Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Good Book, Bad Book

So, I've gotten back to my reading this year. So far, I've come across two books that are at different ends of the spectrum of what makes a book good and what makes a book bad. Disclaimer, these are just my opinions. And fair warning, there are probably going to be spoilers ahead. So without further ado, let's get to it.

Now, there are some hard and fast rules for writing what is widely considered to be "Good" fiction. Characters you care about, a satisfying ending, a logical progression of events. The thing with writing though, is that you're free to break those rules, especially if you can do it well. 

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn is currently sitting at a comfy 4.1 out of 5 stars on Amazon with over 5000 reviews. 

I hate it. 

I gave it 4 stars. 

The characters were all obnoxious and I didn't care if any of them died. The writing felt needlessly thick (I would almost swear there was an adjective in every sentence). Every chapter switched between past and present, many with different points of view. It's also mainly a mystery-thriller, with a satanic worship sub-plot that never goes anywhere that I'm suspicious might have been thrown in as filler or just to stretch into another genre for bonus sales. 

So why rate it so high?

Because it's an incredible book. 

It breaks the rules of writing with such intensity and surety of itself, that even though you notice them being broken, you have to respect it. This book literally will poke holes into your soul and leave you struggling to re-fill them for a while afterward. That is the hallmark of some of the best writing that's ever been done. I would compare it to the original works of H.P. Lovecraft. The writing itself may be horribly flawed, but the real mark of a good story and good storytelling is the way it makes you feel afterward. 

As a writer, and as a human being. I don't like the book. And that's exactly why I rated it so high. Even though it breaks the rules I've been told to respect as a writer, it made me feel things I didn't want to feel, and kept me thinking about it for days afterward. Just that dichotomy alone tells me how good this book really is.

In the Dark by Richard Laymon, is currently sitting at 3.84 out of 5 starts on Goodreads with over 2,500 ratings. 

I also hate this book.

I gave it one star. 

The characters are paper-thin, the writing is juvenile (seriously, the word panties should not be used that much outside of erotica), the plot is contrived, and the characters make no sense from one action to the next. 

So what's the difference? Is it subject? Skill? Plot? Effort? Or is it just one person's opinion?

Some people will say the difference is in the style to authors were going for. I haven't heard much about the style of Gillian Flynn, although I understand Dark Places is a good example of her style. Richard Laymon, though, writes in the style of the classic pulp fiction novels. His books are meant to be fun and absurd, is basically my understanding. And apparently a lot of people really like that style. 

Unfortunately, in my opinion, his style is one based on books being written and pumped out as fast as possible to make money as fast as possible. And it shows. Check out my review of the book for more details. 

But my point is, as writers, we need to know what our limits are. If you can write a story strong enough to have floppy characters or characters nobody is going to like, go with it. If you think you can get away with it, write a weak story where the characters are just puppets jumping through plot hoops over and over, as long as that's exactly what you're going for.

Basically put, every book has an audience, and as long as you know the audience you're aiming for, there really are no hard and fast rules in writing.

But please use beta readers and an editor to make sure you're actually hitting your mark before you go publishing.

~ Shaun

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