"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Friday, July 29, 2011

I can rite gudder

Which of the following is true?

1. Self-published books are badly written by writers who are too anxious to be published.

2. Self-published books are carefully crafted by writers who take pride in their work.

3. Self-publishing will always have a mix of both badly written and well written books, but the cream will eventually rise to the top, as discerning readers go for the good books.

4. No, it won't, because most readers don't care about good writing, they only care about a good story.

You know the answer: they're all true, except possibly Number 3.

Authors keep saying that in the wake of the millions of books being tossed up on various e-sites, readers will become the gatekeepers and decide what's worth reading. The good books will rise and the bad will fade away. This may be true, but their idea of readable may astonish some authors.

I've taken the rules of writing good fiction to heart. When I edit my books, I look carefully for point-of-view problems, passive phrasing, and conflicting gerunds ("Running to his car, he drove after her" - he's either running or driving, but not both). I try to make my books pull the reader from the first page to the last. I work hard to show, instead of tell. My books take me kind of a long time to write, relative to some authors, because I do care about using the right word and phrasing things JUST SO.

The rules constantly tick in my head, though, when I'm reading other people's books. If there's a POV problem, it bugs me. Overuse of "was" makes me cranky. I'm aware of the author telling me the story instead of letting me live it with the characters.

"Bravo," you writers say. "You should look for quality."

What do you say when books that do not follow these rules sell better and have higher rankings than the well-written ones? You can't dismiss the thousands of readers who liked them.

Here's the thing - readers want a good story, period. As long as they are not wading through a battlefield of typos and bad grammar, they are not attuned to that stray sentence where the author entered someone else's head. They don't care so much whether the author has the "wassies". They are not reading the book on that extra Writer Radar level, so they can just dig in and enjoy.

I admit it: I'm a snooty-patootie writer. This is why, years ago, I picked up the first Twilight book while waiting in line at a bookstore, read the first page, and said, "Gah, I couldn't wade through this if you paid me." Passivity, wrapped in the unending thoughts of an annoying, angst-ridden teen.

But there are millions of teens out there, and soon-to-be teens, and they are all angst-ridden. They know this girl, know that the universe revolves around her, because it revolves around them, and they will go on this journey because if it ends well, they triumph and if it ends badly, they can wallow in it.

And, of course, who can resist a glittery vampire?

I may not be able to read it, but I can't argue with millions of fans who did and loved it and didn't care if the writing has been pronounced bad by other best-selling authors. So what can I do with the knowledge that only a select few really care whether I dump an entire paragraph because I've entered the cat's head and Peri can't possibly "know" that he's feeling tired or crabby or ANYTHING? Does it matter? Or should I just push stories out of my fingertips, get them up on Kindle and Smashwords, and keep the books flowing?

In the end, it matters to me. It's like telling someone with OCD to just stopping washing his hands three times and only do it once. You may take the soap away, but he'll wander around all day, unable to concentrate, because his hands are itching to be washed two more times. It took me a good long time to realize those rules were important, and I'm not about to ditch them now. 

Maybe readers don't care about all the rules, but I'm still betting they are more entertained by a book with a good story that reads well, even if they can't tell you why it does. They are always going to go for the good story first, though.

That's the cream that will rise to the top.


Anonymous said...

Love, love, love this post. Sometimes, I have a hard time making it through a novel, because I notice grammar -- and I find myself in Analytical Mode. I'm looking for layers, instead of reading for pleasure. (For that, I blame grad school.)

When I'm writing something, I'm the same degree of mindful. I'm not perfect at self-editing (by any means), but I try to find the things that bug me about "bad" writing (like passive voice, as you mentioned) and remove them. Maybe the reader won't notice. But I will. And if I don't make the story as good as I can, I've fallen down on the job.

Anyway, basically, I loved this post. Thank you for writing this -- and for saying it so eloquently.

Helen Ginger said...

I do believe, like you, that the cream will rise to the top. It may not, however, make the most money or sell as many copies.


CactusCorner said...

Hey Gayle,
I want to be entertained and see what makes people tick.

Gayle Carline said...

@alwayscoffee: Of course you care about quality, Ali. That's why I enjoy reading you so much. Thank you for the compliments (insert blush here).

@helen: Too true, a lot of people will read something that's "popular", even if they report after that they didn't like it. The thing is, the book still got purchased.

@CactusCorner: Well, then, let me entertain you, Michael!

Robert said...

Hi Gayle,
I liked your recent blog, "I can rite gudder". You make some valid points. Although bad grammar can detract, it's always about the story and not the typos. Sure, we have to keep on top of those aggravating mistakes--I once used peak, instead of peek--and didn't catch it until after it went to print. Sheesh! Anyways, keep writing, gal.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.