Friday, June 19, 2015

There's always a reason people read "bad" books

I hear a lot of new authors making scathing commentary on poorly-edited books that have made best-selling lists.

Oddly, while many multi-published authors wince at the names of those books, and might mutter about them to certain groups, or even make jokes about them, few spend a lot of time regaling us with the many flaws of these books. Maybe it's because they're being professional. Maybe it's because they know we've all heard it before.

Or maybe it's because they know that for a book to be wildly successful, it has to have virtues. And whatever those virtues are, they sell well.

There are published books I highly dislike. Books I can't even finish reading.

But I've read a lot of fanfiction in my time, and that's... uh... let's just say quality varies far more than what's on the commercial market. Some was of exception quality and would have made epic storytelling by any judgement. Some was written by talented teens, with lots of promise, and a polish away from professional. Others, well, fanfiction is a great way to get practice writing, and to learn the basics.

I mention fanfiction because of what it taught me: At the end of the day, you don't know what will be popular, but everything that becomes popular, becomes so for a reason. Sometimes the grammar is terrible, but the story's so good I kept reading anyway. Other times, the characters were stereotypical to the point of accidental hilarity, yet the plot was intriguing enough I still wanted to know what would happen.

If you learn the reason is someone keeps reading despite an obvious flaw, you can improve your own writing immensely. So pick up books with obvious flaws and read them. You don't have to like them; you just need to learn what others see in them.

Even a bad photo can have eye-catching features.

The reason people read isn't because they like badness. That's called heckling, not reading. No, people read because something in the story appeals to them. Maybe it's the compelling storyline. Maybe the author has an ability to create emotional connections to characters so compelling it's hard to put the book down, or a love story that intrigues and enraptures to the point that storytelling flaws become unimportant.

Or maybe it's the feeling of power the book gives them. Maybe it's the feeling of vicarious adventure. Maybe it's because the book frees them to acknowledge a side of themselves that everyone tells them to ignore.

Figure out what it is that a "bad" book (otherwise known as a book you dislike) does right, and you'll find a way to make your own writing better.

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