I hope the title, Good Writing Vs. Bad Writing; Vetting Reviews, isn’t deceiving to anyone, because I’m not going to even attempt to define what is good or bad. I’m not that grand. And the reason for that is I’ve never found anyone who can give a clear cut definition of what good writing is. And while there are certain examples I could give for bad writing…said bookisms, too many adverbs in dialogue tags, etc…that still would be just the opinion of a segment of the writing community, and not the entire writing community.
But more than that, I don’t trust anyone who claims to know, without a doubt, what good or bad writing is.
What prompted this post has more to do with vetting book reviews than good writing vs. bad writing. I came across a book review the other day for a self-published novel by a new author that wasn’t very positive. This review was published on one of the more popular romance review web sites, and I have to say the reviewer did disclose a few things that made her bias. But then the review devolved when she started talking about how bad the writing was. And, she actually gave examples that wound up proving her wrong and she never even knew it.
Of course I went directly to the excerpts from the book to see if I thought the writing was that bad, and what I found was tight, clear, concise narrative that some would say actually looked superior to most romance novels on the market. To take it a step further, the author had more of a contemporary/literary style and technique than the formula romance style, and I thought the excerpts published in the review were fantastic. Think “The Help.” That’s what the tight writing style reminded me of. Only the author combined this tight, clean technique in a romance.
As far as I know, this particular reviewer is not an expert in writing style or technique. She is an expert in romance novels. And one of the reasons why most romance novels get slammed by contemporary/literary critics is because of the writing style. It’s typically not tight, and it’s almost always overdone and exaggerated. A beautiful blue sky becomes “a radiantly magnificent, picturesque example of blueness from above.” While the latter part of that sentence may appeal to many romance readers and writers, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that either, there’s another group of readers and writers who think that style of writing is painful to read. The less kind will actually laugh at it.
I wrote a post about how reviewers sometimes put a spin on erotic romance and take things out of context in order to laugh at sex scenes. In that post I gave examples of a bestselling non-erotic romance that had been reviewed well, but I decided to put my own spin on that well-reviewed romance and take things out of context to show that anyone can do it to make a book or an author look bad. Here’s one example I gave from the romance novel in question.
A woman in the crowd let out a harsh bark of laughter at that, and the mayor hid a smile behind his sleeve.
Once again, on the surface there’s nothing really wrong with this. And the people who read romance clearly love this brand of writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. I want to make this point clear because I read romances like this myself and I love them. But another author who believes in word economy and leans more toward contemporary/literary would probably have written that sentence very differently.
And this difference in style is what I’m talking about. I know writers who would rather eat dirt than use the word bark in a sentence unless they were referring to a dog or a seal, but there are other writers who do use words like this to get their points across, especially in genre romance.
This is all highly subjective, and so is the difference between good writing and bad writing.
So the next time you’re reading a book review and you see something mentioned about good writing or bad writing, vet the reviewer to see where he/she is coming from. If he or she is more focused on the romance genre the odds are he/she is going to prefer a more flamboyant writing style typical of the romance genre. If the reviewer is more contemporary/literary, the odds are he/she will prefer books with a tighter less flamboyant style and women won’t bark in those books. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with either one. It’s personal taste. The only problem is when some people don’t know the difference and a good book gets slammed because they don’t know the difference.
Personally, I care more about tight writing and word economy. But that’s just my own personal taste, and when I review books I’ve started trying to take that into consideration more often these days. I didn’t always do that, but I’ve seen so many changes in writing, communication and the evolution of the novel in the past few years I’ve been rethinking a lot of my past pet peeves. I might even write a sentence someday where a human being barks. You never know. But it’s important to know things like this when you’re reading book reviews and shopping for books. Because those who claim to know it all usually know less than the rest of us, especially when it comes to good writing vs. bad writing.