First, sorry for being away a couple of days. As much as I do love my editing, it can take up a lot of time (luckily my most recent projects have overall been very good. It’s always nice when you truly enjoy reading what people are having you edit) but as I am feeling like a bad blog-poster, I wanted to make sure to get today’s post up. And what is today’s post, you may ask? Best Sellers and Good Writing.
Now, what are some of the best-selling books/series of all time? – Lord of the Rings – Harry Potter – The Da Vinci Code – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Twilight Some of these books have sold over 100 million copies. But does that mean they’re well written? No, not necessarily. Now, I’ve already touched on some of my problems with Twilight in previous blog posts, but of all of the books listed, do you think we could get a consensus on one that everyone thinks is entirely brilliant without any flaws? Though I haven’t read all of the books I’ve listed, I have read a couple. But even the ones I enjoyed didn’t come off to me as faultless. J.R.R. Tolkien can overdo it with the description–the world is brilliant, but I totally skipped that three page description of a tree in Return of the King. Dan Brown’s characters can be one-dimensional–I read The Da Vinci Code in about a day, but couldn’t say I connected with/saw anything all that interesting in the characters. And, as much as I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series, there are plenty of people who point out J.K. Rowling’s writing problems:
“Rowling’s prose is as flat (and as English) as old beer, while Harry himself is not a boy of depth or subtlety.” — Guardian (U.K.)
“In any decent story, the plot is advanced as characters make decisions. In Goblet of Fire, Harry has to enter a tournament because his name pops out of a cup. And he can’t decide not to enter because… the rules of magic say so! Things are just being thrown at Harry because the writer wants to throw them. (It’s even worse than an episode of 24).” — Daniel Radosh In his comment after his main article criticizing Rowling’s adverb use.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that these books are awful–as I said, I enjoyed many of them–but they aren’t perfect. As one poster on a yahoo forum put it: “I know that JK Rowling is a popular writer, but she is not a good writer. Many people use the argumentum ad populum fallacy to argue that JKR is a good writer. (AKA: The books are popular so the books must be written well). Popularity may sometimes be a result of high quality writing, but it can’t be used as evidence that the books are well written.” And truly, that’s what it comes down to. There is no test you have to pass to be a writer. Writing a best seller isn’t about carefully crafting a book after years of study under a master writer. J.R.R. Tolkien was a linguist who ended up making Middle Earth partially out of his love for foreign (often made up) languages. J. K. Rowling supposedly wrote down the idea for Harry Potter on a cocktail napkin. Stephenie Meyer was a receptionist and then a housewife when she wrote Twilight. Years of dedication and work–while it can help–isn’t what makes an author write a best seller. Honestly, part of being a best seller seems to be, at best, luck. It’s being in the right place at the right time with something someone likes. Some people might write brilliant works that are never seen in their lifetimes. Some people might write a so-so novel they don’t care about in a week that sells 500 million copies worldwide. It might not be fair, but that always seems to be the nature of writing. What it does mean, though, is that best-selling authors aren’t any more infallible than anyone else. Copying one won’t save you from making writing mistakes any more than just trying to write something on your own.
This is especially true if you end up copying things that many people don’t like about the best-selling author’s writing (for example, J. K. Rowling’s use of adverbs or Stephenie Meyer’s purple prose). If a book you’ve read inspires you (best seller or obscure) think about what it is about the book that reaches you. What you’ll often find is that the books that generally reach you most do so because of their plot, characters, or something much more broad than just word use/writing style. Writing flowery prose, like Meyer, won’t make your book as popular as Twilight. Spending five pages describing every detail in your world, like J. R. R. Tolkien will at times, will not mean your book will be magically as well received as Lord of the Rings. Gain your inspiration from other authors you admire, but don’t use them as the end all be all for what writing should be.
Write what feels natural to you, learn, grow, take critiques, and become your own author. Not someone trying to emulate X. It’s likely you’ll write better that way.