by Gar Anthony Haywood

I’m presently reading an espionage thriller by a bestselling author I’ve never read before and I’ve really been enjoying it.  Or at least, I had been up until page 184.

Prior to page 184, I had been thrilled — no pun intended — to discover that the writer in question is quite good at just about everything I think is important.  He knows his subject — international terrorism and the associated U.S. political backbiting — backwards and forwards, yet he never burdens the reader with more detailed info than is necessary.  His book’s general premise is intriguing and relatively plausible.   And his dialogue, for the most part, rings with just the right balance of drama and authenticity.

Don’t get me wrong — this guy’s no le Carre.  (Not that anybody other than John le Carre himself really is.)  His requisite villain — a professional assassin with a code name plucked from the animal kingdom — is as standard issue as they come: brilliant, unfeeling, feared by all who know him, capable of killing a man with nothing more than the feather pulled from a down pillow, blah blah blah.  When his generally fine dialogue does take an occasional dip for the worse — usually during a lover’s quarrel unrelated to matters of national security — it tends to hit bottom with a real thud.  And his protagonist — a CIA desk jockey with limited field experience — couldn’t be a more obvious stand-in for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan were he to enter every scene whistling the end title music from Patriot Games.

(I know what you must be thinking right about now: This was a book you were enjoying, Gar?)

Still, for all the annoyances noted above, the author’s overall writing was solid enough, and the story he was telling sufficiently compelling, that I was happy to go right on riding the train he was piloting.

Until I hit the dreaded WTF moment at page 184.

For those unable to guess what I mean when I refer to a “WTF moment,” I’m talking about the specific place in some books where the wheels come flying off.  Not just one or two wheels but all four, bringing what had been a perfectly enjoyable journey of the mind to a rude and unexpected halt.  Because the author has just done something too dumb, or lazy, or transparently manipulative, for you, the reader, to forgive.  The trust you had in him to tell his tale with skill and precision has been broken, and there’s no getting it back.

That’s the WTF moment.

On occasion, this insult comes with the added injury of malice aforethought.  Not only has the book’s author abruptly yanked you out of his story, he’s done so by way of underestimating your intelligence.  He’s tried to get an elephant-sized plot device out of the room right under your very nose, preferring sleight-of-hand to fixing something he knows damn good and well is broken, and he’s counting on you to be too dim-witted to notice.  Or, if you do notice, that you’ll be too mesmerized by his genius in general to give a damn.

Most WTF moments aren’t quite as sinister as all that, however.  They’re just innocent mistakes.  Giant, momentum killing errors in judgment that a good editor should have caught but didn’t.  WTF moments of this kind aren’t infuriating, they’re simply deflating, because they’re indicative of either a breakdown in the system or a writer who’s not quite as good as you were hoping he’d turn out to be.

Let’s take pages 184 thru 187 of the spy novel I’ve been reading as a prime example.  Here’s the set-up:

A female newspaper Reporter in Washington, D.C., as headstrong as she is beautiful, is about to turn a story in to her editor that will blow the lid off a huge conspiracy involving members of White House staff.  Naturally, said members want all copies of her story destroyed before her editor or anyone else can read it, so a Thug For Hire (TFH) is ordered to break into her apartment and steal/erase all her computer files while she’s out on her nightly run with her trusted dog Bruno.

Unfortunately for her, the Reporter twists an ankle badly at the start of her run and returns to her apartment sooner than expected, while the Thug For Hire is still up in the study on the second floor.

Okay, people, let’s pause for a moment to think this through.  Assuming killing the Reporter is not part of the TFH’s assignment — and it isn’t —what’s the most logical sequence of events at this point?  I’ll give you a few seconds to consider the question . . .

Ready?  All right, the following is how things actually go down in the book:

The Reporter closes the apartment’s front door behind her, sits down on the living room couch to remove her shoes and inspect her tender ankle.  She hobbles into the kitchen, fills a freezer bag with ice, and grabs a beer from the fridge.  Now she limps upstairs to the bathroom, removes some pain reliever from the medicine cabinet, washes a couple pills down with the beer, and closes the cabinet’s mirrored door — revealing the reflection of the Thug For Hire, suddenly standing in the bathroom’s open doorway behind her!

She starts to scream but the TFH grabs her, clamps a hand over her mouth and uses very impolite language to tell her to keep quiet or she’s dead.

