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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For the last three weeks I've been on the road with my sister Debbie, visiting family up and down the East Cost. It's been a blast.

We bought an audio book for our trip, a thriller by an author we both love. This particular story, however, did not live up to our expectations. (I won't name the author or title, because I'd hate to meet him at a conference and have a drink flung in my face). :)  

As we listened to the story, I was reminded about a few key writing lessons:

* Don't let the reader out-think the narrator.  

After listening to the first story CD for five minutes, Debbie and I knew that the thing that was buried under the sea floor was A Very Bad Thing. However, it took the main character five more discs to figure this out for himself.  By then, Debbie and I were throwing imaginary popcorn at the CD player.

* Keep raising the stakes and the suspense.

In this story, the suspense question was raised at the outset: "Is the Buried Thing good or evil?" But after that, the author didn't raise the stakes or suspense. The reader merely encountered a succession of  characters who repeatedly raised the same question.

* Provide a satisfying payoff for the suspense.

After the long tease of discovering what was buried, we never got to see the Bad Thing do anything. It merely shot a warning round over humanity's bow, and the good humans got away. (The bad humans didn't make it to the escape pod.)

When it comes to creating bad guys in a thriller, you've got to have some real action. Imagine watching The Thing and having it end when they first unfroze the monster. To have an enjoyable movie, you've got to see the monster tear apart a laboratory or two. Then you can kill it off.

* Don't repeat phrases.

This is a Writing 101 point, but when you're listening to an audio book, you really notice repetition. I started counting the number of times a character "stared thoughtfully down the hallway." It was in the double digits.

* Don't start a secondary story thread, only to drop it.

There was actually an interesting secondary story line that got started, only to be dropped mid-way through the book. It was as if the author had started an entirely different book concept, couldn't pull it off, and wove in the leftovers as a subplot.

* Provide enough motivation for your characters' actions.

None of the characters in the story, not even the protagonist, were written in a way that explained their actions. One secondary character became a hero, another a villain, and we never understood why. It was as if the writer spun a wheel and let the character actions go wherever the ball landed. Not a good thing.

* Have a competent voice narrator.

This book was voiced by a male. Whenever he had to read dialogue by a female character, he would make his voice go all quavery and soft. Ick.

After listening to the entire book, Debbie and I decided that the author had never clarified his story objective. He never figured out how to pull the story components together in a way that made sense. 
I'm going to read the printed version of the book, just to see if it comes off better on the page.

Have you listened to many audio books, and found them to be a different experience than reading? Is anyone aware of any special requirements for crafting an audio book that "reads" well?

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