Every reader has encountered these at some point, more than once I would suspect in most cases. Those chapters that just drag at a readers eyes. The ones that cause you to put down a book, or more likely not pick it up for a while. The one you get to late at night, and after the first page or so decide to close the book and get some sleep instead, only to find it lurking on the bedside table the next night doing everything it can to drain any enthusiasm you have for opening the book up once more… I read a lot at night, as I have mentioned before, but the same can apply no matter what your reading habits…
Sometimes, in certain books, it is a POV character that you just don’t enjoy the way you do the others. To give an example from my own experience, the Sansa Stark chapters in the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ novels (Game of Thrones for those more familiar with the TV series than the books.) With no disrespect to the character on the TV show and the actress who plays her, I hate Sansa. It has little to do with the portrayal on the TV show, and all to do with her POV chapters in the books, and I do mean hate. In book one she is a spoilt brat with no concept of the world not revolving around her.
“But you can’t take me back to Winterfell. I am going to marry Joffrey and become Queen and we love each other…”
She rants at her father, despite everything that is going on in ‘A Game of Thrones‘ and generally brats around for all six of her chapters. By book two, considering how the first book ended and the position she is now in you would think she would elicit some sympathy. Yet somehow she manages to come across as a whimpering brat, for eight chapters, still self-absorbed yet to a whole new degree… Which holds true for seven chapters in book three ‘A Storm of Swords’ until she becomes a bitchy brat, even in book four ‘A Feast of Crows’ she only has three chapters, interesting chapters that reveal a great deal about the underlying plot of the whole series, yet she remains a chore to read. It’s an utter relief she is not in the fifth novel at all. It’s safe to say I hate Sansa’s chapters, I started to dread them coming up even before she got to Kingslanding in the first novel. She is a Westeros mean girl, I don’t want, and indeed find it impossible to, sympathise with her, and that feeling has never shifted. Indeed that dislike bleeds over into the TV show when I watch it, despite the character being much different on screen. Or at least, not subjecting the audience to her inner monologues… I am not alone in this as other people have expressed similar opinions on the character in the novels to me. Yet I am sure there are plenty of fans of the books who look forward to her chapters yet dislike some other POV character to the same degree.
It is safe then to say, that I find Sansa Stark chapters difficult to read, because I really don’t want to read them, I would much rather be reading Arya…
It is not always characters, there are similar issues with other novels. Take good old grandfather Tolkien’s epic, a great many people have read ‘Lord of the Rings’ once, a fair few have read it more than once, but I am sure I am not the only one who has never read the whole of it a second time. I get as far as ‘trudging through Mordor…’ and skip forward a hundred pages. Nothing and no one could entice me to force myself through a hundred pages of miserable, hungry, trudging, hobbits do a travelogue of Mordor a second time.
While these are major examples that stick out, they are far from alone. Jaws, for example, is a great novel, a fun read that keeps the story moving and is more terrifying in place than the movie could have ever hoped to be. But that’s only parts 1 and 3. Part 2, which was completely ignored in the movie thankfully, is a 150-page affair between the Chief Brodies wife Ellen and the oceanologist Hooper, which has no impact on the main plot and reads like a Jackie Collins novel. Not that there is anything wrong with Jackie Collins, but what is one of her novels doing sandwiched between the first and third parts of a shark based thriller? If you want to read Jackie Collins, you buy a Jackie Collins, no a sub-genre horror. The affair has a minor impact on the ending (which differs from the movie version) but otherwise if just sub-erotica fluffy added to spice up a summer beach read, and as sub-erotic fluffy goes, it’s not very good. I suspect the publishers made Peter Benchley add it to spice up a novel they were not sure had a market at the time, which I also suspect is why he wrote the affair out of the movie version which he co-wrote a couple of years after the book became a best seller.
Jaws is a great read btw, just skip part 2 is my advice…
The point of this post is that there are always going to be those difficult chapters. (actually, that was not the intended point of this post, it just ended up this way) As a reader, they tend to stop me from finishing a book for a while. I put the book on one side and get some sleep rather than read Sansa’s latest folly, or trek through Mordor, or discover just why Chief Brodie’s wife fancies a bit of fun on the side, and just how the weird little oceanologist gets her to her third orgasm of the afternoon. They are different for every reader I have no doubt. Some LOTR reader somewhere looks forward to the Mordor bits I am sure. Clearly, they are one Hobbit short of a fellowship but what are you going to do.
As a writer, I believe its part of the job to try and avoid ever writing those difficult chapters that people just want to skip over. Unlike skipping Mordor the second time around, skipping Sansa risks missing something important plot wise. Part 2 of Jaws may have some important bits in it too, though it has been a few years since I read it so I will stick with my assertion it doesn’t.
Of course just because I try and avoid writing chapters (or blog posts come to that) which people just want to skip over, I am sure I am just as inept as doing so as any other writer, which is where the actual original point of this post lay. I have been struggling with the working edit of ‘A spider in the Eye/Hannibal Smyth ‘ because I have hit a chapter that feels like a ‘difficult’ chapter to me as I work on it. Or more to the point continues to be after several reworkings of it. I love all that comes before, and all that comes after, but this chapter still sits wrong with me, and has done for several weeks now.
This is not writer’s block, as I am working on other things perfectly fine, this is more writers swamp. It keeps sucking me in and trying to drown me in my own morass. Every writer I ever speak to has hit a few of these in their time. The chapter that just doesn’t feel right… Yet here is the thing, the thing I am telling myself rightly or wrongly. Some people like Mordor, some people like Sansa Stark, some people I have no doubt like Ellen Brodies middle-life crisis affair and worrying if the black lace bra and pantie set makes her look like mutton dress as lamb… All readers are different, occasionally you can worry about the feel of that one difficult chapter too much. Sometimes the best way to get past a difficult chapter is to just write it and move on…
Of course, I shall utterly ignore my own advice and continue to pontificate on the feel of 3 pages of a chapter in the middle of my novel, and polish them until I am happy with them even if I am still working on these few pages for another month or three. because when it comes down to it that’s what I do…
And for some reader, the chapter before that I think is perfect will be the ‘difficult’ one I have no doubt…
Anyway back to editing a thousand words that are driving me round the twist
Lately, it seems that because I write fiction – I’ve been unable to actually read modern fiction. Biography – memoir – historical nonfiction – are all good. With fiction, I keep stumbling into the parts that I don’t want to read. The detailed minutiae about characters that try my patience. So I really get it. Thanks for sharing.
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I find it often depends on the style of the writer, or perhaps the intention of what they write. I know from my own work there is a difference between how ‘Cider lane’ is written and how ‘Passing Place’ is written the former is driven by characters internal perspectives far more than my other work because it was what works for the story that I was telling. The latter is an entirely different kettle of fish and the internal monologues are less deterministic in the story telling.
One of my early readers described Cider lane as an experimental novel because it does not follow more traditional lines… While I don’t entirely agree with her, I do agree it is a book that is one of ‘difficult chapters’ for a few readers, just because the style is unusual in that regard. But I have never been one for writing to the ‘rules’. I have never been one to enjoy books that just follow the well-trodden paths, I alway prefer something new and different.
As far as fiction over nonfiction is concerned I find I skip less with fiction, perhaps because I have minor obsessions with the craft behind the words at times and even if I am not enjoying a section of a book I will almost always read it, (I even read part 2 of jaws for all I don’t recommend the middle third) But characters I can not empathise with always grind on me.
Someone far more worthy than me once said ‘it is not important what you read, only that you read…’