June 1, 2012

Enough with the Filler! I Want Plot Development!

I'm not an author, but I am a reader and I do have my preferences when I am reading.  I also have my pet peeves.

There are just a few things that grate on my nerves when I am reading a book.  I do not care who the author is or what genre the book is or what publishing company spun it into the market- the list remains firm.  I can't be the only reader who has a list of pet peeves when it comes to books, either.  Not every reader is going to be the same, of course, and there is no way an author can please every reader.  That is impossible.  Especially when things start getting nit-picky.  But I have read more than a few books lately that seem to all have one thing in common - this huge lag in the middle.

You know what I am referring to- there is an amazing start to the book and a great hook.  You are reeled in and invested in the story.  There is also a great climax, or turning point, near the end of the story and a twist you did not see coming.  Great stuff, right?  But here is the problem- 200 or so pages in the middle with nothing going on.  Nothing.  Nada.  The middle of the story is supposedly about character development and getting in some background information that clues you in to the scenes from that hook in the beginning.  But shouldn't each page of a book, I don't know, MOVE the story along??  If I read an entire chapter and I have learned nothing and nothing has happened, it makes me want to take the book out back and shoot it straight in its cover. 

I hate to break it to you, authors, but if you have a 300-page book with 200 pages where not much is happening, you actually have a 100-page short story.  That's all there is to it. I am tired of the filler and the fluff.  To me, it's not a good novel, or even short story, unless the story keeps moving forward.  I need to learn something about the characters, but in the context of the characters doing something or saying something or thinking something.  Don't just tell me for twelve chapters about their likes and dislikes and their apartment overlooking the sea and their friends and their dysfunctional family and their tv viewing habits.  Show me through plot development.  I want to find out about Jane's affinity for costume jewelry and her love of The Phantom of the Opera  and Joe's love of the Red Sox and his collection of voodoo dolls and priestess statues but I want to discover this through something that happens.  Don't just list it out for me.  This is not a junior high English class.  This is your livelihood!  This is your reputation!  This is your chance to show us what you are made of, so make sure you are made of something other than regurgitating your outline and character studies onto the paper.

I am not just calling out the writers.  Editors need to cut out some of this filler, too.  It is just as much on them.  Authors are counting on editors to help them weed out what is unnecessary as much as they need editors for grammar checks.  Help them out!  This book is their baby.  They can't be expected to cut whole sections of their book out.  That is what an editor should be for- to help them create a better version of their already excellent story line.  It is not necessarily bad writing.  You had me with your hook.  But I am going to need you to think about how you like to read.  Write a book that you would love to read.  You probably do not like it when books you read have these issues with plot development, so please get a second and third and sixteenth opinion.  Editors do your jobs.  And I will read your books and tear through them like a starved child in need of nourishment instead of staring at your book and wondering if I really want to pick it up and see if it gets any better. 


  1. Ang @ Eastern Sunset ReadsJune 1, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    AMEN! The middle fluff drives me nuts.  I have recently set aside an over 700 page book on my nook because I have gotten so bored around page 250, I really wonder if it is worth picking up again.

  2. I feel like a specific book prompted this post haha. Which was it? But I do totally agree with you. All my creative writing classes were very insistent on "showing not telling," and I don't understand how some published novelists don't understand that.

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)June 1, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    A lot of people seem to like the filler but it drags for me too.  It's especially annoying when it makes a book much longer than it needs to be.

  4. I agree. I call it the one-third curse. Sometimes it is literally exactly the one-third point in the book where things start to get B O R I N G. To quote Sherlock, "Start at the beginning. Do NOT bore me."

  5. Alas, while editors can make all the suggestions we want, we can't force authors to take them! I'm totally with you, I prefer plot-driven novels myself, but sometimes when I get one of these (I'm thinking of The Known World for example, which won the Pulitzer), I just have to remind myself that some people out there really like that flowery description stuff that goes no where, and I need to be more careful if the books I pick up as there can be red flags (such as the word "lyrical")

  6. It was a specific book, Megan lol.  Although it was one in a string of similar books.  The book this time was The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal.  I have read another book by her that I liked, so this was disappointing to me.


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