The Reporter (as headstrong as she is beautiful, remember) heel strikes the TFH’s shin, then whirls to drive an elbow into his cheek, forcing him to release her.  She flees into the hallway, then the study, noticing as she enters the latter that the intruder has been screwing around with her MacBook.  She grabs the phone, picks up the receiver, starts to dial
9-1-1 . . .

. . . but the Thug For Hire reappears in the doorway to point a gun directly at her face.  He drops some more impolite language to demand she put down the phone.

“Who are you?” the Reporter wants to know.

The TFH tells her again to hang up the phone and promises not to hurt her if she complies.

Bruno — who hasn’t been mentioned once since he and the Reporter returned home — barrels up the stairs to the rescue, barking like the house is on fire.  But barking is all the big guy’s up for, apparently, because upon reaching the staircase landing, he stops to flash his teeth and bark some more at the man in the hallway threatening his master with a gun.  The TFH promptly shoots the animal dead.

“You asshole!” the Reporter screams, then just for good measure, issues the insult again with some impolite language of her own tacked onto the end.  Still holding the phone, she goes on to ask the TFH twice if (Name of Evil White House Staff Person) sent him.  (He did.)  “Answer me, goddamnit!” she cries.  (He doesn’t.)

Instead, the TFH orders her one more time to put down the phone.   “Now!”

Headstrong as ever, the Reporter presses on with her call to 911.  The Thug For Hire shoots her in the head.  He moves in to finish her off.  She begs him not to shoot her in the face.  “Please, God, anywhere but in the face!”  His angry scowl softens and he grants her wish, firing two silenced rounds into her chest before leaving her apartment for good.

Riiiiiight . . .

If nothing about what you’ve just read had you thinking “What The F?”, nothing ever will, and you may feel free to exit this blog post, stage left, to spare yourself another minute of my ridiculous nitpicking.  On the other hand, if you, like me, hardly know where to begin to list all the jaw-dropping missteps our bestselling thriller writer made in the scene above, let’s just give it a try anyway, shall we?

  • Why the hell didn’t the Thug For Hire slip out of the apartment while the Reporter was a) massaging her ankle in the living room; b) refrigerator-diving for ice and beer in the kitchen; or c) downing some aspirin with her back turned to the bathroom door?  Or better yet, why didn’t he just knock her unconscious so as to finish his work in her home undisturbed?  As he wasn’t wearing a mask, choosing to reveal himself to her instead all but guaranteed he would have to kill her, which wasn’t part of his employer’s instructions.
  • When the Reporter breaks free from the TFH in the bathroom, she can’t make it downstairs to the front door on that bad ankle, but shouldn’t she at least start screaming her head off?  Or try locking the study door behind her to buy some time while she calls for help?
  • Looking down the barrel of a silenced handgun, why does the Reporter choose to subject the TFH aiming it at her to a Q & A, rather than put down the phone as instructed?  What makes her think this guy won’t pull the trigger if she doesn’t do what he says?
  • Exactly what kind of golden retriever is Bruno, anyway?  The olfactory-challenged kind that abhors violence?  It takes him what feels like forty minutes to realize an intruder is in the Reporter’s home, and when he finally does, he roars up the stairs only to stop in the hallway to bark at his master’s assailant from a distance, as if he hates to bury his teeth in a man pointing a gun at his owner until such nastiness becomes absolutely, positively necessary.
  • Does the Reporter have a death wish we haven’t been told about?  The TFH has just killed her dog in cold blood, proving he is indeed capable of using the weapon he’s threatening her with.  And not only is she still not ready to put down the phone as directed, she wants to call the guy an asshole to his face and continue grilling him: Who are you, who sent you, answer me, goddamnit!
  • If the thought of getting shot in the face was so terrifying to the Reporter, why didn’t she put the friggin’ phone down when a man aiming a gun at her face ordered her to — THREE TIMES???
  • Do Thugs For Hire generally grant a victim’s final request to be shot in the body part of his or her choice?  Or is this particular TFH, beneath all the foul language and propensity for violence, just a really nice guy?

Needless to say, all these WTF moments rolled into one has seriously dampened my enthusiasm for this book.  Which is a real shame because I’d been thinking it was a great read up to this point.

But was it really?

