Wednesday, May 25, 2005

When bad books are good

I'm reading a bad book* and loving it.

Oh, it's not a boring book. I don't have any patience with boring books. Capture my imagination in the first couple of pages or I'm outta here. Unless it's a really bad book.

Every once in a while I stumble across a romance novel that is so poorly written, so breathtakingly awful that I drop everything to pore over every page. But if you're thinking my enjoyment involves gloating because I'm a better author than this poor slob, you're wrong.

I believe bad books can be quite instructive to new writers (and I consider myself one of those because I have completed only five manuscripts and made two sales since I started writing 4-1/2 years ago). When a book is not merely lackluster but excruciatingly awful, you can get a very clear idea of elements that don't work and why they don't work. If you're like me, good books are inspiring but not always educational because rather than analyzing the author's craft, you're sucked into a fascinating story or dazzled by her cleverly worded phrases. But in a bad book, every fault stands out and the lessons are clear: Don't do it this way.

In the book I'm reading now, the author is so in love with her lame one-liners that she keeps repeating them. You know when she thinks she's written something cute because she'll repeat the same line five or six times before the chapter is over. And most of the jokes are pretty much groaners to begin with. This writer may be a USA Today bestselling author, but this particular book is just awful, and I'm learning a lot. For one thing, I've just made a mental note never to repeat a "cute phrase" the way she does.

If your writing has hit a snag, maybe you need to take a breather and find yourself a really good bad book to read.

*No, I'm not going to tell you what book it is because we all have differing opinions on what constitutes a really bad book. Just use your imagination.


J. Mark Bertrand said...

I'm with you here. There's a lot to be said for the didactic value of a bad example. And a little schadenfreude never hurts, either.

lindaruth said...

I read a book this spring that was a pretty good read, except the farther along I got in it, the worse it got. And when I finished it, I realized I could find no connection between the title and what happened in the story! Note to self: writing should improve as the story goes along.

Brenda Coulter said...

My dear Professor Bertrand! Surely you meant to post that comment anonymously.

I danced all around the schadenfreude issue, not eager to reveal to the world how shallow I can be, and then you come along and heartily endorse that unchristian attitude. I am shocked. I am appalled.

I am laughing my socks off.

Thank you, Lord, that I am not a Horrible Person like Mark.

Chris said...

Little known fact: Eberhard Schaden-Freude (1804-1873) was a Christian mystic in Lichtenstein who sought to find joy in all things, even the misfortune of others. It is from his spiritual discipline that the term derives.

--Chris (dFm)

Brenda Coulter said...

Okay, I don't speak German, unless we're counting those snippets I sing from Wagnerian operas (yeah, the Ring Cycle - I've got it bad) when I'm home alone, but I've always assumed that schadenfreude actually meant something in German. So I just Googled your guy Schaden-Freude and although there were plenty of results for that name, the first two pages were in German, so I gave up. I then went to Merriam-Webster Online to see where the word had come from:

German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy
: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.

So. Are we all confused now?

Anonymous said...

you sayed it,

Susan Kaye said...

It makes me sad that the very worst book/author I know of writes "Christian" fiction. And it bothers me even more that I keep a couple of their books around for a little anti-instruction when I need it.