any book near that coveted Favorite rating for me.  I will give a book a 5 star/Excellent rating, but it still won’t make it onto my Favorites list but even that is a pretty rare occurrence.

If you look at that list, I have quite a few, but in comparison to the total number of books I’ve read over the years, it is an extremely small percentage.  What there is is almost exclusively books that fall into the Fantasy genre.  I really do love a great book that involves the impossible, magic and shifters and worlds that are not the one we live in.  Where people are capable of things that we can only dream about. There are a crap ton of books out there that have all those things in their stories, but the ones that are truly awesome are the ones that are capable of making all that impossible real.

I’ve read a handful of interview questions or FAQs from a variety of different authors over the years and I noticed something that seems to be a common thread among my all time favorite authors that doesn’t appear to be there for authors that don’t make that list.  That is that their characters are real to them.  They have lives.  They have opinions.  They have discussions with the author.  They will have an all out hissy fit if the author tries to push them in a direction the character doesn’t want to go.  They are, in essence, real.  In just about any other group of the population, if someone said that they have voices talking in their heads they’d end up medicated and in a hospital somewhere.

At one point, I kind of thought that was some serious crazy talk until I was forced to understand it after making several custom pieces for clients that, while not quite so out and out words and conversations with me, had some seriously strong opinions as to what they were going to be.  I finally, really, truly got it at that point because those ended up being not only some of my favorite pieces, but some of my best.

I’ve compared authors to artists before and that is what they are, their medium is the written word instead of paint or clay or metal or some other physical, tangible medium.  Like musicians use notes and instruments, writers use words to paint their pictures and the most talented ones pull you so thoroughly into their pictures that you are living them right beside the characters.  It isn’t just characters, though.  Those are vivid, vibrant, deeply layered and complex beings that you know exist even if they really don’t.  The worlds they live in are just as rich and cultivated that, as a reader, there is very little need to truly imagine it because it has been painted is such detail it is hard to miss.  When I read a book, that is what I want.  I want the full experience.  I want all of my senses engaged, not just my eyes and my imagination.

It has been something of an unofficial goal this year to find at least one new author to add to my Favorites list.  I have yet to find one because there are so very few that seem to write to that level that I’m looking for.  So many authors write for quantity rather than quality and there are so very many that are cookie cutter or formula writers that it is amazing there are any decent books at all.  They aren’t awful writers at all, don’t get me wrong.  They just are the bare effort, riding on previous success writers that aren’t willing to put in the extra needed to make something great.  They are okay with just being okay.

I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read that were so obviously in that cookie cutter/formula crowd.  The first book or two by an author you read, you may not notice and it is easy to think that you might have found something good, but then you read a few more and realize how wrong you are.  At one point, I actually watched my percentage mark as I read and found that the author I was reading literally had points where certain things had to happen in their story.  20% would have the first sexual event, 50% would have say some major drama point, 80% would have the big misunderstanding/breakup/separation and 90% would have the miraculous make-up and lets live happily ever after before the end of the book.  The only real differences would be the basic specifics like names, places personalities and scenario details.  It was like reading some plug and play book.  Ever since then (and after having something similar happen several more times), I’ve become leery of reading what I call bulk authors.  Again comparing to other types of art, it is like seeing mass produced costume jewelry sitting next to a custom, handmade piece.  You are going to notice a difference.

While I get hugely frustrated that my favorite authors don’t produce at a higher rater, I’m also extremely glad that they don’t because that means I’m still going to get awesome when they do put something new out.  It usually takes time to produce something amazing.  Look at pregnancy and gourmet cooking and gemstones like diamonds, they don’t come quick and easy.  Like fast food and quick meals, as a reader I’ll read those mass produced authors because I like to read and sometimes something that isn’t quite so full and rich is called for, but that doesn’t mean those will ever be read more than once or earn a spot on the Favorites list.  I will keep looking as I do want a broader range of authors I wait rather impatiently for new material, the ones I’m willing to spend my very limited buying budget on.  The rest, I’ll see you at the library during those long waits.

Author: TJ Fox

Slightly sane artist, book addict, wife and mother of 3 who is forever rethinking her place in this world.

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