One of the things that happens when I hit the wall of a WTF moment is that I begin to wonder what other, similarly egregious flaws in a book I might have missed earlier.  So I go back to look, scanning the pages with a more critical eye this time, and lo and behold, more often than not, I find even more things amiss.  Suddenly, a fine but imperfect read has just become an ordinary one, and a writer I was beginning to think could be a new favorite of mine has instead been reduced to just another piker.

As an author myself, I understand how and why most WTF moments happen.  The writer has a plan for his characters and he needs things to go down for them according to that plan.  The reason Bruno didn’t fly up the stairs immediately upon the Reporter’s return to her apartment to attack the intruder within, like almost any dog with a working nose would have, is that, had he done so, none of what followed could have reasonably occurred.  So Bruno had to stay downstairs, silent and invisible, until his owner could discover the intruder herself and engage in a little suspenseful hand-to-hand combat with him.  The TFH remained in her apartment, rather than slink out unnoticed while he had the chance, for the very same reason, logic be damned.

Whether the thriller writer in question resorted to such a series of cheats consciously or not, he lost me as a reader for good at page 184, and that’s really all that counts.  So let this be a lesson to you, my friends.  To hell with typos and misspellings — scour every line of your next novel, first and foremost, for WTF moments — those scenes in which you’ve written something that defies all common sense — and eliminate them.  Because your editor might not notice them, “editing” being what it is today, but a discerning reader most likely will.

And it’s your reputation that will take the hit.

Questions for the class: Am I being overly critical here, or do you suffer WTF moments as unkindly as I do?  What’s the biggest WTF moment you’ve ever encountered as a reader, and what’s the biggest one you’ve ever caught in your own writing prior to its publication?

29 thoughts on “THE DREADED WTF MOMENT

  1. Jude Hardin

    Great post, Gar. I immediately wondered how the reporter managed a heel strike with one of her ankles freshly twisted. She obviously couldn't have stricken with the bad ankle, and if the injury was severe enough to be iced and caused her to limp, then she couldn't have supported her weight to strike with the good ankle. And how doe she manage to flee into the hallway and then the study?

    Seems like it could have been a compelling scene with some proper editing. As is, it reads like a bad horror script.

  2. KarinNH

    Those WTF moments are infuriating! I'm willing to suspend disbelief for almost anything as a reader. But when the author has gone too far and settled for stupid to make the plot work, I take the book, walk over to the trash can, and throw it in–with great force while muttering dark things about the author.

    I'll take random, quirky, far-fetched, improbable, and fantastic. I draw the line at stupid.

  3. Kane Gilmour

    Great Post Gar!

    And a nice way to not tell exactly who you were dumping on.

    I've seen one extremely hideous example of the WTF moment:

    In a thriller, by an author-who-shall-not-be-named (but who has gone on to fame as a co-author of someone else's books), the first half of the book was about a submarine that was found in the Nevada desert and the eventual revelation that a teleportation experiment had resulted in the sub's unusual placement. Pretty cool, and the science sounded good.

    The hero is introduced to the science types that were behind it and everything. It turns out that the experiment was abandoned because the teleportation effect might randomly send the target object into space because the earth travels in its elliptical orbit. So they could only bring the teleported object back after a year's worth of it travelling in the subspace ether. OK, fine. Good reason to abandon the project.

    Then the second part of the book concerned the Evil Villain's plan to detonate a huge overhanging mountain-like rock into the ocean in SE Asia, thus causing huge tsunami's and world devastation. There was more to the reasons behind the Evil Villain's motivations too, but it doesn't concern us right now.

    The hero and the SAME SCIENCE GROUP are called in to discuss the problem and try to find a solution. No one mentions the possibility at all of just teleporting the huge rock into space intentionally. No one even considers the idea and dismisses it for any reason. So literally, the first half of the novel was a different story to the latter and for no apparent reason.

    That was the end of me reading that author and ANY editors that worked on that book should lose their jobs. It was the granddaddy of all WTF moments in a thriller. I've seen plenty of little ones but nothing as glaringly obvious as that one.


  4. Sarah W

    I'm with Jude up there, though if I had a sprained ankle and was confronted by a thug, I'd like to think I'd darn well stomp through the pain and *hop.* But apparently the character's ankle was forgotten entirely?

    One WTF moment I remember is from a mystery I read about ten years ago. Personal information about a suspect was gleaned by the amateur sleuth's mother's genealogical society from the 1960 Federal Census.

