First of let me say that Anne Rice has potential to be a talented writer with her research, her lush descriptions of and about life, as well as interesting and fascinating characters, as well as eroticism. (When I read her stories not once have I felt horror, but instead the stories struck me as extremely erotic.) I haven't read her books in a very long time. (I only read six perhaps, four vampire stories and two witch stories.) If you ask me what stands out about her novels, I would say the same background of the main character, or characters, the religiosity of Catholicism, and that some of her male characters are possibly closeted (what's the PC term for homosexuals?) I read these books ten years ago, a teenager in middle school and I was trying to read The Witching Hour, before I realized that I could not get through it. While reflecting on what was wrong with the novel, I realized it could provide a number of things not to do when writing a story. Let's begin.
Anne Rice's endless descriptions seem to cancel out the horror that I was supposed to feel at the setting. In the second chapter of Witching Hour the character just rambles on and on and on about how different his mother was, how his father made fun of him for liking high class things, etc. etc. there were also endless references to things I have never heard or watched. As if that wasn't bad enough, there were endless and pointless ramblings of things that I doubt contributed to the story. (Honestly, who cares that Michael loves meat and potatoes, or the life to the tiny detail he experienced while growing up in Irish Quarter in New Orleans?) While its important to learn some background things about him, but come on, not all at once. In my opinion, if Anne Rice was trying to become the horror version of Ann Radcliffe or Margaret Mitchell, she failed miserably.
One of the reasons I stopped reading Anne Rice was the discomfort I felt when I constantly had to read about Catholicism and the fact that her male characters all sounded the same. (Extremely wealthy, the last male heir or member of the family, and then something happens to him where he cannot reproduce and he never reproduces...) In all honesty, if I want to read christian fiction, I'd go to that section and pick up a book about it, but I want to read about vampires or witches, not be dragged through religion, especially christian religion. (I'm not a christian by the way...)
So what are some lessons towards writing that I can take with me? Know the limit for description and whatnot. In reading, what is more valuable to me is the psychology of the character rather than the setting. (Let's be honest, I've never been to New York or Los Angeles or New Orleans, or whatnot, and places I've been to aren't in books...) Describe the atmosphere more than the physical setting. In Anne Rice's case, her constant descriptions of the house served to cancel out the horror rather than enhancing it. If there possibly was a description of "a foreboding house, its shadow covered those surrounding it, plunging them to darkness," doesn't that sentence sound far more creepier than her constant sentences of how it's derelict. Instead when reading her descriptions, I get the sentimental images of summer and not of horror. Or better yet if she used black widows (for Mayfair Witches would be appropriate) spinning the webs in the corners, their giant bodies waiting to capture a fly, or to poison a man, that would be good symbolism.
Another lesson is to have more varied characters than the standard ones. For example, maybe in a vampire book she might have had vampire brothers who were wealthy, or at least more vampires that happened to be poor or come from protestant and Jewish backgrounds, something different than her usual fare.
Also, don't give away all the information at once for the character, but instead parcel it out throughout the book, thus giving it time for previous information to sink in, and when it does, introduce a new tidbit about the character. Also use the rule of three. By that I mean mention something only three times at different intervals if possible. If the character is a good viola player, one can mention it if it's somehow relevant in beginning and perhaps at the end or somewhere in the middle.
And most important of all is don't shove your beliefs down people's throats. I think if I will write stories with Jewish themes or characters I might mention that. Why? Because non-Jews might buy it and perhaps they might become offended with the books or something. (At least when writing general fiction.) Something that christian writers forget when they write is that people from different religions might pick up the books to read them. While it's impossible to please everyone, a slight warning might have been nice. (If one of the Anne Rice books had something like this: Contains heavy christian imagery relating to Catholicism,) I might never have been offended. (Although whether or not I might have picked it up is a different story.)