When is it Okay to be Bad?

For those of us who have snobbish tendencies, never.  But it seems more and more common that people who don’t write well are making a whole lot of money off of writing badly.  Yes, I’m looking at you, 50 Shades of Dreadful.

A work of fiction is comprised of five basic elements: premise, character, plot, pacing, and the writing.  (By writing I mean sentence structure, imagery, word choice, etc.)  My thesis is that our patience for opulent writing (see Charles Dickens) is declining.  Instead, we (the collective we) are looking for an intriguing hook (the premise), fast-paced writing, and strong plots.  Consider some of the top sellers:

  • The DaVinci Code
  • 50 Shades
  • Harry Potter

Dan Brown’s writing wasn’t going to win the Nobel Prize for literature.  But the premise was fascinating and the pacing was breakneck.

50 Shades…  the dissection of how bad the writing is has happened elsewhere, as has extensive discussion about what it means that a book about dominant/submissive sex turned into the runaway bestseller that it is/was.  I admit that I picked it up in my local target, arrived on a page of writing that was in the form of an e-mail.  According to a friend, the characterization was poor.  She’s a chronic entrepreneur herself and the idea that a 28 year old would make it to the billions was simply too unrealistic to swallow.  She also said that the sex wasn’t nearly hot enough to make it worth the read.  Another friend says she just has to know what happens next.  So I’m going to go with the pace/plot explanation with an extra dose of sex for extra sales.

And finally, the best of the group…  As much as I love Harry Potter, JK Rowling’s stunning achievement with the story was not in the writing.  It was in the plotting and the characters.  No plot point went wasted in Harry Potter.  Ever.  And that makes her worthy of study, emulation, and outright literary worship.  For use of plotting and character alone, it pains me to lump her in with Dan Brown and whoever the 50 Shades lady is.  Her crimes are not nearly as egregious.  I just find the later books impossible to read…  She takes way too long to get to a point.

So here’s my wordnerd advice: make sure your your fiction respects all five points.

  • Strong Premise
  • Believable characters
  • Plot that hangs together
  • Quick pacing
  • Writing that is interesting, with varied sentence structure, and avoids cliches.

No promises of a book deal out of it, but at least you’ll be able to bask in the superiority of getting it right.


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