    Problem One: Personal info from the Federal Census isn't released until 72 years after it's gathered — and the book clearly wasn't set in 2032. Problem Two: The remarkably detailed information the ladies pulled from this census wasn't *asked* in 1960 — or in any US census so far.

    Granted, I work in the genealogy department of my library, so maybe other readers woudn't catch this, but that's just sloppy research. The information may not be available but the questions asked for each Federal Census (including 2010) are. And there are several different resources the author could have used to find the necessary info .

    Having said that . . . This is my favorite (read: only one I'm willing to share because the pain of the others hasn't faded yet) personal WTF moment:

    I decided to change a gun from a 9mm to a .32, because I needed something smaller . . . but I accidentally (read: out of abject ignorance) left in the "mm."


    The reader who ended up being my Go To Gun Guy sent me a kindly e-mail telling me that while it might be theoretically possible for my (completely human) MC to fire a 32mm handgun, she'd probably lose her arm. He attached an image of a 32mm cannon, mounted on a base and manned by three soldiers.


    But I did get a Gun Guy out of it, so I'm calling it even.

  5. Jeff Abbott

    I know which book this is, and it's a very early work of an author who has gone on to write highly acclaimed novels that I think are rock-solid in their plotting and pacing (and more sophisticated in every way than the early books). Sometimes these kinds of moments are borne of inexperience. But this struck me because just last night I wrote a scene where a woman with a gun interrupts a another woman who's on the phone. . .

  6. Louise Ure

    I had a similar WTF moment last night in an historical novel I'm reading now. Aside from the physical impossibility of the act described, there was no sense that these were real people, saying real, believable things. Three hundred pages tossed out with one chapter.

  7. Dana King

    I'm with you completely. Something like what you described will take me out of a book before the scene is over, and may even cause me to put the book down as surely as TFH did the golden retriever.

    This also points up what is, for me, the hardest part about writing.Two or three times in each book I have to rework the outline because I need to find a way to get from Point G to Point H without creating a WTF moment. Sometimes it requires re-doing much of the outline so things can be properly set up.

    This is yet another reason why I outline. Doing this with index cards is hard enough. Re-working 20,000 words is, for me, virtually undoable.

  8. Tammy Cravit

    I think you're far from alone in hating those WTF moments, Gar. My pet peeve are the scenes with hapless characters (usually female) who rush "into the breech" with no semblance of any concern for their personal safety. Thugs in a dark alley? Run the OTHER way, quickly. Better yet, don't go outside at the sound of screaming – lock your doors and call 9-1-1. I enjoy heroines who can extract themselves from a dangerous situation with bravery and ingenuity, but less so when the danger was avoidable in the first place.

    I don't outline as a rule (except for formulating a fairly general sense of the "who" and "why" behind the crime), but I don't mind reworking when I blunder myself into a WTF moment. In fact, one of my projects during the rewrite of my WIP which will be starting in a week or so is to fix a couple of these.

  9. David Corbett

    I can't recall any I personally came across, but I remember a mystery bookseller telling me she stopped reading Mystic River when one of the wives washes blood out of her husband's clothes with hot water.

    And I thought: Wow. You aborted a damn good book over a Hint from Heloise?

    There are a couple of plot holes in Chinatown, which is one of my favorite films (how does the phony Mrs. Mulwray know that "one of those people" behind the land grab is listed in the obituaries? Who would have passed that crucial and you would think obscure info along to a two-bit actress)?

    I got hammered by one reviewer for DEVIL'S REDHEAD because I supposedly didn't know how reporters actually work, and the character in question was based on a real person who used to hang around out PI firm.

    Books and movies are like people — the closer you look, they less satisfying they seem. Unless you develop a forgiving attitude. And forgiveness is often earned, not just freely given. Your thriller writer guy didn't earn it, ergo WTF. I didn't earn it with the reviewer, etc.

    You make stuff up, sooner or later your seams are gonna show. They don't call it suspending disbelief for nuttin. I'm grateful when my readers get caught up enough in my story that my legerdemain actually convinces them.

    And I'd say you're pretty forgiving, Gar, because I would have bailed on that book after reading the cover copy.

    Great post. Hope the day's move goes smoothly.

  10. JoyfulA

    A thriller character described as being dressed up like a Costa Rican general, at a time when Costa Rica was famous (to me at least) for not having an army. In this pre-PC era, I wrote an indignant snailmail to the publisher, who wrote me an apology and sent six free thrillers. That was when I discovered I dislike thrillers in general.

