Writing My Novel: If They Can Do It, So Can I

bad writing demotivational poster Bad books really piss me off.  Not just bad stories.  I can forgive a bad story. But books whose writing is simply subpar irritate me more than almost anything else I can think of.

The authors of these books really have no right having been published, but somehow their work makes it to bookstore and library shelves.  People read these books, and then these authors develop fanbases.  They even become so prolific and established within their chosen genre that  they might be hired by popular franchises to help build their worlds and enhance brand strength.

It amazes me that no one ever says to these authors “hey, dude, you kind of suck at this.”  And even if they have, people still publish and buy their books. With this in mind, I think I have a pretty good shot at being published myself.

After all, if they can do it, so can I.  I know my writing is better than theirs.

The Worst Offenders

  • World of Warcraft Stormrage by Richard A Knaak Richard A. Knaak. Once upon a time, I liked Knaak.  When I was in high school, his The Legend of Huma introduced me to the world of Krynn and the other Dragonlance franchise novels.  Then, years later, after I had the misfortune of picking up a World of Warcraft novel (The Well of Eternity) and realizing that—in the words of my best friend—Knaak was the adjective valedictorian.  I was greeted with the following introduction:

The tall, forbidding palace perched atop the very edge of the mountainous cliff, overlooking so precariously the vast, black body of water below that it appeared almost ready to plummet into the latter’s dark depths.  When first the vast, walled edifice had been constructed, using magic that melded both stone and forest into a single, cohesive form, it had been a wonder to touch the heart of any who saw it.

And that is about all that I’ve ever read from the book.  Since my tastes have changed a great deal since I first picked up the book, I thought I would give Knaak another shot since I actually enjoyed Huma in high school.  I downloaded the sample of World of Warcraft: Stormrage for my Kindle and found that his writing is just something I cannot deal with.   Throw in his purposefully archaic syntax, and Richard A. Knaak proves that making a career out of writing fiction is not out of the question for those who can’t quite grasp “show, don’t tell.”

  • Stephenie Meyer. Her tombstone will read: She never met a synonym she didn’t like. Synonyms are best used by writers who understand that the variety they provide keeps their writing fresh and readable, avoiding the choppiness and awkwardness and granting additional layers of meaning to the prose.  I think Meyer misunderstood the memo.  Behold, Exhibit A:

“Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?” How lighthearted, how human he seemed as he laughed now, his seraphic face untroubled. He was a different Edward than the one I had known. And I felt all the more besotted by him. It would cause me physical pain to be separated from him now.

breaking dawn The above passage is the actual part of the book where I rolled my eyes and stopped giving it a fair shot.  It lost me somewhere between Edward’s “kissing expertise” and how “seraphic” his face looked.  And “besotted”?  Really?  Could she not just say “drunk” or “intoxicated”?  Not to mention it causing her “physical pain” to be away from him.  Does it?  Does it, really?  Because I think she means “emotional” unless there’s something going on between Bella and Edward I wasn’t aware of as I read.  I doubt there will be the twisting and rending of flesh if the two were separated.

Despite my almost petty disdain for Twilight as a phenomenon, I have to admit that Stephenie Meyer’s stories aren’t that bad.  I know I pick on the series quite a bit, but in terms of plot alone, the Twilight series is no worse than anything else on the market.

What gets me are the themes (teaching young girls and boys that it’s okay to be abused/abusive if you’re with “the one”) and the writing style.  These days, as much as I hate to think about young girls being influenced by the novels, the fact that Meyer does not understand how to string together a readable sentence is what really gets to me.

And there are others I could list, too.  Troy Denning is an example in the Star Wars expanded universe.  His installments of The New Jedi Order were nearly unreadable.  His boring, uninspired prose in Star by Star is one of the many reasons I never finished the NJO.

If They Can Do It, So Can I

The fact still stands that these people are making a living by writing.  A good living.  Someone out there thought their writing was good enough to pay for many times over.  That means, that with a little polish and revision, I see no reason that I won’t be able to sell my manuscript (or some manuscript even if it’s not the one I am currently working on).

