Monday, March 02, 2009

This Is Good Writing?

Holy cow. Ever have one of those reading experiences that leaves you wondering in complete bafflement why in the world that particular book ever got published?

I'm not talking having a problem with the plot being full of holes or the characters acting TSTL. I'm talking about the writing just being so bad that you can't believe that this is what passes for publishable writing?

Over the weekend I tackled my To Be Read pile, which has begun to take over my house. I realized there are really a lot of books that I own that I'm just dying to read, and I need to get busy. So I grabbed a YA title off the top of the pile and crawled into bed an hour early.

After the first chapter, I was left shaking my head over the narrative voice, which was so scattered that it made buckshot look like a laser beam. The story was told in the first person, so I can handle some amount of stream-of-consciousness flow. But this was so out there, all I could think was that the narrator - a young, 15 year old girl - must be afflicted with schizophrenia. The dialog was equally random, with non sequiturs so abundant I wondered if parts of the text had gotten deleted from the file used to create the printing press plates.

Then there were the type Os that somehow squeaked past copy editing. In a book of 80,000 plus words, you've got to expect the occasional missed type O. But I found six - SIX! - within the first two chapters alone. And these are ones that jumped out at me. I wasn't looking for them with a fine toothed comb. Some copy editor out there is highly overpaid.

But what really got me was just how bad the writing was. I mean, it was just bad. It reminded me of a rough draft, where a writer just brain dumps the story with the intention of going back and fixing sentences to avoid duplication of words (within the same sentence!) and make things less awkward wording-wise. But in this case, that second (or third or fourth) pass was never done, and the book reads like a very amateur offering.

I'm not discussing this to rant about my disappointment over the book. More, I'm just a bit confused and frustrated that something like this got published in the first place. For the past five years, I've paid a lot of attention to the publishing process, following with keen interest the anecdotes and advice offered by published writers of all different success levels as well as editors and other publishing professionals. And the the one issue that always comes up first is how competitive the industry is and how good you have to be to make it to the top of the pile.

But then I read something like this and I have to wonder that if THIS is what represents something someone in the publishing industry considers good writing, what is going on?

When people don't like a book because of story or character, you don't necessarily need to wonder what the editor/publisher was thinking for printing it. If the writing is good, then other aspects are subjective enough to believe the decisions were a matter of taste. But when the writing itself is bad - so bad that you can't get over it to even see the story or characters - what is the answer to the question of why this particular writer is considered "good enough" to be published? I just don't get it.

Because this book is a YA title, I had the scary suspicion that no one thinks it needs to be any better that it is, given the target audience. It's okay to print crap because the only people who read this stuff anyway are teenage girls. How discouraging that idea is.

I couldn't stomach this book enough to finish it, so I started to toss it in the bag to be taken to the used book store, only to pause thinking that maybe my daughter would want to read it in a couple of years. But heck if I want her to read this tripe. Into the bag it goes.

But here's the real WTF moment for me. Wondering if anyone else out there (everyone else!) agreed with my assessment of this book, I went searching for some online reviews. I was horrified - All About Romance gave this title a B-, and one YA review site simply raved about how great this book was.

Am I really that off base? I am not a literary snob by any means. My standards are not uber high. This was really, really bad. I would love to post excerpts here and gather other opinions, but that's a douchey thing to do. Darn it.


Janet Webb said...

Hello ... this is going to sound like a crazy question but I haven't been able to figure out the magic on blogger to introduce "Click here to read more" on the blog I'm involved with. Any advice VERY greatly accepted ... since I noticed your blog has this feature.

I found your blog through a link on AAR ... many thanks!

Lynn M said...

Janet - you can find instructions to do this on the blogger help page. The direct link is here:

But I have to warn you - I found this very hard to figure out. If you aren't very proficient with HTML, the process is a bit confusing. I have another blog that I still can't manage to altar properly to make this expandable post option work, so I feel lucky I made it happen here! My problem is finding the right places in my template to paste the appropriate HTML instructions.

Good luck!

Janet Webb said...

... Lynn, thank you SO much! My friends on the Book Lovers Message Board (a fun bulletin board where, gee, among other things, we discuss books LOL) gave me some great advice but this really helps. I have some friends that are much more knowledgeable about this stuff than me but seriously, we're all stumped. Hopefully this tip will help unlock the secrets.

I put in a link to the blog I work on -- we have a lot of fun and we also hope we're helping our Teammates out there that use our products.

Thanks again!