Reading bad books…

I’m a lucky guy, my wife supports me in my writing endeavors. Recently she brought me a couple examples of recently on the market novels for the audience I’m writing for at the moment. Neither one was one that I would have picked up myself. And both taught me something.

One book, the one I’m reading is good. There are things that I wouldn’t do. But, then again, the world I’m building isn’t the same either. If I was working in this author’s world, I would make some of the same choices. I like what the writer’s doing and I’m learning a few things.

The other book, which I read first, taught me a lot about what I shouldn’t do. I’m not mentioning authors or titles here because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s “feelers”, but let’s face it: the book really wasn’t all that good.

Some mistakes were simple. Some of them were complex. Some of them were in world, some of them were in story/audience interaction. There were a lot of things wrong and a lot of things I learned slogging my way through the book. For example:

  • If you’re going to use the word soon in the blurb on the back… Make sure soon isn’t page 260 of a 280-page book. Even if you intend to have sequels, 90+ percent of the way through the book isn’t soon…
  • If your story is based on what happened in your Dungeons and Dragons campaign that one time, I can tell that (and so can other readers).
  • Timing on ending a chapter really matters for other chapters when your writing from multiple perspectives. If you want your reader to agonize with a character about the fate of a sibling, it’s a bad idea to tell the reader the sibling is safe before your character hears about what’s going on…

The book also highlighted some mistakes that I kind of knew about but was glad for a reminder of:

  • If you have more than two characters, and half (or more) of your characters have similar names (same first letter, same except for the first letter, etc…) you will confuse your reader. (in fact, if you have exactly two characters with similar names you can have problems). There are exceptions, but messing with similar names is playing with fire!
  • You need to think about the history and technology of your world. If you’re working in a medieval Europe type setting, your bad guys shouldn’t be running around with shotguns… (again there are exceptions but this book wasn’t one of them…). If you are in a world with no electricity or computers, why would anyone’s chief servant be a ‘comptroller’?
  • Avoid generalizations about a group or gender. Sorry, not all males are stupid. Not all females are powerless. Not all villains are rich. And you don’t have to orphan your hero or heroine to make him/her a hero or heroine.

The book wasn’t one I would read for entertainment (if I was reading just for entertainment any of the items on that second list would have given me serious reason put down the book and not pick it up again). But I did learn a lot from reading it.

There’s another book I’ve read, in which the writer was trying to pick up someone else’s world and tell stories there. No, it wasn’t fanfic, fan written fiction would have been better. This author did not understand the world he was writing in. I learned something from that one too: know the world you’re working in at least as well as the average fan before you try to publish anything!

Bad (as in poorly written) books happen. I don’t advocate writing one. But when you find them, read them! Learn from other author’s mistakes (even mine (if I had a problem with that, I wouldn’t be doing this blog…)). If you can recognize and solve problems in someone else’s work, then you are that much closer to being able to recognize and fix those mistakes in your own work (and even Steven King has had problems in his writing).

When you’re a writer, and even if you’re not, reading is at least as much about learning as it is about entertainment. As writers, reading the bad (poorly written) books can help us improve our books.

Well, I should get back to reading, and so should (No. Wait… Your reading this, so you are reading…)… Good luck in your reading and writing dear reader, and I’ll see  you next post.

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