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gar

    Great post. I am particularly annoyed by flimsy, wet heroines who do stupid things as described in the scene above.

    I have a LOT of WTF moments, mainly because of authors who didn't quite think through a scene before they wrote it, or indeed at any point afterwards.

    Small mistakes are just funny:

    The author who insisted on calling a female foal a colt all the way through a book.

    The thriller writer who had a deckhand throw a bucket on a rope over the side (probably to wash the blood of the deck of the villain's floating gin palace) just as the skipper opens the throttles. No mention is made of turning around to pick up poor deckhand, after the bucket drags him over the side like the sea anchor it has just become.

    The number of authors who will insist on trying to have their divers use oxygen tanks instead of compressed air.

    And then there's the gun mistakes – legion – not just that old favourite of the Glock safety (they DO have one, just not one that can be 'flicked off' – it's built into the trigger) but most recently the 'click' of the trigger pull on an empty semiautomatic handgun that so takes our pro hero by surprise. Of course, he's such a pro that he hasn't noticed the working parts locked back, as they do after you've fired your last round …

    And the car mistakes – crashes that end in explosions, shot-out radiators that instantly bring a vehicle to a halt, the ignored rules of aerodynamics, speed limiters, or electronics. <sigh>

    My irritation tends to be culmumative, though. A couple of minor errors will make me grit my teeth but keep reading – the lair in the Scottish Highlands that was described as 50 miles due EAST of Aberdeen, anyone? – but once they start piling up, I tend to put the book down.

    Mainly, though, I don't like being cheated by the author. Big plot holes, obvious sleight of hand that's designed purely to stop the reader seeing the 'twist' and impossible set-ups that can never live up to their promise, despite the cover hype. Oh, and yards of exposition at the end of the book because the author couldn't find a way to put it all in more naturally during the course of the story.

    Right, deep breath. I feel much better now ;-]

  12. Darla

    While I appreciate and applaud a writer's attention to detail, I am grateful to be a tolerant reader for the most part, so recall very few WTF moments while reading, and those I do remember I was generally happy to just keep moving forward with the story.

    As for the dog's behavior, as a former dog trainer, many dogs do not have the courage and/or confidence to escalate to attack unless trained to do so, even if the owner is frightened. As for not smelling an intruder, if the owner commonly had visitors, the dog might not quickly pick up on a stranger in the house until keying in on the owner's behavior. I can agree, however, that the action of the dog barking ought to have happened as soon as the owner saw the intruder and the confrontation began.

  13. Eika

    I don't read many thrillers, so I only really caught 2 of the moments: THe guy not wearing a freaking mask, for crying out loud, and the dog not smelling him out/biting him, because SERIOUSLY. I'm willing to picture TFH hiding behind the bathroom door, or something, not moving or saying anything and hoping she won't notice; I'm willing to see her too outraged/angry, or then too upset over her dog, to use common sense about the phone. But not having the dog bite is unforgivable.

    My favorite WTF moment is still the first I ran across: in a middle grade book called Stone Wolf. It was a great book, with a conspiracy of men pretending to be monks trying to get information, and the only person who knows the information is a boy, an orphan, who hadn't seen it since he was four or less. It featured them putting on a tracking bracelet and, as he got older and hypnosis didn't work, bringing in a girl his age from an orphanage to work some charms.

    Of course, the very first escape attempt from this orphanage works. And their very first attempt at ditching them, by hooking the tracking bracelet on a log going downstream, works flawlessly and they are no longer hounded at all. And when they get found by park rangers/firefighters/something, they decide to try a phone number for a colleague of their parents. That the boy barely remembers because, hey, he was four. That it's been over ten years since they had any contact. Of course, it reaches the guy, he's thrilled, he adopts the two teens and they all live happily ever after, end of story.

    I think the wall has a book-shaped impression in it, still.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Okay, folks, you've convinced me to give up writing. I now know that I cannot possibly know enough about everything to NOT make horrible mistakes that end up in print. One of my biggest fears is that my writing won't read authentic. Which is why I spend so much time on research, and why I can't imagine writing a book in less than a year. And still I end up writing illogical geographic descriptions of San Francisco in my novel, BEAT – a city I've visited dozens of times. Consequences? One of the managers of City Lights bookstore said, "I love BEAT and I'll make it a Staff Pick after you correct all the geographic mistakes on your next printing." Ummm…hello, next printing?
    I'm going to go watch reality television now…

  15. Fran

    I have such a high Willing Suspension of Disbelief that I'm willing to accept all kinds of crazy and improbably premises as long as the story hangs together. So to kick me out of a story means something's WAY wrong, assuming the type of story itself just isn't my thing (I have a low WSoD for traditional steamy romances).

