Oh, yeah, this is going to be a rant. Listen close, too, because there’s a point to be made here.
First thing you need to know is that when I pick up a novel, I almost always finish it. Regardless of how bad it is, I want to know how it turns out. There are only two things that will make me drop a book unfinished. First is swearing and ‘mature’ content. I use ‘mature’ in a sarcastic sense, but that’s a rant for another day. The second is if the book is just so badly written that it hurts to read.
Okay, I THOUGHT there were only two. Turns out, there are three things. I picked up a book by L.E Modesitt, Jr. at the library the other day. The title ‘Haze’ wasn’t particularly interesting, but the cover involved a lot of space-ships. Very cool and, with me being a space-travel nut, it got my vote. I love sci-fi and any book that might have a swash-buckling smuggler and hairy co-pilot in it is going to end up on my to-read list.
Unfortunately, I have no idea whether either of those characters came into the story of ‘Haze’. I got half-way through it, dropped it, and didn’t pick it up again. Guess why. Can’t? Okay, here’s a hint; that book is the literary equivalent of a badly sequenced movie. You know, the one that gave you a headache with the jerky POV switching? Yeah, that one.
‘Haze’ is written in two different timelines, both for the same character. One, ‘the present’, and the other in his ‘past’. So far so good. Not a problem. Potential for a great book.
Well, the trouble starts with the time-scene switching. The author picks up a stick and whacks you in the back of the head. Okay, not really, but that’s what it feels like. The time switching was usually done at the start of a new chapter. So, you’d be reading along and suddenly you’d be in a totally different set of temporal co-ordinates.
Yes, a good writer might be able to pull this off, if he made if obvious that the shift had been made. This wasn’t the case with ‘Haze’. To give you an idea of how seamless the time-switch was, I had to turn the page back to make sure I hadn’t completely skipped an entire section. Every. Single. Time. The time change felt like I was listening to someone skid a record arm across the record.
Maybe it was a literary ploy on the author’s part, intended to make a point in the story. I don’t know. It was so jarring that I couldn’t finish the book. That is a serious, lethal problem for any novel.
Lesson learned? Continuity, people, continuity! Readers don’t take kindly to being metaphorically knocked unconscious and yanked into a section of story that is TOTALLY unrelated to the preceding sentence! Clever plot-devices are like magic tricks; if your distracting chatter is awful, the audience will leave before you get to the ‘voila’!!