Broken and readable books

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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 crapΒ  now . . .

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10 comments to Broken and readable books

  • Aw, your writing isn’t crap, Diana!

    Thanks for this. I think it’s good to keep in mind. Obviously, we should strive for our best, but not obsess over everything being perfect … or at least, do what we can, and try to find some awesome beta-readers to catch those issues. πŸ™‚

  • Megan B.

    This was a such a nice thing for me to read, as I prepare to tackle another draft of my beloved WIP. I have been struggling with a certain aspect of the book, namely some flashbacks that I love but which I know break the flow of the main plot. It’s really nice to hear that even if I make a wrong choice, even if my book goes into the world with flaws, people may still love reading it. (Not that I would want to be the writer people sneer at, regardless of how well my work sells).

    It’s nice to be reminded that the good elements can and do shine through, even if there are flaws.

  • I’ve been reading cozy mysteries lately both because I need the emotional/mental vacation and because I’ve been thinking seriously about writing one. (AJ’s post a few months ago urging us to have a career realignment plan got me thinking.) I’ve hit a certain best selling, long running series and I keep editing it in my head as I go. Normally this would make me put down a book and move on to something I can get immersed in, but I’ve read two so far and I’ll probably read at least one more. I think the appeal of the books is a lot of the same stuff I’m rewriting in my head as I read. They’re rather shallow, especially in character development. The clues are either too overt or not there. The dialogue is cute rather than lyrical. These books are never going to keep me up all night wondering who done it. I think this is both their flaw and their strength. As light amusement before I sleep they work nicely. On the other hand, I want to write better than this.

    (Please note that I’m not saying all cozy mysteries are shallow or poorly written. I’ve also been reading MC Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series and loving it. She has a knack of skewering human motivation that is scarily insightful and hilarious too.)

  • Laura: some days it feels like it.

    Megan B.: That’s it. The good elements do shine through and polishing is very good. But at some point, it must be done. Which can be terribly hard. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to be in Stephanie Meyer’s shoes: With a huge fanatical fanbase, and a huge base of revilers. It’s got to be a strange place to be as a writer.

    Sarah: I like that. They work for you, even though you want to write better than that. And maybe that really lightweight story is what the author was going for and what the editor liked. Something people could pick up and read easily and quickly and enjoy.

  • It’s always good to keep in mind that we don’t have to be perfect in our writing (or in our lives) to bring entertainment and joy to others.

    I’ve also read and enjoyed books that had some obvious flaws, usually because the characters are compelling enough to hold my interest, or because the writer does such a good job of keeping the plot racing along that I can’t bring myself to stop turning pages. These books aren’t going to win any prizes, but they entertain me for a few hours. Sometimes, as a reader, that’s all I want from a book.

    And since you brought up Stephanie Meyers, I’ll add that her “adult” book The Host is one of those books for me. I saw plenty of opportunities for improvement as I read it, but I couldn’t put the book down. I’ve never read any of the Twilight books so I can’t compare it to them, but this is actually one of my “poster child” books for characters and a story so good that I’m willing to put up with some flaws in writing.

  • Di, It’s a great thing that our books don’t have to be perfect. Even when I think I’ve told a rousing tale with all the proper elements, there is always somethin’… It keeps me knowing I’ve still got lots to learn, and that I can still have a career in a business that is increasing competitive.

  • quillet

    I’m a terrible perfectionist, so I’m just going to repeat this till it sinks in. No book will ever be perfect. No book will ever be perfect. No book will ever be perfect.

    *tension melts*

    Thank you. I needed that. (And Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians!)

  • What really eats at my soul is when I run into a book like that written by someone the industry is falling all over itself to adore. I just returned a book I’d checked out from the library, because even though the writing itself was poetic and lovely, the story was boring. It took so many chapters for anything to happen that I realized I was still reading merely because I thought I should. I have to remember that everything is not for everyone.

    I think I’ll go work on my crap, too. πŸ˜€

  • I have a sneaking suspicion I’m reading Nameless right now…. πŸ˜‰

  • Thanks for the reminder, Di. I’m revising a book right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. I know that it’s not perfect, but I also know that it has facets that shine like a well-cut gem. It may be that when this draft is done, it will be time for me to put it out there into the world. Again, thanks.