    But right off the bat, there are two stories that immediately leapt to mind. One had an improbable sex scene on PAGE 3! fer cryin' out loud, and it wasn't That Sort of book, and not only was the sex described incredibly awkward and physically questionable, the events after (dead body landing on the hapless lady) were so weird that I haven't been back to the book since. Massive ick factor on a lot of levels happening there.

    The other is the book I'm reading now, and that's a shame because I loved this author's first book and I thought his second one was one of the best I've read in years. I like this author so much that the book I'm reading was sent to me by a customer who found it in Bangkok because I can't get said author's work in the US any more. Sadly, the opening scene left me frowning, thinking "Oh please, seriously? You can do SO much better than this, WTF?" It's demoralizing. I'll read the book because our sweet customer took the time to mail it to me, and I really do love this author's other work so maybe. . .? Maybe he pulls it off? I hope.

    Thank you, Gar!

  16. KDJames

    I'm usually pretty forgiving, or maybe just oblivious — I'm feeling like Stephen now, convinced I'm just setting myself up for ridicule. [sigh] :adds Gar to very long list of writers who I hope never read my book:

    But there have been some WTF moments. A recent, minor one: "Holding his glass by the stem, [he] gave the Scotch a swirl." Now, I don't drink Scotch, but I can't recall ever seeing anyone drink it out of a stemmed glass.

    I think some instances of disbelief aren't because no one would ever do what the character just did, but because the writer didn't succeed in showing me why that particular character, in that particular situation, had no other choice but to do exactly what they did. Give someone sufficient motivation, make it clear and convincing to the reader, and anything is believable.

  17. Kay

    My WTF moments are those coincidences that pull me straight out of my WSoD. It's just weak writing!

  18. Pari Noskin

    You're not too critical, Gar, but you scare the hell out of me. Like Stephen, I'm thinking . . . well, I guess I'll just stop writing right now!

    Plus, I do think the TFH was, indeed, a pussycat at heart. I mean, gosh, he didn't *want* to hurt her . . . did he?

  19. Gar Haywood

    Jeff: Yeah, you're right about the author in question. This was an early novel of his, and I'm sure he's grown immensely since. A point I could have further emphasized in this post is that II don't hold him as responsible for the scene I've described here as I do his editor, because real WTF moments in a published book — mistakes so egregious they can't be ignored — are more the fault of the book's editor than its author. Because hell, we can't catch everything, and sometimes we just don't know whether our own judgment regarding such things can be trusted. I firmly believe one of an editor's most important jobs is saving an author from himself, and in this case, this author's editor let him down, big time.

    Zoe, you're right: Small mistakes are just funny. And one or two in a book don't qualify as WTF moments. Cram a half-dozen or so of the little buggers in a single scene, however, as the author I write about here did, and the cumulative effect is a WTF moment.

    David: You know, as much as I love Chinatown (my wife and I are married today in part because we discovered on our first date that this was her favorite movie and mine), I've always wondered how the fake Mrs. Mulwray could have known about "those people." As you say, she should have been too low level a player in the conspiracy to know that much. But I just figured the answer to this particular mystery was somewhere on Roman Polanski's cutting room floor, rather than something Robert Towne never bothered to figure out. Maybe I'm wrong.

    You're right that if you look too closely at anything, you'll find signs of imperfection. Which is precisely why WTF moments are so deadly, in my opinion — because once a reader comes upon one, he begins to read the book with a heightened sense of awareness. The reader goes on his guard, so to speak, and things he might have overlooked before no longer fly under his radar.

    That we all make — and will continue to make — mistakes in our writing is a given. The trick is not to make the Big One that could lead a reader to wonder just how hard we're trying.

    Stephen: Don't be so hard on yourself. Bay Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge… It was an honest mistake. BEAT was still a great read.

  20. Reine

    I had a WTF moment reading a mystery last night. Actually it was a missed moment I was slow at catching. The action was great in the first few chapters. The story moved right along, and the tension built straight to a non-existent climax, when the story settled into a waiting room and demon dialog took over. Endless description. Torturous history. Agonizing explanation. Did I have too much hope?

