(Originally published at The Rebel Writers blog)
“I have no words for this.” It’s something I’ve had to say about only a handful of books. These books are usually ones I can’t put down—the ones with someone or something calling me to see it through to the end, and then what I’m feeling is so strong, yet utterly undefinable. As an author, we want our readers to make a connection to our books, to share them and talk about them. If all we hear is crickets after a release, we worry that the connection just wasn’t made, that we didn’t make people feel anything. Often, that’s not the problem at all. We all know that feeling– the one that you just can’t put words too.
Sometimes it’s anger. Anger toward a character, or toward the plot. It’s not always as easy as saying, “This book made me angry,” because there are so many different reasons where it made you angry, and you can’t just pick one. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher had me so upset I wanted to take to social media and proclaim its awfulness, but at the same time I didn’t want to promote it and subject others to what I was feeling. It wasn’t an awful book–definitely not—but it had awful people in it, and when you have characters who make you want to strangle them, you don’t know if it’s you or the author who’s at fault. Eventually you wonder if it’s worth it, thinking about this story and these people so deeply, because it was just a story.
There are stories so beautifully written that are ruined by a weird, or just plain bad plot and/or characters, and then you’re torn between anger and disappointment. The Storyteller is that book for me. I was sucked in by this writing that was different, and pretty; I didn’t even mind that I couldn’t fully connect with the characters. Eventually, even a connection to the characters couldn’t have saved me from the emotional turmoil that I was subjected to at its conclusion. It was like having the happiest, most hopeful day in your life coupled with the memory of losing a loved one. You can’t remember that great day without the grief following close behind. Not only am I unable to adequately describe my feelings about that book, I can’t not think about it. And, there’s no way to know if you’re frustrated or sad when the memories surface.
When you aren’t sure if it’s anger, because you aren’t able to point fingers at a character you want to strangle, you consider whether you’re disappointed in the author. With We were liars I’m still not sure. There were places in the book that started to make me guess the ending, and I wasn’t pleased with where it was going, then it flipped and started to look up. Maybe it would be this thing that you suddenly are wishing it could be; an opinionated stance about something, written in a poetic fashion. And then the curtains come crashing down and you’re left staring at the book wondering what just happened, because the thing behind the curtain is not what you wanted it to be. Is it your fault for expecting something? I wondered, am I just pissed it didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to? Or did the author chicken out on what could have been a great story?
When it comes down to ratings and recommendations, it’s even harder to form thoughts. I liked the writing, but the plot was messed up, do I dock it a star? I hated the characters, but the story made a lot of sense, do I recommend it? For me, I just don’t rate them. I can’t. Stars don’t properly convey the things that book did to me. So what can I do? As an author, we await those reviews like Christmas morning, hoping someone makes that vital connection to our writing. But what if it wasn’t a positive connection? I think those can be the best kind of experiences. It’s a time of intense thoughts and fleshing out our feelings, for both the reader and the author.
What if everyone is having some kind of intense reaction to your book– not a reaction to typos or grammar, but to the book’s very essence? When a review focuses on the behavior of a character, or the nature of a world created, that’s a reaction to fictional person or thing as if it were real, and that’s amazing. Even if it comes with a poor rating, what’s better than knowing that you took someone to another place entirely? For a moment, something from your imagination was relatable to another person. I think that’s something we should strive for in our writing because feeling something, even if you can’t put words to it, is better than feeling nothing at all.