Why Some Books are Boring, Or Why I’m Still Stuck in the Middle of Lilith

For those few (anyone?) who has been paying attention to my Goodreads account, you’ll notice that it still says I’m reading Lilith, and have been for…half a year now.

It’s not that the book is particularly long; in that time, I’ve read War and Peace without the least difficulty.  And it’s not that the book is objectionable, or in a genre I don’t enjoy (it’s fantasy, which is one of my favorites).

The narration is gorgeous, like most of George MacDonald’s works, but I’m having trouble caring. The protagonist goes from place to place, meeting unique people, visiting fascinating, mysterious, and magical places, and yet I still haven’t finished the journey. It’s just that it’s…a bit dull.

So here’s a quick look at the pitfalls of Lilith, in the hopes that we can avoid making the same mistakes (though, whether they are truly mistakes, or just signs of changing tastes in the fantasy genre is a conversation for another post).

  • A Tiny Cast of Main Characters. Most authors and agents seem to urge you to have a small cast, actually. It makes the story tighter, and it lets you get to know the main characters, really well. However, if your readers don’t like the main character(s), they probably won’t like your book, so it can be risky.

In some books, having one or two main heroes is a good thing (helping avoid one of The Hobbit‘s pitfalls–too many dwarves, to where anyone short of an expert can’t keep track of which is which). But, in Lilith, it’s part of the problem. I don’t particularly care for the main character, and everything is seen through his eyes. It’s his journey through whatever magic, symbolic land we’re in, and when we don’t care about him, the author is in trouble.

  • No Threat (or Nothing to Lose).  There is something to be said for a relaxed plot, but when a character is on a journey, he ought to have a reason for wandering around, beyond wanderlust or just being stuck in this new world and hoping, idly, for a way out. There ought to be orcs, or flying dragons, or ringwraiths, or something that makes the action move forward. (A girl at home? A parliamentary election he can’t afford to miss?)
  • No relatability.  Not every character is going to be like us–they’ll probably have special powers, rings of power, or some other attribute we lack (good looks, money, an exciting life…). But they should be recognizably similar. They should have faults, motivations, set-backs, and difficulties. They shouldn’t drift through life, without a care in the world other than some vague worries that they might cease to exist.
  • No Progress. I’m well into the story, and it still feels like we’re no closer to his goal of getting back home than before. Admittedly, if the main character cared about more, we might feel like more things of importance were happening, but so far, it feels like a fantasy safari, pure tourism without the sense of urgency or significance that I’ve enjoyed in MacDonald’s other works.

The book may pick up towards the end, acquiring some of the literary attributes it’s currently lacking, but, when I finally finish and review it, it could easily be a case of too little, too late.  (But at least it’s given me a list of things to avoid in my own writing, so I can be grateful for that. Even if I never read the book again.) 🙂

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo by pippalou, Creative Commons

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