Three Reasons Why You Should Abandon A Novel You Don’t Enjoy Reading

Although I’ve already written about when and how to abandon books that you aren’t enjoying, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why you should do this.

After all, if you read regularly, then there can often be a feeling that you should just keep reading a book even if it’s something that you really don’t enjoy. Getting over this reflex can have all sorts of benefits, even if it takes a little while to learn how to do so without feeling like you’re doing something wrong (you aren’t! Unless the book is a set text, abandoning it is the right thing to do).

So, why should you abandon books that you aren’t enjoying?

1) It keeps you reading: If you’ve started reading a book that you don’t enjoy, then one of the first signs of this is that reading it feels more like a chore than anything else.

It feels like you’re back in school/college/university again and have to slog through one of the more dusty set texts (on penalty of getting a bad grade if you don’t). It feels like you’re wasting your time. It feels like you’ve just volunteered for something arduous. It feels like you’ve been swindled by cool cover art or an awesome blurb. I could go on…

And, when this happens, you’re probably going to procrastinate or let yourself get distracted. In other words, you’ll be doing things other than reading. Needless to say, if you want to keep reading regularly or to remember why you read regularly (hint: it’s supposed to be fun), then this sort of thing isn’t good.

So, if you want to keep reading, then don’t be afraid to abandon books that you don’t enjoy and read something that you do enjoy instead. Think of it as literary self-defence or something like that. Abandoning a book that you don’t enjoy protects your enjoyment of literature as a whole.

2) Time is more valuable than money: Even if you binge-read fairly quickly, books are still one of the most time-consuming entertainment mediums out there. Even the longest and most drawn-out of modern Hollywood movies (and don’t get me started on this topic…) are nothing compared to even a medium-length novel.

Books, of course, repay you for this by providing a type of storytelling that is deeper than the most well-written TV box sets and more immersive than the latest VR technology. When a book is good, all of this time feels like time well spent.

Time is more valuable than money. Even if you’ve splashed out on a brand new hardback novel that you later find that you don’t enjoy, then the 4-12 hours you’ll spend reading it is more valuable than the £10-30 you’ve spent on it. At the very least, you could spend that time reading a better book instead. Yes, you might feel like you’ve wasted money if you abandon a book that you’ve bought, but you’ll have saved time. And, time is more valuable than money.

So, if you really aren’t enjoying a book, then don’t feel bad about abandoning it and reading a better one instead. After all, everyone only has a limited amount of time and you might as well spend it well.

3) You can’t read every book (so, make each one matter): Following on from my last point, there are more books published within even the last decade than anyone can ever dream of reading – let alone all of the books published during the centuries-old history of the medium. It is impossible to read every book ever written.

So, if you can’t read every book, then you should focus on reading the best ones. On reading the books that you really enjoy reading. On reading the books that are so compelling, atmospheric, profound, imaginative etc.. that they take up residence in your imagination long after you’ve finished reading them. On reading the books that make you think “I’m really glad that I read this“.

So, you shouldn’t feel bad about dropping a book that you don’t enjoy. You can’t read everything. I mean, you probably won’t be able to read all of the really good books ever written (because there are too many of them), so why miss an opportunity to read another good one by reading a less good book instead?

This brings me back to the underlying theme of this article. Time spent pushing yourself to read a book that you don’t enjoy is time you could be spending reading a book that you really enjoy. So, don’t feel bad about abandoning books that you don’t like.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Reasons Why Reading Regularly Is Important If You’re A Writer

Although the writing project I was working on at the time of preparing this article seems to have stalled due to the hot weather, I thought that I’d talk about one of the essential parts of being a writer today – reading regularly.

Even though this is a fairly well-known piece of writing advice (I mean, there’s a famous quote about it from Stephen King), I thought that I’d look at a few of the many reasons why reading a lot is important if you’re a writer.

1) Finding your voice: Simply put, one of the best ways to find your own unique narrative “voice” is to read a lot. Being exposed to lots of different narrative voices from different authors will help you to learn what does and doesn’t “work”, in addition to helping you to work out what types of narrative voice (eg: fast-paced, slow-paced, descriptive, informal, formal etc..) really fascinate you.

Plus, immersing yourself in fiction is one of the best ways to pick up a narrative voice- in the same way that being surrounded by people who speak in a different accent can sometimes lead you to “pick up” their accent. However, this is also why it is very important to read lots of different authors.

