Peeves: Undeveloped/Unsupported Dialog

This is one that seems to have been bombarding me quite a bit lately, because apparently a lot of authors, even some that are generally well rated, do this.

What I mean by undeveloped or unsupported dialog is when you have characters having a conversation, but the only thing that conversation contains is the text involved in the dialog.  There is little to nothing that is added to that to help the reader connect with what is being said.  Little to no actions by the characters, almost no scene continuation or descriptions, and very little thoughts or emotions expressed by the characters during the dialog segment.

Yes, readers connect to the words written on the page, but part of being able to do that is by allowing them to feel immersed in the scene.  When you throw only the words the characters are speaking at them without adding color, texture, emotion or dimension to those words, they kind of feel like they are just floating out there unanchored.  You can kind of compare it to having a conversation on the internet.  It is really easy to mistake what a person is saying without any real context to back it up.  You can take it the wrong way or add your own emotional emphasis to the conversation that may not actually be there and that gives it a whole other meaning.

In books, readers need that extra information to connect better to the characters and what is actually meant and going on.  Often, if an author didn’t support their conversations, it is easy to feel that the characters lack emotion or that the emotion the writer is trying to convey isn’t genuine.  Sometimes a reader can totally miss out on subtle clues that the author is trying to impart as well.

An example of a bad conversation set up I read set the scene of the two main characters sitting down on a couch with drinks to talk.  After that little detail of what was going on outside of the conversation, there were about 3 pages of nothing but talking.  Not once was there a pause in the dialog to note that either character took a drink, shifted positions on the couch, neither touched the other character in any way (it was something of a romantic scene, or was supposed to be, there should have been small caresses and touches here and there).  There also weren’t any thoughts mentioned from either character’s perspective as to how they were taking the conversation, not even mentions of facial expression changes, something as simple as smiles or frowns or how something was said.  Because it was missing all of those things, what should have been a kind of deep and important conversation came across as dry and lackluster and I felt like I’d missed something.

There are so many places in a typical written conversation to add depth and context to a scene.  In a lot of cases, it doesn’t even need a whole lot, but just enough to give the conversation a fuller feel.  Without those things, it is so much harder for readers to connect to characters in an emotional sense.  Absolutely, dialog is integral to a good book.  But because we do not get to actually see the characters in front of us like we do in a movie, we cannot see the body language and the environment, the emotional impact the words are having on the participants.  We need to be told about those things by the author.  The ones that don’t take the time to even put bits of that into their conversations are lazy in my opinion.

For me, if the dialog is presented without those critical supporting features, it can nearly kill a book no matter how well the author writes everything else.  I can think of a few authors that tend to write this way and, even though I often like their books, those books tend to get pushed to the bottom of my To Read list until I’ve already read the better books on that list.  It is surprising to me how many professionally published authors just don’t do really good dialog.  If they would take that little bit of extra effort, those books could easily go from good to excellent.

Phoenix Club Series (in part) Review

Author: C.J. Bishop
Book Name: It Can’t Be You; Hearts in Chaos; Shattered (Abel Trilogy?)
Series: Phoenix Club
Order: #1-3
Rating: Mediocre/Didn’t Like
Genre: LGBT Romance

I have to say that I really struggled with this review as to where it fell.  The only reason it did not fall into the garbage realm is because this book actually seems to have a small level of thought put into the overall story and time was taken to actually clean it up enough to be presentable.  Those are pretty much the only positives I can offer.

There are very, very few scenarios when an author can get away with presenting the reader with unsafe sex scenes.  Even fewer options when the subject of the book isn’t restricted because of cultural or historical accuracy needed for the scene.  There is absolutely zero reason why in this day and age, any author should allow their characters to be having unsafe sex, unless there is a specific reason for it in the basis of the story.

These books do not even allow the reader the possibility of any of the characters having safe sex.  Not only are we talking totally unprotected sex, but we are talking sex with multiple partners over an incredibly short period of time.  The only attempt at a mention at all was early on in the first book, ONE of the many characters having sex mentions a clean bill of health requirement to be able to work in his job.  With the reality of the time it takes for anything to show on tests and how long it takes to get tests back, there is no way any of the characters in this book are practicing safe sex.

Another major issue I have with these books is the entire premise that the books are based on.  One part of that is the fact that the two major characters supposedly fall in love pretty much on sight.  I’ve read a lot of books where authors can pull this off well and it works.  In this case, not at all.  For one, this at first sight love is supposed to be so all powerful and consuming as to over come severe past trauma, including rape, yet the main character has no problem immediately having sex with several other people the second there is any kind of drama between him and the love of his life.

Part of the issue with that is the timing of it all.  Again, no problem with at first sight thing, but the whole, fall in love, cry, have issues, cry, have sex with other people, cry, have more issues after having sex again, cry some more, more drama and issues, cry, then in the last 10% of the last book, everything is perfect and, after a round of sex (no actual real discussion of the issues and how to resolve those issues ever occur in any of the books, it is just lets have sex and the world is rosy and fixed, no matter the years of nightmares and trauma and fear), the couple lives happily ever after, all in about 3 weeks.

