Last night, I sat down to read the latest novel in a mystery series I admire. I was excited. The release had been several months overdue. So I curled up in bed with my copy filled with lofty expectations, ready to be swept away and entertained once again.
I was promptly disappointed.
The first several pages limped through a longish stretch of brackish backstory about a secondary character, told (and I repeat TOLD) from the point of view of the detective. It wasn’t even compelling backstory. A few pages in, the story finally began to move forward.
Which, in my opinion, is where the narrative should have started in the first place.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been disappointed in a book lately. I asked myself: what’s with all the mediocre writing coming from well-established talents lately?
WB Stephen sent me an email on this just yesterday. He’d ordered a recent book written by a former-lawyer-turned-blockbuster-author. Stephen was appalled—and rightly so—because the first paragraph of said book used the verb WAS exclusively, something like a half-dozen times in almost as many sentences. And boy, do I agree. We’re talking about a principle from Writing 101 here. Good writing relies on vigorous verbs, not wimpy, uninspired forms of “to be.”
Which reminded me of a conversation I recently had with another friend. She’s an avid reader and library staffer annoyed with the wave of lousy books coming from her favorite A-listers. Most of her comments were proofreading related—misspelled words, missed punctuation, etc…. But even small mistakes stand out as glaring errors in published books.
Clearly, something’s going on here, something that makes good writers look inept. But I’m not sure the problem lies solely with the writers. Rather, I think this harkens back to recent slashes in editorial staff at the publishing houses. Our favorite writers don’t suddenly suck. They still write great stories. It’s just that I don’t think there are enough editors left to properly edit them.
Personally, I’m going to take this as an opportunity. This is my chance to see such writers’ work somewhat au naturel, rather like seeing celebrities without makeup. This new age of stories comes to us in a different pristine state—a state with many of the flaws still intact. In the past, when I read those beautiful books, I felt intimidated by writing that jumped off the page, effortless. Now I see I can adopt a different mindset. In some ways, these adolescent books are just as pimply and gauche as mine are. Which means there’s hope that success isn’t as far off as I feared.
Change is Good--Right? - Hello dear readers--are you still out there? It's been awhile, and I wouldn't blame you for moving on. I felt the need for change, and have spent some tim...
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