subjective

Good Writing Vs. Bad Writing; Vetting Reviews

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.

Bad Writing Tips That Make Me Crazy…

When I see profoundly bad writing tips that make me crazy, I get this feeling deep down that won’t go away unless I post something about it. This could be a joke, but you never know these days. I hate to see new writers get bad advice from those who think they know it all. At least the bad writing tips have to be profound to make me crazy, not just small things. And, this is why I rarely offer writing advice, not even in jest. With over 100 published works on Goodreads.com, I have yet to find a clear definition of what’s considered great writing because that’s just too subjective.

In this case, I saw this gem below on this publishing blog and I couldn’t help thinking about all the writers that might get confused by this kind of advice. You have to remember that what works for one writer won’t work for another. It is all subjective and whenever you see someone offer writing tips like this, take it about as seriously as you take the alleged facts in Presidential debates.

Let’s start with #1:

I’m thrilled this author always has a plan. But that’s not how it works for all writers and this should not be taken seriously. I rarely have a set plan…even when the publisher asks for an outline I tend to deviate because my characters decide how the books end, not me. I sit down and start writing.

#2:

I rarely decide the endings of my books. My characters do that. My characters guide me. So while I know that when I’m writing a romance it will end happily, I’m not exactly certain where…or how…the book will end. And I like that. I like being kept in suspense while I’m writing the book. And if I’m not, I start to wonder if readers will be. So take this one with a HUGE proverbial grain of salt.

#3:

I’m just going to refer this one to other books I’ve read recently. I see the words was, got, and put, in books that have been written by Pulitzer prize winning authors all the time and there’s nothing wrong with using them. Like all words, they shouldn’t be overused. But if you do use them no one is going to fault you for it. In fact, most readers use those words themselves and won’t even notice. But more important, during copyedits words like this are almost always removed anyway if they are overused.

#4:

This blows me away whenever I see it. Truly proven authors like John Irving use adverbs all the time and there’s nothing wrong with them unless they are, once again, overused. But then nothing should be overused. There’s this bigotry against ALL adverbs these days that passes me by and I don’t think readers care all that much about it.

#5:

I don’t even get this one. So I’m not going to comment. But I’m certainly not going to pay attention to it either.

I would like to say this author and blogger were joking around, but I’m not certain. I think it could be a joke because the blogger used the word “got” in the post. If it is in jest, I think it’s hysterical. But for those who might take something like this seriously, always remember that advice like this is subjective and it should NOT be taken too seriously. This is the kind of advice that can screw up an author for years until the author finally reaches that seasoned point where he or she sees how subjective writing is. As far as I know, no one has ever written a set standard for what’s considered good writing. If they do, I’ll be the first to read it.