Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Recapping a complex plot

I've been listening to a lot of books on tape recently. I'm in the car a few hours a day, and books on tape make driving almost as fun as reading, which says a lot, because I'd almost always rather be reading than whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing.

But my days in the car aren't back to back, so sometimes I go a few days in between being able to listen. I've been listening to romantic suspense and thrillers, and let me tell you, with a couple days lag, it's easy to get lost in a complex plot when your listening rather than reading.

I listened to a Lee Child book this week (Killing Floor, the first of the Jack Reacher series, which was AWESOME!). He had 10 bad guys that had to be caught. TEN! That's a lot of names and relationships to keep straight, especially when I'm swerving in and out of traffic through downtown Baltimore, chugging on cigarettes to keep my blood pressure down (ha!) and only listening with half an ear.

So invariably, the name of a super-bad villain would be mentioned, and I'd be going, "Who's that? Wait! What?"  What really impressed me with Lee Child's writing is that just about the time I found myself lost, he'd provide a handy 1-2 sentence recap. Just a little reminder to tweak the reader's (or listener's, in this case) memory as what we were supposed to know.

Then a few times throughout the book, he'd provide a full recap of the plot. This particular plot was smashed into a one-week span, so he did it chronologically. Something like:

I'd been arrested on Friday, out of prison by Sunday, got hammered with Joe's death on Tuesday, and by Thursday, we'd taken out four of the ten guys involved. It'd been a hell of a week.

It's simple, it's in the hero's voice and style of speaking, and it's just enough organization to keep readers (or listeners) on track. It's also very short, which lets it fit seamlessly into the narrative.

Anybody else listen to books on tape and find themselves needing quick recaps? Any authors who do a particularly good job of keeping their plot organized for the reader? Do you prefer books on tape or books on paper? Ever thought about how your book might sound if read on tape, and what kind of recaps your readers might need?


Marnee Bailey said...

Ugh, all that driving! Poor you! :( That might make me nutso.

I don't listen to books on tape. I'm usually in the car with the boys. And I do enjoy a good book on paper, but I've really embraced ebooks this past year or so.

I have not wondered what my book would sound like. Mostly because my mind always go to the moments I've read the sex scenes out loud and I end up blushing like I'm 13.

But I think Joanna Bourne does a great job keeping her plot organized. And, though I haven't LOVED Ward's latest books, she does keep a complicated plot with lots of secondary characters organized.

Great blog, Hal!

Maureen said...

I haven't listened to books on tape but I have discovered podcasts with my new phone, so it's only a matter of time. I've read books with little summaries like that and usually it's gold. I've done it,too.

Sorry for all the driving!

TerriOsburn said...

I can't get past the cigarettes. You're smoking???

I've listened to some books on CD during my road trips to/from Knoxville. There was a romance with two narrators. A man voiced the hero and a woman voiced the heroine. Best way to go. Though I can't for the life of me remember what book that was.

Without holding the book and flipping it open and closed and the entire experience of "reading", I can't remember what the book was. Though I do know I listened to Crazy For You by Crusie. That's when I learned I can't listen to a sex scene without driving 90mph.

Never thought what mine would sound like. Right now I'm in a "It sucks, I just know it!" mood so can't even imagine it.

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

YAY! Another lover of Audio Books! I'm a huge fan of them and they have certainly helped my 1 hour each way commute to work.

Terri - I actually prefer female narrators who get the male voice perfectly too.

Audio books are all about the narrator really. I've found 4-5 who I usually can count on to lift the book into a performance you can almost see playing out in front of you.

I'm currently listening to Victoria Alexander's My Wicked Little Lies on audio and the Narrator is PERFECTION. Loving it.

Sometimes the narrator can ruin it for you and those times I try to read the book instead just to make sure it wasn't the voices making me hate the story.

But when they are good...Boy it really can add to the experience of reading the book.

TerriOsburn said...

