Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bad Writing

So I've had a stack of recommended books to get through, and recently tackled them. Wow. If that's the state of publishing, no wonder they're hurting. In book after book, the writing was amateurish and lazy and plain bad. I was appalled.

When I read a novel, I desire some measure of empathy with one or more characters, a plot that doesn't make me roll my eyes at stupid actions and impossibilities, and a minimum writing level that shows the author has spent some time learning their craft, and had an editor that keeps them from egregious mistakes.

Hey, I'm guilty of crappy writing sections in my early drafts. I take it to the Tyngsboro Writer's Group, and they point out the stupid stuff, the cliches, the patches of lazy writing where I shorthanded a section to "get to the good stuff". So I rewrite and try again, as many times as necessary until the rough edges are smoothed out. Then it goes to even harder editors, who rip apart anything that doesn't work with withering scorn. It's a very humbling, ego-smashing, painful experience, and a necessary one for real writers. It's why I don't have patience for wannabes who won't do the hard work it takes to make things good.

But if you survive all that criticism, by the time you get done, you've got something that doesn't suck. I'm not great, but sometimes I get out stuff that's pretty good, and once in awhile get a really great reaction to something I've written. Even on my stories that get turned down by editors, many of them are taking the time to write personal notes saying how good the writing is, with a request for me to send more. That, dear readers, is a professional accolade.

So-- I read the first book on my list-- a great idea, good atmosphere, but it just fizzled and left me feeling like it was a short story the guy couldn't finish.

Second Book-- Great idea, Dan Brown-style thriller, but lousy, Dan Brown-style writing: flat dialogue, hyperactive viewpoints, awful cliches, impossible coincidences, and characters who do utterly stupid things for no reason. A shame, really, because with a basic level of good writing, this could have been a real book.

Third Book-- The author mentioned she'd got her dream editor to work on the book, so I had hopes. The premise was exciting. But after eye rolls and tsks of disgust, I tossed the book aside before ten pages were done. Full of stereotypes, like a bad TV script. Most college freshmen could turn out a better page. This had a good editor and was still a piece of crap!

Fourth Book-- A mystery, but one of those with a premise so very cute and twee. I flung (past tense- flanged?) it aside. Please give me characters from this plane of existence, who resemble real human beings! I wanted real meat, and got a plastic egg.

Fifth Book- At last, a real novel to sink your teeth into: Double Exposure, by Michael Lister. Yowza- I recommend it. Full disclosure here- this book was published by Tyrus Books, who I've trusted with a sample of my novel. Even if they don't want my novel, they're committed to excellence, and it shows.

It took me five books to find one worthwhile. Not a good ratio. Is it too much to ask that writers do their damn job? These books are selling on concept, a pitch, like a Hollywood movie. But the execution is amateurishly bad. Most of these books wouldn't pass muster in my writing group, let alone for professional purposes.

So what are your recent reads that stand out as really good?

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