Friday, January 23, 2009

Taking Out the Trash: What makes a good book?

A recent blog post by Nathan Bransford included a survey asking readers whether they considered themselves an above-average writer. It let into a discussion as to why writers tend to trash other writers.

Well, the idea has been rattling around in my head. It's probably the guilt. Many aspiring writers are a bit snarky when it comes to books they don't like. And yes, I've done it too. We study, and work on improving our craft, and get a pretty good idea of what makes for good writing. We study POV, and debate the finer points of grammar, rue the excessive use of adjectives and adverbs, shun cliches and stereotypes, and use 'said' exclusively as our only annotation, when we use one at all. But none of these things will make for a good book.

Technical excellence, at least following the 'rules' in a craft in which many admit there are no rules, will not produce a good book any more than technical excellence in sculpture will produce a great statue. It might produce a perfect likeness, but greatness is reserved for those things that catch someone's eye. In books, it might be the writer who breaks all the 'rules', but does so in the most creative way.

Readers don't care. And that's frustrating to writers, but true. Most don't care about POV, as long as they can follow the story without getting confused. Annotations don't bother them at all. The characters could 'shriek' and 'gurgle', and most wouldn't bat an eye. It is mostly the writers who get all 'drama queen' and dent their walls by throwing books into them. Readers are simply looking for diversion in a great story with interesting characters. And until I write one of those, I voted 'no.' I do not consider myself an above-average writer. At least not yet.

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