If you read too many books by the same author within a short period of time, then this will turn your writing style into a second-rate imitation of the author that you’re reading. So, reading lots of different authors means that your style will become a much more unique mixture of different styles.

2) Every book is a writing guide (if you think like a critic): There’s an old saying that critics are just failed writers. Whilst this may or may not be true in some cases, it isn’t a general rule. In fact, thinking like a critic (and maybe even writing a few book reviews) is one of the best ways to improve your writing. If you learn how to think like a critic, then your writing will improve.

Why? Because you’ll start looking at your own writing in the same way you look at books by other authors. Yes, you’ve got to be careful about being too much of a perfectionist (since this can cause writer’s block) but knowing what makes a story good, mediocre or terrible from reading lots of books will help you to see your own fiction in a more objective way, which will result in better fiction.

In other words, when you think like a critic, every book you read is a guide. A book can show you techniques you’ve never thought about using before, it can show you what kind of mistakes to avoid, it can make you think about things like pacing and structure etc… I could go on for quite a while.

3) Immersion: Reading enjoyable books in your favourite genres regularly will make you think of fiction as an “everyday” thing, in the same way as other entertainment mediums like television and videogames might be. However, unlike those things, writing is a lot easier to get into. After all, it just involves using words that you already know. You don’t need lots of expensive equipment or anything like that either.

So, immersing yourself in fiction regularly can make the idea of writing it feel less intimidating. Whether this is because you read a book that is so terrible that you think “I can do better“, or because you read a really cool novel that reminds you why you are a writer, or because you just start to become more familiar with the idea of written words being just as (or, when they are at their best, even more) dramatic/gripping/interesting etc.. as other entertainment mediums.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Obscurity And The Written Word – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I was reminded of one of the major differences between film/TV/videogames and novels. The novel that I’m (still) re-reading at the moment is a spin-off novel based on the “Final Destination” horror movie series. This was a novel that I first read in 2005/6 and, when I first found my old copy of it, I thought “I remember this! I’ll look online for other books in the series“.

It was quite an eye-opener. Whilst DVDs of the films from this series were reasonably cheap, most of the spin-off novels (all less than two decades old!) were surprisingly expensive out-of-print copies. Whilst I was pretty amazed that I unwittingly owned a book that had become a collector’s item, it also crystallised one of the major differences between prose fiction and other mediums.

Namely that it is much easier for books to be obscure than it is for stuff in other genres. After all, if you see an interesting film or play an interesting game, then there’s a good chance that quite a few people have heard of it. There will be Youtube videos about it, fan art about it and maybe even mainstream press coverage too. On the other hand, if you find a really interesting novel, then there’s a fairly good chance that most people haven’t even heard of it.

There are, of course, a lot of reasons for this. Books take more time and effort to enjoy than other mediums. Publishers’ advertising budgets are lower, so only a few big name authors tend to get promoted. The experience of reading a book is slightly different for every reader. It costs less to produce a book, so there are many more of them. Reading is an inherently solitary activity. I could go on for quite a while, but there are a lot of reasons why books will often be more obscure than things in other mediums.

And, yes, this can be somewhat off-putting at times. I mean, when I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I soon felt the familiar feeling of disconnection that comes from enjoying a medium that really doesn’t have a mainstream fan culture in the way that games, films, TV shows etc.. do. Or, rather, one that has a very limited mainstream fan culture. Seriously, aside from classic literature and a few big name authors, books really don’t get the kind of press that games, films etc.. do.

And, yes, this can make being a reader, rather than a gamer or a film/TV buff, feel somewhat lonely. But, it isn’t all bad news. For starters, the obscurity of most novels means that there is a whole culture that is “hiding in plain sight” in the modern world. Whilst film franchises might be well-known about, there are loads of even better book franchises that no-one has heard of. And discovering one of these is like finding hidden treasure or joining a secret society or something like that.

Likewise, this obscurity also gives books a level of freedom that other mediums can only dream of. After all, the more mainstream something is, the more it has to appeal to a mainstream audience. Because most novels won’t become well-known, this gives authors a lot more creative freedom. This includes everything from the choice of main characters to the types of stories told to things like censorship-related issues (seriously, read a 1980s splatterpunk horror novel. It’ll make even the most gruesome modern horror movies look tame by comparison.)

Plus, because books don’t require things like special effects, teams of programmers etc… books can do things that films, TV shows and games can’t do. Or, to put it another way, even the cheesiest and most “low budget” novel can be considerably more impressive than even a mid-budget film, game or TV show.