    Somewhere around 4:00am and chapter fourteen, with no further action other than characters walking in and out of the waiting room, I gave up. If I owned this book I would have run my chair back and forth over the cassette, crushing it to prevent it from time-sucking anyone else. But no, I must return it to LOC Recordings for the Blind and Us Otherwise Disableds, so they can pass it on to someone else.

    PS: If you ever have the opportunity to allow Recordings for the Blind . . . use the commercial recording of your book, we will have a better selection of reading options.

  21. Reine

    Pari, you too . . . love your books.

    Zoë . . . yours you know I love. I search for authors like you who do not do that end-of-book wrap-up explin-it-all thing, because they cn't seem to fit it into the story. It reminds me of the criticism professors often often gave me on my term papers.

    Typically went like this: It looks like you started writing and kept on writing until you ran out of time. They were right.

    That's exactly how I wrote my papers, so I was lucky if their comments ended with: So I marked you down to a B+.

    Often enough, though, I was encouraged to continue my disgusting writing habits by professors who liked what I had to say. One left me a voicemail after I'd gone home for the summer: Hi . . . um . . . I read your paper. But . . . um . . . it aaaah . . . didn't have a beginning . . . or an ending. And ah . . . well . . . there wasn't much in the middle either [long pause] but I really liked it, so I gave you an A- . . . is that okay? Now there's a WTF moment.

    My professors were like editors. I can't blame them for not making me write better.

  22. Laura

    Great post Gar! I feel so guilty when I have a WTF! moment, because more often than not, I put the book down unable to pick it up again, because I feel that it just doesn't work for me anymore.
    My biggest one ever happened recently. I saw the book, loved the premise – teenage beauty queens, that are in a plane crash and land on a desert island, and have to try and survive with what limited experience they have. The book was brilliantly written with this sarcastic tone I didn't expect, and I found myself laughing out loud at the black humour, and loving the characters – UNTIL… one of the characters started to grow hair on the back of her hands… and turned into some kind of beast girl. I could have cried. I was about halfway through the book and it just ruined it for me. Yeah, okay the idea of beauty queens surviving the plane crash and living on the desert island wasn't exactly believable, but when that girl started transforming it just shattered any faith I had in the story. 🙁

  23. Kathleen George

    Interesting and well argued. My WTFs usually come of handy coincidences which result in author-driven but not necessarily character driven actions. My mentors taught me to turn coincidence to intention or drop it. "Of all the gin joints in the world . . . " works because of stacked motivations. Not easy to do, however. The whole subject makes us all humble.

  24. Susan Russo Anderson

    Great post, Gar. A WTF moment about poor publishing.

    Readers are subjected to too many WTF moments. After all, we writers fall in love with our work. We have to, and love is blind. Even when we edit, revise numerous times, step back, revise again, you know the drill, we need Tough Eyes.

    And that reinforces what I see posted all over the internet and to what I can attest from first-hand experience: good editing has been a rare occurrence in major publishing for years. But how can editors edit when most of them don't have time to read? (And forget proofreading. Most of the proofreaders have been laid off.)

    For the last several years, publishing has not been about connecting readers with great books. Missing the whole point of publishing, major houses have been obsessed by the bottom line. Get rid of the book loving managers, bring on the bean counters. If traditional publishers teeter on the brink, they have earned their rightful place. They have failed authors and readers, and this wonderful WTF example underscores their failure.

  25. MJ

    Oh, this was wonderful. Well done (and nailed).

    What would have REALLY worked would have been for the reporter to come home with her 2 lb dog – because anyone who has owned certain tiny breeds knows how angry and ferociious the little rat-hunting balls of fang can be – who makes a beeline for Thug, attacks his ankle, trips him down a flight of stairs and then nips him to death with tiny, white, well cared for teeth. Reporter walks into the hallway to find Tiny Terror growling and shaking the late Thug's severed ear like a dead mouse, Tiny's blue hair bow only slightly askew.

    In fact, I might use that in something I'm working on now.

    This anecdote is inspired by a house I pass on walks a few times a week. The big dogs watch me with detached semi-interest and the adorable groomed white puffball throws itself against the plate glass windows, snarling and barking like it wants to kill me, from first glimpse until I'm out of sight. That's an actual non-fictional dog.

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