I have been thinking a lot about writing lately. Sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in a story, so much that you don't even know notice if it is well or badly written. I was talking to a friend about Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins yesterday, and I admitted that the first time through, I probably only read about 1/3 of the words. I was flipping pages at a frantic rate to find out what happened, who would live, and who wouldn't make it to the last page. There wasn't time to read descriptions or dialogue when lives were at stake! Of course, I went back and reread the book (every word) and loved it! But it got me thinking about writing. What makes books great, is it just the story, is it just the writing? I give you two examples of books I have read and my reactions to the writing:
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer Now if you have read this blog at all, you know I am not a fan of Twilight. In fact, I can barely stand it. But I will admit that when I first heard the story I was intrigued. It sounded like a good plot. But to me, those books are so horribly written I couldn't finish the series. Too many florid descriptions of marble-like chins and glittery foreheads for this reader. But I was honestly interested in the movies, because I figured that if you could condense the story into two hours, you might actually have something enjoyable (boy was I wrong).
Twilight is my example of a great idea, that was poorly executed. I have read books very much like Twilight (girl falls in love with paranormal boy/beast) and really enjoyed them. Now, everyone is different, and I am sure there are those that will argue that Twilight is a shining example of American prose, but I will never believe you. It is one of the few times when I could have done with the Reader's Digest Abridged versions of a book.
Nothing by Janne Teller In case you aren't familiar with the book here is a very (very) brief synopsis: A young boy has a revelation at school in Denmark, nothing really matters. He drops out of school and taunts his former classmates with the meaninglessness of their lives until they decide to band together to prove him wrong. This plot summary would probably not entice me to pick up the book, but it won an award, so I found myself reading it one weekend afternoon...and loved it! I am normally not a fan of the existential let's-make-the-reader-think type books, but I couldn't put this one down. All because it was so well written. I can't even tell you what the author did to make it so beautiful, but it was like reading a unicorn on top of a double rainbow. I can't describe it any other way. It is short and sweet with everything you need and nothing more. A great example of writing bring a story to life. All of this has made me think about writing. What is it that makes something well written? How do authors do what they do? I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, but a good book can inspire to dream sometimes (luckily reality kicks shortly thereafter so that no one is pained with reading some horrible story I have tried to write). I greatly admire those that have the talent and drive to write and for those of you who are trying, I have two books to suggest.
First, On Writing by Stephen King. A short disclaimer: I am not suggesting that you need to be a drug abusing alcoholic (and neither does King) to be a good writer. His book is full of practical tips for writers of all ages. It also includes some great stories about how his best sellers have come about, and his history as an author.
Second, What It Is by Lynda Barry. This book made me think that I could become a writer, so imagine what it could do for someone who actually has the talent to write! It is part autobiography of a writer and artist, part writing exercises and tips for those looking to practice the craft. Both beautiful and helpful, this book is doubly awesome.
Good luck with your writing, I hope that when you publish your first best seller you dedicate it to me!