Don’t get me wrong: I understand and appreciate the amount of time and number of rejections I’m sure to have between now and then, but when writers like Richard A. Knaak are able to carve out their niche of the publishing world with obviously very little talent for wordcraft, I see no reason I won’t be able to do the same.

Are there any authors you can think of whose bad writing style outshines any good in their stories?

Comments

  1. prenden2

    I guess the reason that books like Twilight are published is their enormous potential revenues. The bean-counters at the various publishing firms probably put a lot of pressure on their manuscript-readers (can’t remember the correct term for this job) to produce saleable stand-alone titles and series. They’re bound to be focussed on the bottom line, especially in this climate, so anything which hints of movie deals, merchandising opportunities etc are much more likely to be green-lighted than a well-written book with little commercial appeal. (I’m still waiting on the film version of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by the way!) Not to mention the fact that the Warcraft books probably have an almost-guaranteed readership derived from the in-game lore fans.

    Your writing skills aren’t in doubt so, if your universe is interesting enough, there’s no reason why you couldn’t exceed fads like Twilight or Percy Jackson and actually produce an enduring classic!

    P.S. That excerpt from The Well of Eternity has pretty much vindicated my prejudice of Knaak!

    • I get that about Meyer and Twilight. I really do. I mean, that’s why they’re churning out new movies every 6 months so that they don’t miss out on all the revenue when the fad finally dies out. In a sick kind of way, I respect that for them being able to take advantage of it and realize just what it is.

      But in Knaak’s case, he’s been hired by multiple IPs to expand their products and provide content. These are IPs with strong lore and backstory already, and they choose someone without a shred of writing ability to work in their universe. When there are /many/ more talented writers to write the stories they want, I just don’t get why Knaak still has a job.

      And like I said before, I don’t expect my story and world to be a Twilight or a Percy Jackson (it’d be great if it did, though!). I just want to be able to make a living–eventually–from it.

  2. I’d have to say Janette Oke. She used to write Christian romance novels, I guess you could call them. The stories weren’t necessarily terrible, but EVERY FEMALE CHARACTER always had something going on with her heart…her heart broke, her heart ached, her heart fluttered faster. Gah.

    OH! And since I know your disdain of Twilight, you’ll be happy to know I’m writing a spoof novella for my site next month. I’m so freaking excited… 🙂
    .-= The Naked Redhead´s last blog ..Uhhh…It’s Supposed to Look Like That =-.

    • Her heart went pitter-patter-fluppity-whump? I know just the kind of cliche writing of which you speak. And it’s bad stuff, too. I can’t say I’ve ever read Janette Oak, and if there was ever any chance of it, it’s now gone!

      Oh, keep me apprised of this spoof novel! Sounds like fun!

  3. Longasc

    Re: Knaak. Loved the story of Huma, too. He did not deliver anything of that quality after that, unfortunately.

    James Barclay wrote a quite good fantasy series, “The Chronicles of the Raven”. The next series “The Ascendants of Estorea”, with a heavy roman culture influence, apparently did not become too popular in the USA. I just checked Amazon for that – you were lucky.

    The problem is the way he structures his stories. He stretched a in general quite good story too much. 3-4x times longer than needed made the whole story unbearable for me.

    You might have an advantage as blogger/twitterer there. Ken Follett and Dan Brown (regardless what you think of the quality of their novels) got it: Short chapters. Lots of direct speech. This way you can keep people entertained even if you novel has 2000 pages. This caters to the reading habits of readers today. I did not want to say lower attention span. 😉

    Brent Weeks – Nightangel Trilogy. Yes, I and several others recommended this trilogy to you. He starts out amazingly well. In books 2 and 3 he somehow lost inspiration, motivation or was under pressure: 1. repetition. Too much talk, little new things to say. The chars were at the end of their development and he did not switch to others or focus on the story, he was talking again and again over the same moral issues. 2. excessively vulgar actions and vocabulary 3. I for sure will never forget what an amazing butts and what divine breasts Vi Sovari has. This was even worse than Nynaeve tucking her braids constantly before Sanderson took over from Jordan.

