Friday, April 16, 2010
Writing by the Book
Ilona Andrews' Magic Bites has been sitting on my to-be-read fantasy shelf for at least six months, if not longer. Every time I went to pick it up, I wasn't in the mood for as violent a book as it sounded. Even when it made it to the first-sentence test phase (a way I help sort out which book will be my next read by which has the best-sounding first line), it never stood up to the test. There were other books on my shelf with a more compelling first line than:
I sat at a table in my shadowy kitchen, staring down a bottle of Boone's Farm Hard Lemonade, when a magic fluctuation hit.
So it stands to reason that I wasn't placing any bets on liking this novel or even finishing it once I started it. In fact, I decided to read it just to get it off my shelf.
Right away, the novel bothered me. There was simply too much detail. Like this first line demonstrates, Andrews rarely leaves a noun unaccompanied by an adjective, like "shadowy kitchen" (I'm surprised she didn't describe the type of table here) and she never leaves a vague noun to rest when a more specific noun can be found (not just a hard lemonade, but Boone Farm's Hard Lemonade). On top of this, every verb was active and specific. The character never just runs down the street; she jogs, darts, limps, etc.
Those of you who've taken a writing class might be crying foul at this point, because the very thing I'm complaining about is what every writing class drills into you. Be specific. Show don't tell. Use details to flush out the scene.
But the point of the rules is to break them every once in a while. Andrews stuck to them with religious fervor. Perhaps it is because I've taken writing classes that I noticed, but once I noticed, it was all I saw. It didn't help that the main character and the scenario felt familiar: A tough-as-nails female lead character must uncover the reason behind her guardian's murder, and in the process, she's drawn deeper and deeper into the dark underworld of all things magical.
Been there. Read that.
And then around page twenty-two, the world's rules and the character broke free of the mold and turned into something new. I was hooked.
By the time I finished the novel, I was in love with Andrews' writing style. In fact, I'm thrilled that Magic Bites came out in 2007 and there are several novels in this series and another already out. I know which book I'll be buying on my next trip to the bookstore, and the next Ilona Andrews novel will not languish for months on my to-be-read pile!