This obscurity also means that books can be years ahead of other mediums too. For example, this horror novel from the mid-2000s actually seems like it’s from the mid-2000s, rather than the “1990s in disguise” that films from the time often inhabited. This sci-fi novel from 1992 reminded me a bit of a sci-fi movie from 1995-99 (like “The Matrix” or “Ghost In The Shell”). I could go on, but because books don’t have to fit into mainstream expectations, they can often be years ahead of more popular storytelling mediums.

The obscurity of books also means that, if a genre that you aren’t a fan of becomes popular, then there are still loads of other good books out there. I mean, whilst superhero films and online multiplayer games might be all the rage these days, lots of new books in all genres are still being published all the time.

So, yes, books being the most overlooked and obscure storytelling medium out there these days isn’t an entirely bad thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why Books Don’t Get Remakes

Well, the day that I wrote this article, I ended up thinking about the subject of remakes after seeing a trailer for the then-upcoming remake of a classic 1990s horror videogame called “Resident Evil 2”. Although the game itself looked far too modern to actually run on the computer I was using, even just seeing footage of it evoked lots of nostalgia… and made me think about the subject of remakes.

But, since I’m going through more of a reading than a gaming phase at the moment, I started to wonder why books don’t really get remakes. After all, there are plenty of compelling vintage classics which could probably be spruced up with more readable and/or fast-paced modern narration etc… So, why doesn’t this happen? Here are a few of the reasons.

1) There’s no need: As I sort of mentioned a couple of days ago, the “technology” behind literature is pretty much the same as it has been for quite a few years.

In other words, most English-language books use 26 letters and standard systems of spelling, grammar and punctuation. None of this has really changed too much during at least the past century or two.

In purely technical terms, old books are still as readable as new books. Unlike with film or games, where the technology is still constantly changing and growing, the written word has pretty much been perfected these days. As such, a new remake of an old book would still look like… well… a book. It would still contain 26 letters and the usual spelling, grammar and punctuation.

In other words, remakes of films and games allow people to add modern graphics, special effects etc.. to older works. With books, there’s less of a need for this. Sure, you could update the wording or the settings slightly, but the original would still be pretty much the same thing as the remake.

2) Authorship: Unlike films and games, which are large collaborative projects, books usually have just one author. As such, books will often have more personality and uniqueness to them than films or games do.

Yes, you should always view a novel on it’s own merits, but there’s no denying that part of what makes a good novel so compelling is the unique way that the author describes, sees, thinks about etc.. the story they are telling and the world they are describing.

And, without getting into questions of copyright, moral rights etc…., this is a major practical reason why slightly older books don’t usually get remakes in the same way that films or games do. After all, the author is an integral part of what makes a novel so interesting. By changing the author, you change the story itself in a fairly major way.

In other words, another author’s remake of a classic novel wouldn’t be a remake… it would be a different novel altogether. After all, novels aren’t usually collaborative projects in the way that films and games are.

3) They get adapted instead: Sad as it is to say, books are no longer a popular entertainment medium in the way that they apparently were a few decades ago.

As such, if there’s a really compelling older story that someone wants to bring up to date so that modern audiences can really enjoy it, then they’re probably not going to reach a large audience with a rewritten book.

As such, instead of remakes, interesting older novels usually tend to get adapted to more popular mediums like film and television instead. Yes, these adaptations will sometimes do all of the things that a remake would do (eg: updating the settings etc..) – but they will still be adaptations rather than remakes.

So, yes, because the largest popular audience is more likely to be found in front of a screen than a book these days, interesting older books usually tend to get adapted rather than remade.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Writing: Creativity Via Limitations – A Ramble

Although I’d planned to write a different article for today, I saw something shortly before writing this article [Edit: Which was several months before I got a vaguely modern refurbished computer] which made me think about creativity and the limitations of the written word.

It was a trailer for an upcoming computer game (called “Cyberpunk 2077”), of all things. For a few seconds, I really wanted to play the game until I suddenly realised “The system requirements will be sky-high. It would melt my vintage computer if I even tried.” This then morphed into the forlorn thought “If this was a novel instead of a game, I could actually enjoy it“.

After all, in English at least, writers only have 26 letters that they can use. Pretty much everyone is trained to read from a young age. Books don’t really have system requirements. And, whilst this means that we can do things like read books from literally over a century ago, it also has a lot of limitations too. After all, there are only 26 letters to work with.

