Saturday, November 13, 2010

If they can do it… - Writer’s Envy

I had the experience of reading a book that wasn’t very good, by an author that is fairly popular in a genre that I enjoy. The trick is, I find I read a lot of “classics” and not much new material. Not sure if its because I’m afraid of things that aren’t tried and true, or if its because I’m not sure I want to know who my competition is.

In this case I felt pretty good that I’m better than the competition. This writer has a pretty high place in the Kindle reading list for the genre. Of course several of this writer’s books are free. I picked up one of the free ones myself. But the first thing I noticed was the inconsistencies of style, something that actually hurt my enjoyment of the story.

The big offender was switching perspectives from one paragraph to another without a break of any kind. You’re just reading along and it’s Joe’s perspective. Then the next paragraph is told from the point of view of Lou, who just showed up. That goes on for a few paragraphs and then it jumps back to Joe.

I found myself disoriented and needing to reread sections to make sure I wasn’t missing something. At first I thought it was an error on Kindle, and then I realized after the fourth time or so that this is just how the writer writes. I wondered why an editor didn’t say something. Am I a fuddy duddy and the hip kids are doing this kind of thing now? Or is this breaking a rule of basic writing.

Look if you’re going to be artsy in your work, if you want to make a point about changing perspectives and you pull that – hey I can understand that. Its part of your message and theme and you’re using the medium to make the point. But this just felt sloppy.

One of these changes was to a character who had one scene and then was gone, never to resurface in the book again. Ok, then what was the point in getting in her head. It added a tiny bit of perspective, but at the same time it really didn’t have much relevance to the overall tale. I’m pretty certain a good editor would have caught that and cut it.

Then there was the lead character. Now having your lead be an unpleasant asshole can work. “Lord Foul’s Bane” had this issue and actually pulled it off, making a point about the man and his view of the worlds. But this main character was angry and bitter and filled with so much bile that I started hoping he’d get killed, because the other characters were slightly more interesting. And since the author had no problem switch perspectives then it was possible to just jump over to the other character –right? Sorry, we’re stuck with this jerk. Since it was a series, we’re stuck with him for several books.

It takes a skilled writer to pull off a good antihero, or a lead who is so unpleasant that you are curious about how he’ll end up. But this author only made a guy who was annoying enough to make you want to see him dead. Not a good sign.

I didn’t finish the book, I couldn’t. I read about 40% of it before I gave it up for lost (nice that Kindle can show that % complete). But I was still puzzled that if someone who wrote this can be a top author in sales on Kindle, than that means that someone who writes better (maybe me) could do the same thing. Like I said this was a series and looking at the comments of the book I saw a lot positive reviews. My question is, how did the author get the word out and get people to read the books in the first place. Giving them away helps a great deal I’m sure, but if others don’t have a problem with sloppy writing, well I can say it gives me hope.

Have you run into sloppy writing in a popular book that made you feel – hey I can do better! Tell your story. Am I a fuddy duddy and the freedom of writing can be warped for the art? Should I be worried that a poorly told tale is attracting so much attention or does it merit some hope?

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