There are some things I love about reviewing books by new authors. They offer fresh concepts, unexpected plot twists, trope-busting characters. But—and as a relatively new author myself, I know how seductive this can be—they are also vulnerable to the dubious warnings of They say. They say you should leave audiences wanting more, They say a cliffhanger makes people want to buy the next book in the series. They say show/don’t tell. They say write to your genre and your audience.
And okay—in the hands of a great writer, that works really well. In the hands of writers who are just uncertain enough, just desperate enough to follow that “expert” advice, you get… at least two-thirds of the books sent to me for review. On the off-chance that writers choose not to write the next Fifty Shades or Game of Thrones, I would like to suggest the following:
- Tropes are okay. They’re around for a reason, and that reason is that they just work. They’re a shorthand we all understand, and great writers made them that way. For good writers, they are a means to an end. For not-so-good writers, they are an overused, painful, awkward, and just plain boring crutch. [No, seriously Barb—don’t hold back here. Tell us what you really think…] But wait, you say. You’re not using the trope, you’re busting it? Turning it on its little side to expose its hollow little center? Well, yay you. But before you fancy yourself the next Joss Whedon giving us a teenaged cheerleader as vampire slayer, please ask yourself how far you can take the trope-busting. Does your badass heroine still flick her hair, wear sexy lingerie (under her black leather and/or spandex, of course), and get rescued by The Guy? Is there a reason for the trope, let alone the busted one, in your story? (Translation: will Marvel make a movie staring Black Widow? Will Captain America ever be portrayed by a woman of color?)
- Show/Don’t tell? Well sure. Except… your novel isn’t a movie and your keypad isn’t a video camera. You can NOT show everything. We don’t actually need to know every minute detail of what your character sees, smells, tastes, hears, or knows. Spare us.
- Learn the difference between a loose thread and a cliffhanger. It’s fine to leave threads dangling in your novel. That’s what backstories are for. Voldemort can still be out there, Darth Vader’s ship can whirl away out of sight, the Ring/Maltese Falcon/treasure map/you-name-it macguffin might still be missing—but for the love of any deity you follow, please don’t leave us with “Light flickered on the edge of the raised blade and…” Each Harry Potter book has its own internal conflict, and that story arc—while still fitting the overall backstory—HAS TO BE RESOLVED by the end of that volume. If not, Reviewers will take your name in vain on Amazon and Goodreads. (Well, I will anyway.) You’ve been warned.