    • I agree with Follett/Brown: short chapters are the way to go. My novel is going the shorter-chapter route, with each chapter being anywhere between 2k and 4k words long. I know that when I read, I may not be able to do it in long stretches, so when I want to stop, I like to do it at a stopping point. That’s my one big gripe with Mira Grant’s Feed: the chapters just keep going with no interim breaks.

  4. Knaak is Kaka

    I swear that is some bad writing (just kinda like my writing actually…I prefer someone who knows what they are doing…lol)

    Mel Odom is another who I despise. I really think it has to do with books based on IP’s though. Wish they could be more like Dan Abnett or C.L. Werner and the Warhammer IP novels…(very well done).

    Cheers
    .-= openedge1´s last blog ..Gaming the Xfire – Latest Update =-.

    • The only way your writing can get better is to practice! I look back at some fiction I wrote years ago (even blogs I wrote as I started) and can’t imagine I ever thought it was publishable in any shape or form.

      I’ve never read the Warhammer IP novels, but I have a friend who absolutely adores them. He tells me the stories, and I’m pretty intrigued. I will admit that one of the main reasons I haven’t read any of them is because of my bad luck with Star Wars and WoW franchise novels lately.

  5. John A.

    “Are there any authors you can think of whose bad writing style outshines any good in their stories?”

    Oh heavens yes. Freaking Franz Kafka. I have no clue how this man’s stories became classics. Much of his work seems to just drone on endlessly from one depressing scene to another without anything that could tie you into the story. The sad thing is, the basis of his stories are so interesting, so outlandish, that I would love to know what happens, but getting past Kafka’s writing just isn’t worth it.

    I understand culture differences and translation plays a big part, but I just don’t like his style.

    • I can buy that. I actually had this discussion–regarding Kafka–with my director at work a few weeks back. I think The Metamorphosis is great; she doesn’t. She agrees with you: the story is neat and fun and interesting, but the writing was “bleh.” I actually found that to be the case with the translation of The Iliad in the textbook I was given for my lit class; it was boring! Completely unlike other translations I had read before. And even nothing like The Odyssey in the same text. Maybe it is the translator’s fault after all.

  6. John A.

    “Brent Weeks – Nightangel Trilogy. Yes, I and several others recommended this trilogy to you.”

    Yes! Dear lord yes! Damn it Beej, you so need to read these! They are easily the best books I’ve read in years.

    • I have the trilogy ebook on my Amazon wishlist! I’m going to get to them! I just had to get some Sci-Fi in between all the fantasy I’ve been reading. 😉

      • I want to second (or third) their recommendation. I loved this trilogy. It instantly became one of my favorite sets of novels that I own.

        Once you get around to reading them I’m really interested to hear what you think.
        .-= Void´s last blog ..Current Games: Overwhelmed Edition =-.

        • I’m sure I’ll write a review of them once I start through them. 🙂 I’m sure they’re good; I just need to find more time to read. That should probably come from the time I’ve been spending in MMOs lately…

  7. Most of the books I read start to suck when they make popular series. The more books tge author makes, the more it becomes crap. A perfect example for me is, The Wheel of Time series. By book 5 Robert Jordan (R.I.P.) started to get overly long winded and boring. His characters got so removed from the original story, I didn’t know what the plot was about anymore. He had a great story, but I think he over did it with fame.

    • That happens quite a lot, actually; I agree. Though, I could never get into the first Wheel of Time. It tried to hard to be Tolkien if you ask me.

      There are two series I can think of that break this rule: The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and Harry Potter. In both series, the later books are significantly better than the first ones. The authors seem to have gained more insight into their worlds than theys tarted with.

      I’ve read my fair share of series and watched TV shows that did what you say, too. Unfortunately, I think becoming crap is far more prevalent than becoming better.