Make-Write Monday: Flying Book Syndrome and 3 Ways to Prevent It

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We’ve all been there. We’ve all been in the midst of a book, wondering if the pain and suffering will end, wondering how we got sucked into the book in the first place.

Yep. I’m talking about Flying Book Syndrome, the dreaded disease of bad books.

I, myself, have never thrown a book across the room. But I have tossed away my Kindle once or twice because of a book that just wasn’t up to snuff for me. As of now, I’ve written about 70 reviews on Goodreads of both fiction and nonfiction, but today, I’m going to talk about the top three reasons I, as a reader, would ever want to put your book down for good.

1. Using Tropes to Detriment

According to TV Tropes.com, “a trope is a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognize.” Tropes are so common in television, film, and literature that you can probably name a bunch right of the top of your head: prince-saves-princess-from-evil-dragon, the dumb-jock-in-high-school, orphaned-protagonist, etc. Every story ever written likely has a trope in it.

In other words, they’re a fiction writer’s best friend. They help save a lot of time writing by utilizing familiar plot and character situations to get things done, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Having tropes and cliches in a story doesn’t automatically make a story bad. But what’ll make me put down your book is whether or not it relies on tropes way too heavily.  

Let’s face it. James Cameron’s Avatar is Disney’s Pocahontas set in space. An outsider becomes familiar with an insider culture and has to fight off the settlers that originally came there. Racism between the outsiders and the indigenous folk ensues. But here’s the thing: Although they have the same trope, but they play with it differently. The endings of both stories differ. Their moods and maturity differ. They still have unique characters, unique settings, and unique ways of telling their own respective stories.

Tropes are fine in moderation, and even better when twisted around to surprise me. But when they’re used as a generic road-map without any deviation, then I’m concerned.

2. Little to No Tension and Stakes

Conflict is the heart of story; tension is the pulse. When your story has no conflict, you’re not writing a story anymore. You’re writing about characters living in Happy Land doing happy things and waiting for the happy sunlight to come out and caress their cheeks.

That’s not going to fly. But you know what will fly right out of my hands if I see this anywhere? That’s right — your book.

So, how do you go about preventing this?

First off, ask yourself at every point you’re writing what your main character wants, what is standing in their way to get it, and what they’re doing to try and get whatever it is they want.

Depending on the genre of your work, your characters will encounter more or fewer physical, mental, emotional, and/or psychological hurdles. In an action-packed political thriller like 24, Jack Bauer has terrorist, romance subplots, and ticking clocks to deal with. And at the end of each episode, the goal post kept getting moved a few feet away from him, which kept viewers on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what would happen next. If Bauer got the terrorist on the very first episode, there’d be no reason to keep going, which is why conflict and tension, in even the slightest amounts, are so important.

3. Indecipherable Motives and Static Characters

Notice my language here. I’m talking about “indecipherable” characters. Not unlikable characters. Not likable characters. Not characters you’d want to have lunch with.

I’m talking about characters that absolutely stump and frustrate you to no end. Such characters typically exhibit hardly any character growth, or the growth overall seems shallow. Or, worse, they do something completely out of the blue without proper reason.

Again, sort of going back to the conflict thing a bit, ask your characters what they are doing and why they are doing it. If you understand your characters, you’re well on your way to getting your readers understand your characters. If you’re dealing with 3rd-person limited, you’ll have to be more subtle and visual about motivation, but in order to create those cues, you have to know where those cues are coming from.

This is exactly the reason why I love Makoto Shishio as a character so much. You know exactly what he wants and how he got to those conclusions. He grew into his current mindset, and his mindset is what ultimately leads to his downfall.

A Few Pointers

There are probably more reasons why I would put down your book, but as of this moment, I find that those three are the most common.

How about you, dear readers? What are some pet peeves of yours when reading? When does a book catch Flying Book Syndrome for you?

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