Thursday, January 21, 2010

What the Sam Heck is Going On???


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.


... Paige said...

one of the books i read in the fall i skipped like 3 chapters-it was all needless back story; that as far as i could tell made no difference in the story much less the outcome. heck i still surprised that i finished reading it and didn't demand my monies back.
and folks we know can't seem to get a break; what's up with that?

J.C. Towler said...

Well that's a positive spin and making a whole pitcher of lemonade out of lemons to boot.

I hear you on the A-list issue, but I'm not sure I agree with the cause. How can these people NOT have friends who they can toss their story too who would point out these problems? Perhaps they are so confident (or egotistical, perish the though) that they don't think their work needs review. Some unintended consequence of success, I'm sure.

Oh well, opportunity for the rest of us perhaps.



Greta Igl said...

Paige, it blows my mind that you could skip THREE ENTIRE CHAPTERS in a published work without missing a beat. Crazy!

John, my optimism is the only thing that keeps me going. But I'll concede that you could be right. Ego is any writer's best friend and worst enemy.

Stephen said...

Good post, Greta. The book you referenced disturbed me--not only because of the poor use of verbs, but also because I've seen better writing from that particular author.

Whether it's ego, as John mentioned, or sloppy editing, there is a blessing in all of this. We can keep these books in the back of our minds as examples of what not to do and as motivational tools inspiring us to greater heights.

J.C. Towler said...

Hey Greta, I just got my copy of the EDF 2 Anthology and saw your "Free" story was in there...second story in the book even! The antho looks really slick, the intro is well done and I'm digging the stories. Some I never read before, others for a second time.
Big congratulations!


Alexis Grant said...

Good editing is so important, even for the best writers.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Glad you did because it led me to yours!

DeborahB said...

Good post Greta. It is amazing some of the stuff out there today. Gives me hope! Love your blog. Glad you visited mine so I could find yours.