I'm reading Heather King's Parched
. I read a piece by her in Publisher's Weekly
and thought her writing was well-written, insightful and interesting, so I bought her book. I'm about two-thirds of the way through it.
I've also checked out some of the reviews on Google, and everyone loves it and praises the writing. Um. Are they reading a different book? Don't get me wrong. The book is all right, and I'm going to finish it, and it contains some nice passages. But it's missing something, and the only way to get what's missing in is a complete re-write. This is my professional opinion :) (By the way, Heather King seems like a very nice person.)
Easy. The Holy Spirit.
The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The book is weak in the Holy Spirit.
I'm speaking, of course, about Dorothy Sayers' taxonomy on how to diagnose writing problems from Mind of the Maker
God the Father is the Goal. When you are writing, you are trying to communicate something. Writing weak in the Father is something unfocused, it just goes this way and that, blown about, because it doesn't know what it wants to say.
God the Son is Technique. This is grammar, logic, composition, classical rhetoric, and all the regular creative tools. Writing strong in the Father knows what it wants to say, but weak in the Son just doesn't say it well.
God the Holy Spirit is "reader focus." This is the mystical part of writing — it's the understanding how your writing will be read. When writing is strong in the Father and Son, it knows what it wants to say and artfully says it. But if it's weak in the Holy Spirit, it still doesn't get how the reader is likely to receive it. It ignores the following two criticisms: "bully for you!" and "so what?"
Heather King knows exactly what she wants to say. And she knows how to say it — she artfully composes one sentence after another. What she's missing at time is a strong sense of how many people are likely to react to the individual details. The result is a shaggy dogness about the story.
Let's take an example. Ms. King probably introduces us to 100-150 characters in this book. Seriously. Many are introduced in a few sentences or a paragraph of physical description. We learn everyone's hair-style (seriously), how they smell (too much usually) and assorted other details. And then Heather just drops the character. Or it's a three-paragraph anecdote that really doesn't go anywhere, not even a laugh. And then the person disappears. It's as if she dragged 100 cannons onto the stage, and didn't fire them off. Or fired one or two. You're like, "What's with the other 98 cannons?" It's like she's writing to the people in the book who were already there, rather than to a general audience.
Reader attention, like any attention paid to you, is a gift. You pay it back by taking into account what's important to the person to whom you're speaking. (I learned this later in my life, for those of you who are my friends from way back.) You've got to have some kind of point besides, "I used to drink a lot" and "there was this interesting person." You need to tell me why someone's interesting in a convincing manner, and why I care that you used to drink a lot, and how this all fits together in the context of the larger story. It sounds cold, but there it is. You need to leave people out who don't contribute to the larger story.
Of course, having said all this, the real problem with the book could be me — the book could just a little girly/metro for me. Your mileage may vary.