Yet, these limitations are one of the main things that makes prose fiction such a creative thing. After all, writers can’t rely on fancy new computer graphics or anything like that in order to impress their readers. They have 26 letters and a pre-made system of grammar to work with. As such, writers have to get creative in order to make something astonishing within these old limitations.

And this produces some truly spectacular results. For example, when I was watching the modern game trailer I mentioned earlier, one of my first thoughts was “Oooh! A cyberpunk city during the daytime. This reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s ‘Snow Crash“. Now, for comparison, “Snow Crash” was published in 1992. On the other hand, the best computer game graphics from 1992 looked a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from “Alone In The Dark” (1992).

So, yes, novels have been using spectacular “graphics” for much longer than computer games have. Using just 26 letters.

This limitation has spurred writers to do things like find their own unique “style”, to think of interesting locations, to come up with brilliant characters, to tell new types of stories, to use things like grammar and chapter length to achieve particular effects (eg: short sentences and short chapters in a fast-paced thriller novel) etc….

In other words, it has forced writers to be creative. After all, every other writer will be using the same letters, words etc… so, what matters is how a writer uses them.

Interestingly, there is a little bit of a parallel with computer games here. After all, there’s a lot of nostalgia for games from the 1990s – and with good reason! Back then, computer technology was a lot more limited. So, like writers, game designers had to be creative within these limitations. Since they couldn’t rely on flashy photo-realistic graphics, they had to set their games apart from the crowd through the use of things like imagination, clever design, innovative ideas etc…

But, I digress. The point of all of this is that if you want to see a perfect example of how limitations can actually make people more creative, then pick up a book.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Storytelling In Books vs Storytelling On TV – A Ramble

One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago was how differently I started thinking about the stories of the few TV shows I still occasionally find time to watch. More importantly, I also started to think about why TV and novels tell stories in such vastly different ways.

A few days before I wrote this article, I noticed that a gloriously silly TV show from the late 1990s/early 2000s called “Relic Hunter” was being repeated on TV. So, I set up the DVR and rationed myself to one episode per day. Yet, my reaction to seeing it again was totally different to when I first discovered a few episodes of this show on DVD in 2014.

Compared to the novels I’d been reading, the storylines in “Relic Hunter” seemed even sillier than before. Things often seemed to happen totally randomly, there were lots of fortunate coincidences etc… Yet, it was still really fun to watch.

This reminded me of something that I’d also noticed in the few episodes of a US detective show called “NCIS” I’ve seen over the past few months. Whilst a detective novel might devote hundreds of pages to the careful, logical investigation of a mystery – “NCIS” will often have the clues fall into place quickly, neatly and easily. Yet, it’s still really fun to watch.

But why is this kind of compressed, contrived storytelling so much fun to watch? I mean, books offer much deeper, richer and fuller stories. So, why are TV show stories still so incredibly fun to watch?

In short, TV show storylines are a bit like watching someone speedrun a videogame – you get to see an expert player going through a series of complex, dramatic, challenging events in an impressively quick time. It’s a demonstration of skill. This sort of thing is extremely compelling to watch.

TV show storylines are also a little bit like listening to a heavy metal song called “Bridges Will Burn” by Iron Fire. The lyrics of this fast-paced song tell an epic fantasy story in an impressively concise and fast way. For example, a a single verse might cover events that take tens or hundreds of pages to describe in a novel.

Yes, the novel would probably be deeper, more atmospheric and a much fuller experience. Yet, Iron Fire’s song feels a lot more impressive and spectacular because it expertly runs through all of this stuff in a ridiculously short time. It’s like these epic events are an ordinary, mundane routine to the narrator.

In other words, it expertly gives the impression of a story rather than telling a full, proper story. Television often does something similar to this, and it’s compelling because it not only makes the characters look like experts, but because the audience feels like they’ve absorbed a full story in a short amount of time (which makes them feel like expert audience members). So, storytelling in TV shows is more about evoking the feeling of expertise.

On the other hand, storytelling in novels actually requires expertise from both the reader and the writer. It also rewards this expertise too. This makes, say, grappling with a complex, long novel feel really satisfying. It also makes blazing your way through a fast-paced thriller novel at light speed feel satisfying too. Reading fiction requires you to reconstruct characters, locations etc.. using your imagination and to keep track of more complex stories, themes etc.. too. In other words, it is a skill and you get to show it off to yourself when you read a novel 🙂

In short, the difference between storytelling in novels and TV is that one makes the viewer feel like an expert, and the other makes the reader feel like an expert. It’s a subtle difference, but a really important one. It’s like the difference between watching a video of someone speedrunning a videogame and actually playing the videogame yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways That Writers Make Stories Faster Or Slower To Read

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a beginner-level look at the topic of pacing. In particular, I’ll be looking at some of the ways that writers make sure that a story is read quickly or slowly.

