I’m not a big fan of first person fiction despite ascertains that it gives me the most internal and personal perspective. Mostly, I don’t find that to be true. I don’t care for first person point of view because I find myself so conscious of it that I am pulled out of and distanced from the story instead. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels in both first and third person, yet even when he writes in first, I hardly notice. For me that is gold. If I can get to page three and forget the story is being told in first person, I’ll read the book. If not, I’ll give up on it. It’s very few authors who pass this test.
When I read a Jack Reacher novel I am immediately in it. I am inside Reacher’s head and understanding why he does everything he does, no matter the point of view. I am along for the ride and embracing his ethics which are not particularly the norm. That’s huge. That’s the real deal for me. If Lee Child can put me so far into Reacher’s mentality as well as the moment and empathy of the story that I am with Reacher for every action – every violent action, then that’s great writing to my mind.
I love the precision of his staccato-like dialogue. I love the imagery he shows me. I love the detail of weapons, trajectories, behaviors, thoughts, etc… that he explains to me. I love the way Reacher puts himself into the heads of others to reason out what they are doing and why. I would be hard pressed to find something I didn’t find great in any of his books. As a writer, I find so much I want to emulate in my own writing. I believe good/great writing comes from avid reading of good/great books. Lee Child and the Reacher novels are that for me.
On the other hand, there are books I find so bad. Boring. Frustrating. Bad.
I shan’t name names because this example is by a ‘legendary’ writer. It was a science fiction and truly I could not tell you what that book was about. My best friend played a guilt card to make me read it because it was “one of the best” for her. So, I read it. Every boring, pointless page (mostly – I admit I started skimming towards the end because I really couldn’t take it any more).
Why was it so bad for me? There were several factors and they apply to all writing I find bad, but generally they aren’t all in one book so predominantly. First, if there was a plot, I’m sure I don’t know what it was. That’s pretty sad when the meandering prose loses me to the point that I have no clue what the author’s point might have been. As a writer, I wondered throughout why did he write this? What story is he trying to tell? Why am I reading this? Why am I bored out of my gourd? Because there was nothing to latch on to. No inciting incident that changed things and got me curious. No beginning, middle, end. No purpose that I could find. It was sci-fi. Genre writing. I really thought it should have a plot. Plots are a good thing.
Second, there weren’t any characters I could root for or invest in. I don’t remember liking any of them or disliking them either. I was completely ambivalent about them, their lives, their problems. Nothing. Nada. Had no connection whatsoever. If I don’t have at least one character I can despise or love or care about or finding interesting, then how am I supposed to relate to the story (presupposing there is a story)? How am I supposed to connect? I don’t necessarily need to love the main character, but I do need to have some reaction besides indifference. And if not the main character, then give me a secondary character to feel something about. Anything. Antipathy for every character is bad, bad, bad.
Third – and this was specifically my friend’s reason for loving the book – the author just went on and on and on about the weather, a sunrise, the sea, the landscape, the main character’s memories of the weather, a sunrise, the sea, the landscape… blah, blah, blah. It was chapter long meanders of description that served no point that I could see except for the author to wax poetic (and not in a good way). Every other chapter seemed to be one of these strange unrelated rambles that had little or nothing to do with anything. I have no problem with loads of description and detail if, and this is a big if, it serves a purpose other than the author’s ego and romance with his own words. Lee Child gives a lot of description yet every word feels necessary and keeps me attentive.
I wish all writing could take me where Lee Child’s writing takes me and I desperately hope that I can achieve a similar quality and depth in my writing. I use the other book as a reminder of what not to do.