I have felt a narrator ruins the book for me just a bit simply because they put an inflection where I wouldn't put one or vice versa. I almost always get these at a Cracker Barrel and then return them to another Cracker Barrel when I get home. It's less than $4 to "rent" basically. But one book I hated instantly and returned only a few exits after I'd gotten it.

And now I realize I've never tried listening to an Historical. WHY have I never tried this? Another road trip coming up this weekend. Think I'll peruse the library on the way home today and see what I can find.

MsHellion said...

That's an excellent recap. :) I usually listen to Harry Potter in the car, and she does recaps (from other books mostly), but being I know all the books, it's not like I have a lot to keep straight.

I'll listen to funny stuff (David Sedaris) or biographies (currently listening to one about Elizabeth II that's really good) in the car. I don't listen to a lot of romances ever. Lisa Kleypas' contemps were the only ones. Mainly because I start laughing so hard at how dumb everyone doesn't work for me. I'm WAY too critical.

I listen to the Twilight books in the car--again, not complex enough to need recaps. All in first person, so I don't have to hear comical renditions of what Edward sounds like, like they do in 3rd person romances.

I try to listen to 1st person books in the car. Then it's like a friend just telling you her story. But I drive nearly every day, so it works out. Except when I need to switch CDs...then I nearly wreck. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

I tried to listen to a Catherine Coulter book once and laughed hysterically. Might have been the content as well as the narrator.

Scape, do you have any recommendations for good narrators/books that have translated well?

OH, my favorite book on CD: Sophie Kinsella's THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS.

Janga said...

I tried listening to books when I was commuting, but I either fell asleep or became so engrossed that I missed my exit. Somebody posted about listening to books as she did housework. I should try that. Maybe then I'd be inspired to do more housework. :)

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

Hellie - a few narrators I've discovered that almost always get it right:

Angela Dawe
Rosalyn Landor
Susan Duerden
Anne Flosnik

There are a few more but these come to mind first.

I wrote a post about one of my all-time best audiobooks I've listened to: Maybe This Time By Jennifer Cruise. I wasn't so sure about the hero's voice for the first chapter but then it smoothed out and became such a well done audiobook.

Anne Flosnik narrated Reckless by Amanda Quick and did an excellent job with the voices! What's funny is that audio can sometimes highlight something in the writing that isn't perfect...for instance with this book Mrs. Quick uses the same phrase many, many times throughout the book. For me, it became fun and I almost thought of it as a drinking game! But, it did show flaws in the writing slightly.

Which shows it pays to read your work out loud! Maybe even record yourself reading it and then listen to see if it flows!

Haleigh said...

I'm sorry I'm MIA today pirates! I'll reply to everyone this evening.

Interestingly enough, I'm not a fan of first person in written books, I I didn't notice until I'd read your comment, Hellie, that everything I've listened to recently is in first person. It is like a friend telling you a story!

This particular narrator would add in sounds after he described them, which drove me nuts. Like the book would say "she gave a little half shrug, half snort, before replying." Then the narrator would try to snort that way on tape. It was not effective! :)

P. Kirby said...

Actually, I just got my author's copy of The Canvas Thief in Audible format. I'm still circling it warily, unsure what I'll make of the sound of someone else reading my story.

I don't think I've ever listened to a book on tape. I'm just not in the car enough. Since I'm very visual, I wonder if it would be hard for me to follow; if the details would be more likely to get lost. As it is, I sometimes have to go back and reread something because I get to a point where something happens, and I'm like, "Whot? Who's Mary? Wait, they're married?"

Di R said...

I've listened to a few books on tape, usually when I have a long day of baking and no one else is home. It's hard be to listen in the car, because my kids are usually with me, and I try to keep that time calm. I learn the most amazing things about their lives in the car.

One of my critique partners is listening to all of J.D. Robb's In Death books in order. She loves the narrator.


Sin said...

I'm more of a reader, not a book listener. Though, I can't really say that with authority. I've listened to one book (Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich) and I didn't like the reader at all. And the voice was all wrong. And it screwed with how the characters sound in my head while I'm reading.

Wow. That makes me sound really crazy.