Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bad writing trend.

I read nonfiction. For fun.

Lately, I'm always in a hurry at the library, so I've been grabbing a few nonfiction titles from the "new books" shelves in the adult section of the library.

I'm seeing a distressing trend in the newest adult nonfiction. The authors are writing what should be compelling nonfiction works as though they are working on college papers. And not even good ones.

If I read the phrase, "In this book, I intend to....." one more time, I might scream. Seriously. Don't tell me what you're going to tell me. Just say it already! And telling me what you are intending to do makes it sound like you're doubtful you're going to do it. Well, since I know you read that manuscript a dozen times after you wrote it, you might just figure out if you DID what you intended to do and stop telling me what you intended.  And not only are the authors saying this, they're saying it over and over and over. And over. Again.  As a writing teacher, I always tell my students to avoid the word "I" for this very reason. It's not bad to put yourself in your writing, but it must be done judiciously. And telling me what you are going to tell me isn't judicious. Or helpful. I  KNOW it's what you're going to tell me when you just tell me. So just tell me already and stop cheapening your rhetoric by introducing places for me to doubt what you are saying. Confidence includes trusting that what you said made sense without you having to tell me what you were going to say first. And if you have no confidence in the topic, why are you writing on it?

Another definitely un-compelling habit I'm seeing: academic summaries of the entire book in a few pages. Why? If I'm going to read a thorough abstract, why would I then go on and read the entire book? Especially if you made the abstract so complete, you answered every question and solved every mystery in the first few pages? In one book I tried to read, the author included a 7-page introduction that just flat-out stated the answer to every mystery involved in the story. It might be useful academically, but it makes for a TERRIBLE reading book. Terrible. Such poor form! So I read the introduction and then, with no mysteries to keep me reading, couldn't force myself through Sarah Winchester's household receipts any longer. (Nor could I stomach the author's clear extrovert-centric view of the world when she was writing about an introvert (she kept trying to both dispute and prove, at the same time, that Sarah Winchester was eccentric. Really, she was an introvert.). Way to make a truly compelling, interesting character from history into something unbearably boring.)

Another distressing trend: starting over. Again. And again. The authors of these new books are putting in introductions that read like Wikipedia articles, complete with spoilers. Then the first chapter reads like a traditional introduction, complete with "In this book, I hope to discuss....." kinds of statements. Makes me want to knock on their computer screens and say, "Hello? The book already started. You're too late to make statements like that!"

Nonfiction can and should be told compellingly. And it's not that hard. Really. Life is a story. Facts and interactions are interesting. Why belabor your points? Why try to force a decidedly academic form on a commercial nonfiction book?

Good writing is good writing. And these new nonfiction books are not good writing. Or good editing. Who's buying this stuff anyway?! It reads like a mixture of academia and self-published junk. And it's supposedly neither.

I mean, can you imagine if a  murder mystery author started her book with an introduction that was a full synopsis (beginning, middle, and end with complete spoiler), and then a first chapter that said things like, "In this book, I'm hoping to tell you about Sarah Silk Smallbones, who everyone thinks is the murderer but who isn't. I hope to show you, through short vignettes and a few longer scenes, that, while she had motive to kill Buster Keaton, it was, in fact, his dog's mistress who did the dirty deed by providing Mr. Keaton with a cocktail in which she had placed rat poison."

1 comment:

C. Wilson said...

Sounds like they never got past the University theses and technical papers. State everything in the beginning, then prove it/stretch it out. They must be sticking their "papers" in-between the covers of a book, instead of changing the format and writing to their audience.

Non-fiction is my favorite, but I don't know what kind of subjects you are reading about. I don't think I've ever seen that problem, unless it's the kind of book where you really do want see a good summary (lots of science stuff, how-to stuff, etc) before reading the whole thing.

In fact, some nonfiction books have the opposite problem. I hate it if I have to wade through some nonfiction book in storytelling format when I just want the blasted information already. There's WAY too much filler. I feel like it's a waste of my time and it makes me very impatient.

Though I don't mind wading through Plato...