I read a book the other day that will remain nameless. In fact, let’s call it Nameless. Anyhow, I started it and right away it annoyed me. The characters annoyed me because they were whiny and then there was the deluge of “as you know, Bob-isms.” I wanted to stop reading, but the reason I picked up the book was its premise and I still wanted to see more how of how that played out.
I’m happy to say that Nameless improved, but it was really a broken book. More flaws developed. The author set the stage for a romance in future books, but there was no real emotion there. I just didn’t buy it. The author also left some significant plot holes of the variety where if the reader overthought, then getting from point a to point b wouldn’t make any sense. On top of that, the main character was able to pull together information out of a massive library and learn how to do complicated magic from the books in a matter of a couple of weeks while working a full time job and not having a clue what she was doing.
So you might want to know, why did I finish Nameless? And why am I talking about it to you? Well, the most interesting part about this book is that despite its flaws, despite being fairly broken, I kept turning pages and I want to read all the way to the end. And I didn’t really want to put it down (once I got through the first few chapters). And that’s really pretty amazing, all things considered. Because of that, I thought it deserved a second look, because clearly you don’t have to get it all right if certain elements work well enough.
The real question is what kept me going? First was the camaraderie and interactions of the three main characters. I always enjoy a really good ensemble cast where there’s caring and snark and where each person carries his or her own weight in the story. Where they have talents/ideas/strengths to contribute. Second was the element of magic. It was fascinating and I kept wanting to see things unfold. Third was the backstory. It was original and while I spotted the major twist coming well in advance, I was still interested in how it would play out. Fourth, the pace was pretty quick and the setting was unexpected.
The writing was serviceable. I know, not the greatest compliment, but the point is, it allowed the good stuff to shine through and I was able to overlook the problems. I don’t think there’s any formula for how much of the book has to work in order for it to succeed. For instance, I’m not at all a fan of the Twilight books because I think they are fatally flawed, but Whoa Nelly! the readership loves them. Who’s right? Well, as a writer, the one putting down the cash for the book is right. So it’s about learning what works when a book captures readers’ imaginations, even though there are major flaws.
I’m not sure what my point is here. There’s no way to formulize (wouldn’t it be great if that was really a word?) a story to work. So much depends on the writer and the creativity and the way things flow on the page. How many times has the same plot been retold, each time different, sometimes successfully, sometimes whoafully flat?
But here is what I think is important to remember: no book is ever perfect. Nameless was published by one of the Big Six and has a good editor. But the book isn’t isn’t all that good. And yet–I still read it to the end and will likely read the sequel when it comes out. That makes it pretty successful. I think the take away from this is that sometimes we think our books can never be good enough. There’s always something to fix, something to change to make it better. And you know what? It’s probably true. But if we never sent a book out into the world until it was perfect, we’d have no books. Because there’s really no such thing as a perfect book. So sometimes you just have to call it done when you’ve done all you can do. And sometimes you have to just keep writing when you think it’s crap because you love the crap and you have to have faith it will turn out in the end.
Speaking of which, I’m going back to writing my crap now . . .