Not only is the overall timeline of the story totally unbelievable, but the issues,  how they are dealt with and resolved, are so far outside of the realm of possibility and contradict the personality of the characters that it is offensive to the reader, making them ignorant and gullible to believe any of it.

If your main character is so devoted to his sister, he is willing to prostitute himself to pay for her needed medical care (did I mention she has been diagnosed with HIV, yet not a single character practices safe sex?), then why in the hell would he abandon her the second his feelings get dinged and is gone the entire time she is in the hospital, which is all in that same short time span?

Between every character’s deep moments ending, not in a real conversation to address those moments, but rather with them having sex and then every single person dissolving into tears at the drop of the hat, I’m surprised I made it through to the end of these 3 books that dealt with this couple of main characters.

While, in theory, the general idea behind the book could have worked with actual conversations between the characters and a longer timeline, I don’t think anything could have really made me believe this story in any way, let alone enjoy it.  I wouldn’t even complain about the lack of conversation so much if I could have classified this as an erotic romance, but even the sex scenes were so off and wrong for me there is no way it would even fit into that genre.

So, in the end, I can’t say that this is worth the time unless you just like to read really poorly written and thought out stories.  I definitely won’t be wasting my time on any of the others in the rest of the series.

Peeves: Cover Art

They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we totally do.  The cover of a book is a reader’s very first impression of the book.  It gives the reader a first taste of what may be inside those pages and an indication of the writer’s style and personality.  As an author, I would think that you’d want your cover to be either interesting enough to grab a reader’s attention and draw them in or, at the very least, be generic enough to not matter.  Either approach will work.

In a lot of  cases, the cover isn’t going to make or break a book.  BUT… if your cover is done in such a way that it strikes a bad first impression, you are going to have a very hard time getting a reader, especially a reader that is new to you as an author, to actually get past whatever it is about the cover that bugs them enough to pick up that book and take a chance on reading it.  There are several things that bug me when it comes to cover art on books, enough so that I will often not even bother to read what the book is about and completely pass it up unless I’m just desperate for something to read.  A lot of times, I still won’t even look at it no matter how desperate I am.

Copycatting:  When a cover is, or contains, the exact same or very closely the same photo/image/design of another cover by another author.  This is something that I’ve noticed an awful lot recently and it annoys the crap out of me.  Not always so much that I won’t read a book because of it, but enough that I struggle to view the authors as more serious or professional.

I usually don’t always notice until I’ve read one book and then later see another book by a totally different author with a nearly identical image or a design that is so close, I think it is another book by the first author.  A lot of authors will use a similar design style throughout a series and that helps the reader to quickly identify it as being in that same series.  When you run across a situation where that isn’t the case, it feels deceptive and unoriginal.  I have no idea why this is so prevalent at the moment, but I am wondering if those books are being produced by the same publisher, one that isn’t willing to invest in unique cover art for their different authors, or if they fall more in line with self published works where the author has to provide their own cover art and they are getting images from free or low cost image services.

If you cannot get a full design work up with unique graphic images and/or photos for whatever reason, be it cost or lack of creativity, I would much rather see a generic design with a little color and just a title and author.  If you aren’t creative enough to show an original cover image, then how am I as a reader to believe that the story inside is going to be any more special or interesting than that cover, or even better, worth my time?

Cartooning:  Cartoon/childlike drawings.  This is definitely a peeve of mine.  If you are a mature, professional author writing mature stories for adults, why are you putting out books with covers on them that make them look like children’s’ books?  I will admit that not all covers that have cartoonish images on the cover come across as childlike, but most of them do.

I don’t read kids books unless it is something for my kids for some reason.  I also very rarely read a young adult book unless it is by an author that I already love their adult books.  This is because those just aren’t the kinds of books I usually want to read.  If your book cover appears that your book belongs in those genres, I’m not even going to take the time to read what the book is supposed to be about let alone take the time to read the book itself.

Cheap/Poor Computer Graphic:  Images or designs that look like my high school-er put together in his first graphic design class.  Sadly, in a lot of these cases, my high school-er could have done a better job.  Seriously, if it is going to look like completely amateur work, there is no way I am ever going to look past that cover.  Never.  Why even bother with a cover if that is what you are going to put on there?

Back to the point about a generic cover.  You will get a crap ton more looks and interest if you have even a very simple, basic, clean cover with zero images over something that is bad.  The goal is to generate interest, not turn it away.  I have a feeling (though I haven’t taken the time to research this for any kind of actual evidence), that books with covers like that are very poor cousins within the self published realm.  Even if it isn’t, that is the impression that those covers give.  I seriously doubt a publisher with a very good reputation is going to put out a book with a cover that isn’t at least partially well thought out, let alone so utterly terrible that it does the opposite of the job it is supposed to do which is get a reader wanting more of what it sees.

A book cover, when it has anything other than that simple, generic design, is suppose to tease and tantalize its readers into wanting to pick it up and explore what is beyond that cover.  It is supposed to draw you in, not cause you to go running and screaming in the opposite direction.