about picking a book to read with nothing to go on, besides a general impression of the design of books I like, or rather books I don’t like, is that every single author is a New York Times bestseller and has luminous poetic prose, according to some author of some other book, neither of which I’m aware. Every sentence in this book, promises such a blurb, is breathtaking. Awe-inspiring, maybe. Every line, golden prose, change your life. So I pick it up. This book could have potential, methinks. I am enticed enough to crack it open and on the first page is a telltale sign of a writer not in her own mind. Or not enough, she’s busy in the mind of her millions of potential readers which is to say the lowest common denominator of her potential readers, she’s thinking about them more than the story. You want to be immersed, right. But not lost. Do not lose that reader. So how’s this for a first-page sentence:
Her client was blowing it.
Bam! We don’t know who the protagonist is yet and we don’t know who the client is either but by putting down this sentence before revealing any concrete information, we know the protagonist is someone who has clients, that’s called IMMERSION, Holmes, that’s cluing the reader in that this person is a lawyer or has a lawyer-like job, and she is judgmental of these clients, sometimes, but probably for good reason, if my money’s on anything we’re about to see a competent assessment of this client’s blowing it so that we may be impressed with the smarts of this young attorney/counselor/private dick. But we will definitely NOT see her inform the client of their blowing it in such confrontational terminology. That’s, again, just for the reader. Although the intelligent assessment will likely be rendered in dialogue form, it will be calm, measured, certainly a sort of understated de rigueur style of practiced condescension, like talking a child out of acting a fool without actually calling him foolish. Because this is a passive construction: Was blowing it, presumably again, or still, or as usual, this is normal, and this passive construction is the telltale sign that the reader is taking priority over the story, cardinal sin, but also the decision to call the person a client before calling them anything but mostly this, the passive voice. Hey reader, this is a totally typical situation, are we on board, are we all together? Does everyone have their buddy? Meanwhile the story shouldn’t have to remark on this, because first of all if this is the typical situation then what the fuck is the story supposed to be about, has it started yet? and second of all the story knows what’s normal and what’s not normal and it shouldn’t have to tell itself. The story knows this is her client already, even if the reader doesn’t, which the reader will in two more sentences anyway if they’ve got half a brain cell trained on the proceedings. So this is either an impatient writer or she thinks she’s clever or just efficient but either way she doesn’t hold her readers in high esteem, or I guess this could just be how she was taught to write, this good writing, thumpthumpthump, but in any case the cardinal sin, the cardinalest, is the backseating of the story, making the audience more important than the play. It’s half-assed pandering, to my ear, it feels like the buddy-buddy tone of Christian camp counselors taking you arm-in-arm down the path to Jesus. Or worse.
If the story is strong enough, the writer doesn’t have much work to do to make the audience participate. The story takes over, the reader doesn’t have to be coerced into participating because they can’t not. When I read writing that frustrates me like this, that panders, I just want to make music, not because I know how, in fact probably because I don’t know how. I assume that proper songs are born, they congeal, condense into being out of the ether. I assume this because I can hear chord progressions, whether they are sad or happy or a convoluted concoction of some other emotions, like I’m sure most people can, you can understand the mode and style of the song and so you can sort of pre-hear what chords should come next. Which if traced backwards to the first should mean if you choose a chord and tempo and beat and emotive register, all the subsequent chords and thus the song should already be there waiting for you, if only you’re willing to hear.
Stories work like this, too. Or they can, they should. But when you get cute and try to unleash the story with one eye on the most plausible, most predictable audience reaction… it’s not a failure exactly because we’re trained this way, we watch movies now instead of read and movies work like this, mostly. So we imagine the narrators of our books to be like voiceover in movies, and movies don’t have a lot of time for the viewers to catch up, so if the narrator doesn’t say “her client was blowing it” or “my client is blowing it” or something similar, the character will do something awful like say “Susan, you’re my client,” like she doesn’t already know this, Susan, or her own fucking name, but that’s another, another rant another time, “and I want you to reconsider your strategy here,” while she rolls her eyes for the camera as her client turns away.
All I’m saying is, Dostoyevsky would never. This is not how books or stories have to happen. It’s what we’re used to. And in movies, I look the other way, because I do want/need the bare minimum of information to participate, but with fiction I’m not in it for a passive experience, I’m there to let my mind loose for a while, give it test runs of experiences I’ll never have, see what it can handle.
In any case, all I came here to write was I had a hard time picking out a book today at the library, so if there’s something I need to read like now, do tell.