Reading and thinking about what I read …
Lemme say this up front: I’m not that great at reviewing books. I read for fun. Quotes or story details don’t usually stick with me, but how the book made me feel will stay long after The End. However, my goal this month is to take a good look at the way authors write about emotion and figure out what I like and/or don’t like, and why.
I picked The Drafter by Kim Harrison to read first. Now, I loved Kim Harrison’s series the Hollows and I eagerly awaited each new arrival with excitement. I also mourned when it was over. 🙁 (Funny story: I picked up the first book in Spanish because I had this grand ambition to learn more Spanish as I read it. That didn’t quite work out, but the first few pages I read oh-so-very-slowly made me realize it was the type of book I would LOVE to read, so I found it in English and yeah, I loved it.)
On the other hand, the Drafter was … hard for me. It felt pieced together, like there was a story there buried under a bunch of things that happened. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t finish it, I did. I had to find out what happened, even if half the time I wasn’t sure what was happening. Weird, right?
Why didn’t it work for me?
Thinking about what makes a story good according to author Lisa Cron, I guess it didn’t work for me because I didn’t connect with the internal emotional journey of any of the characters–there really wasn’t an internal emotional journey I could clearly see. The main character, Peri, is a Drafter, someone who can rewrite moments in time. Problem is, she can’t remember the original timeline and it most of the book, she is dealing with not remembering days, weeks, or months of her life. She doesn’t remember her emotional attachments either. She is our anchor in the story, right? We feel what she feels. Well, she bounces around so much in who she likes or doesn’t like–because of the way people kept erasing her–that there was very little for ME to hang on to.
I couldn’t trust anyone.
I couldn’t trust Peri because she couldn’t trust herself. I couldn’t trust Jack or Silas or Allen or anyone. People who she thought were friends weren’t. People who came to be her friends were suspicious because I had to wonder, “Are they really friends or is this part of the whole Drafting thing too?”
Peri didn’t know who to love and neither did I.
Neither Peri nor the story had a consistent emotional thread to hang onto. I was lost, she was lost. Maybe this feeling of unreality was deliberate but I didn’t like it.
Why did I keep reading? Partly because I was hoping to find someone to connect to. I was almost able to connect with Silas, but then that was ripped away from Peri and me. Then Jack came back begging to be adored, but then he was ripped away. Allen I never trusted, but maybe I was supposed to.
One thing that Peri kept even through her memory wipes was her intuition. She would intuit that someone was bad even while remembering them as a good guy. (Even this wasn’t consistent, though, not 100%)
I also think the author struggled with introducing the world, the tech, the concepts in the story. There were so many new things that I couldn’t keep up. There were times when I wasn’t sure what was going on.
How did the author handle emotions?
There were a lot of false emotions in this story and even the real ones sometimes felt false because, as I said above, the main character didn’t know what to believe or what to feel.
The book had potential for a lot of deep emotion between Peri and Jack, but their relationship wasn’t established fully enough for me to feel pain when things went south. Everyone was someone I COULD have loved but I never had enough time to learn to love them because we were always frenetically on the go go go!
What did I learn?
- World-building is extremely important in sci-fi novels.
- I think this is one place where authors need to be very careful not to assume that their readers will know what they mean or will catch up.
- There were so many things that I felt were explained too lightly or not at all, things that deserved a bit more attention.
- My guess is that the overall story would have been more effective if there hadn’t been SO MUCH new stuff I needed to figure out and SO MANY action scenes to wade through.
- If the main character doesn’t have a coherent purpose running throughout the novel (no matter how wrong or warped that purpose is) it’s hard to bond with them.
- If the protagonist doesn’t have a clear purpose, then the story feels like it’s a bunch of quilt pieces stitched together with action.
- If the main protag can’t have a coherent purpose, then another character should have one so we have someone to bond with.
- Questions about what would happen next still carried me through the story, even if I didn’t feel connected to the main character.
- This book would have worked better if the author hadn’t tried to make it all about Peri. This book would have been much stronger if it had let another character be Peri’s Watson. (Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character, but Doyle knew that people would have trouble bonding with him; thus Watson was added to give people someone to bond with.)
This book has strong points, mainly that it constantly posed questions I needed answers to–which kept me reading. I think it would be a great novel to re-analyze for a series about suspense. (I’ll make a mental note.)
Now, I don’t know if this helped you any, but I think it confirmed for me the need to have a main character with a well-defined inner journey, aka, a strong emotional thread that informs the action. The Drafter by Kim Harrison lets the plot dictate the character’s inner journey and as a result, it feels hollow.
Wait! I almost forgot about a checklist for analyzing emotions in stories …
My Google-fu pooped out on me or something because I didn’t find any ready-made checklists. Damn it. So here are a few things I will look for in the next story I read:
- Does the main protag have a clear internal journey? Is their story connected to the third rail throughout the book?
- How does the author convey their characters’ emotions? Do they rely on cliches or do they add it more subtly? Highlight some examples.
- What did the book make me feel?
Until next time,