I don’t usually write book reviews, but occasionally, on Goodreads, I’ll leave a review if I really have something that I think is worth saying. Something positive, that is. A lifetime of having “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” ingrained into me prevents me from leaving negative reviews. If I don’t like a book, I usually just don’t talk about it.
Until the last book I reviewed. I gave it one star, and I left a heartfelt, decidedly un-positive review. Why? What made me feel so strongly about this particular book that I had to say something?
Some people who reviewed it said that the author betrayed her readers, but it wasn’t that that left me with such a sour taste in my mouth.
The author betrayed her characters.
This was the third book in a trilogy. She had spent the first two books building up her characters in a certain way, and then, in this final book, she completely ripped them out of their old selves – the ones she still included. Some characters who had been built up in such a way as to expect them to play a major role in this book just faded from the pages. Certain relationships that had been teased at – well, I was going to say that they fizzled, but in fact, they weren’t even there. And the characters that did carry over?
They were not themselves.
Not the main character, and not the secondary characters.
And the story? It was flat. I can only imagine because the author had to fight with her characters every step of the way, forcing them to conform to her vision instead of letting them be themselves, and their revenge was to make the story boring.
To me, as a writer, this is one of the worst things you can do – force your characters to act, well, out-of-character. It is a betrayal of them, and ends up being a betrayal of yourself as well, because, of course, the characters have sprung from you.
I make no secret of the fact that all of my stories are character-driven rather than plot-driven. To me, it is the characters that make the plot – people interacting with each other and with events. So perhaps I make a bigger deal of this than it really is. An improbable plot? I can shrug off with a laugh. Wrenching your characters out of themselves and turning them into puppets?
Outrage. Outrage to the point where I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything new from this author again, even though I’ve enjoyed almost all of her other books. If her own characters can’t trust her, how can I?
And so I had to vent, even to the point of leaving a negative review (sorry Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and all my aunts and uncles – sometimes you just gotta say something not-nice). (Although you will notice I didn’t link to the review – you can find it if you look, but I’m not going to make it too easy. I still have some principles!)
What are the writing crimes you cannot forgive in yourself or any other author?