Whilst reading speed does depend on the skill of the reader, there are a lot of sneaky ways that writers can speed up or slow down the story that they are telling.

So, here are three of the more basic techniques.

1) Language and sentence length:
Simply put, longer sentences with more complex/formal language (and punctuation) slow a story down. Short, simple sentences speed it up.

To give you an example, here’s a single sentence from a slower-paced historical novel (“Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel) that I’m reading at the moment: ‘You know there will not be many more days like these; so let us stand, the horseboys of Wolf Hall swarming around us, Wiltshire and the western counties stretching into a haze of blue; let us stand, the king’s hand on his shoulder, Henry’s face earnest as he talks his way back through the landscape of the day, the green copses and rushing streams, the alders by the water’s edge, the early haze that lifted by nine; the brief shower, the small wind that died and settled; the afternoon heat.’

Whew! That’s a long sentence! Although Mantel uses a few subtle techniques (eg: lists, repetition, using the present tense, breaking the sentence up into smaller chunks with semicolons etc..) to speed up the pace of this sentence a little bit, this is still a reasonably slow-paced segment of the book thanks to the formal language, the complex punctuation and the sheer length of this sentence.

Now, compare it to this paragraph from Ashley McConnell’s fast-paced novelisation of the first episode of “Stargate SG-1”: ‘O’ Neill shook his head. He thought about saying more and decided not to. That wound wasn’t healed. He didn’t deserve to have it heal.

As you can see, this paragraph contains four sentences and it’s still shorter than the longer sentence from Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies”. Likewise, the language is kept fairly simple, informal and “matter of fact”. Each sentence also contains very little punctuation too. It’ll take you less time to read this group of four sentences than it will take you to read the one sentence from “Bring Up The Bodies”.

Of course, most novels (including the two I’ve quoted from) will contain a mixture of longer, shorter, complex and simple sentences. Changing these things will change how fast each sentence will be read. And, overall, a novel with more long, complex sentences will be “slower” than a novel with more short, simple sentences will be.

2) Descriptions vs. Actions: Descriptions of scenery, people or objects will usually be slower to read than descriptions of actions will be. When a segment of a novel is devoted to actions, the reader is more likely to read quickly because they want to know what happens next. However, when a segment of a novel describes something, the reader has to take the time to picture what the writer is describing.

So, descriptions are more slow-paced than actions are. A story’s pacing depends on how the two are balanced. This is why, for example, a fast-paced thriller novel might occasionally include a few paragraphs of slow-paced descriptions in order to give their readers a short break from all of the fast-paced actions in the rest of the story. Whereas, a slower-paced novel will often make sure that descriptions appear frequently and consistently throughout the story.

Likewise, dialogue is often quicker to read than descriptions are. Although dialogue isn’t quite as fast-paced as actions, the rhythm of a back-and-forth conversation between two characters will often mean that these parts of the story will move slightly more quickly.

3) Curiosity and chapters:
Curiosity is the thing that makes people read stories. The more curious a reader feels, the faster they will plough through a story to find answers. As such, faster-paced stories will often include lots of mini-cliffhangers at the end of each chapter (eg: “John opened the door. He couldn’t believe what he saw…”).

Fast-paced stories will often keep their chapters reasonably short too, so that the reader feels like they’re progressing through the story faster than they actually are. And, of course, shorter chapters also mean more space for mini-cliffhangers too.

These mini-cliffhangers will often be resolved 2-3 chapters after they happen (usually by having 2-3 story threads/sub-plots), so that the reader is forced to plough through an extra chapter or two (with their own mini-cliffhangers) to get there. All of this adds up to a very fast-paced and gripping story.

On the other hand, a slower-paced novel will often control the pacing by keeping the chapters slightly longer and ensuring that the reader’s curiosity is about larger background things rather than smaller immediate events. This is usually achieved by focusing on other things like atmosphere, characterisation and intriguing ideas. Yes, slow-paced stories will usually include something that makes the reader feel curious, but it isn’t the central attraction in the way it usually is in faster-paced stories.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