By the way, what were they wearing?

For once not talking about Regency clothes but what happens when you take on all of an author’s books in a short period of time. I attended an Austen discussion group recently where someone mentioned, having read four Austen books in a row, that she was tired of “the stuff”–balls, dances, who was going where with whom, and so on.

I’ve been a victim of this recently, reading with great enjoyment [brief digression to dispose of a mosquito the size of my head followed by burial at sea in bathroom] almost all the books in a series of of mysteries set in England, written by an American author.

What does happen [sorry about the mosquito digression] is that you start to notice the nervous tics, minor obsessions etc. of the writer. Unlike Austen, whose “stuff” is the gears that drive the novel, other writers’ “stuff” may be annoying or endearing. This author is fixated on English sandwiches, the sort sold just about everywhere in triangular packages. They are smaller and more compact than their US counterparts with modest but tasty fillings. The closest thing we have here are those sold by Pret A Manger (a chain that originated in London). Yum.

Now that I don’t mind. I’m quite happy to read about food, and possibly, it’s not too intrusive since the characters tend to chow down and discuss the case. What does bug me about this particular author is that every character introduces themselves in this way: “By the way, I’m …” Really? Do English people do that all the time?

Mysteries seem rather vulnerable to “stuff,” particularly kneejerk descriptions of what characters are wearing, even for cameo appearances. Whether it’s a bizarre reader expectation or an editor demanding a description of some sort, it can be distracting. I read a book some decades ago,  where the action was halted dramatically by sartorial details–memorably, after a gunman burst through a glass door, we were treated to a description of what he was wearing before the action resumed.

Dedication by Janet MullanyMy own writerly nervous tics include huge amounts of tea drinking, leaning on mantelpieces, heroes in tears, and they’re all there in the revised version of my first book Dedication which I self pubbed a few days ago. Filthy and affordable, what more could you ask for? Buy the Kindle version here.

Are you aware of writerly “stuff” as you read? Does it annoy you or do you just accept it as part of the book?

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4 Responses to By the way, what were they wearing?

  1. Good to have you back, Janet! You were missed. I find if a writer does her job well enough, I am so drawn into the story I tend not to notice the “writerly stuff”. If I do notice it (and notice that I’m noticing it), it means I am “outside” the experience the story is supposed to be giving me, perhaps in my “author brain” instead of my “reader brain”. So the fact I am noticing annoys me as much as whatever the particular “stuff” may be. :-)

  2. Elena Greene says:

    Glad you’re back, Janet! I don’t always notice the “writerly stuff” in others’ books, although if I’m proofreading I’m sometime mortified catching myself in these things. When I do notice it in others’ books, my reaction depends on how I’m enjoying everything else. If I love the characters, the world, the plot, etc…, the quirks in the writing are like quirks in a beloved friend, something I embrace along with everything else. However, if I’m not enjoying the story, those quirks are like fingernails on a blackboard. It’s usually a DNF at that point.

  3. I think they’re bound to become obvious if you read a whole slew of a writer’s books in quick succession. Your tolerance level depends on how much you like the writer!

  4. *waving to Janet* I love your new cover – and filthy and affordable is always a good thing! :-)

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