Monday, January 3, 2011

Have you ever...

...liked a book with a bad plot?

...liked a book with boring characters?

...liked a book with mediocre prose?

My answer is yes to all three questions. Kazuo Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go, although it had a great premise, didn't have an interesting plot to me. One of my favorite writers, Jhumpa Lahiri, hardly ever has a character that interests me. And, I enjoyed Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, although I didn't much care for the prose.

For me, this is a reminder that my job as a writer isn't necessarily to get everything right. Rather, my job is to create a work that has something that excites readers and engages them.

We all have our strengths, and so often I am reminded that writing something successful means showcasing those strengths rather than working to improve our weaknesses.

As we ring in the new year, what are your strengths as a writer?


  1. I'm a yes on the three initial questions.

    My greatest strength as a writer is my determination. I will find success if it does not find me first.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes. Great questions, too. I think you're 100% right. I'll admit that the Twilight characters drove me NUTS, but I couldn't put the books down. Something about them kept me reading. I hate most of O'Connor's characters, but her prose blows me away. Most Tom Clancy novel's don't have the best prose in the world - very simple, nothing special at all, but I love his characters and plots.

    One book that gets all three right, for me, is "Crime and Punishment."

  3. My answer is yes to all three questions. The book I am reading now has me captivated, but it isn't the best. I've read others by her and they are amazing, but this is her debut novel.

  4. Great post, Domey, because it's true that what makes a book good is something that transcends its elements. I think writers too often get caught up in looking at the bits and pieces that go into good writing and missing the point. Interesting writing is interesting. Compelling writing is compelling. Forget the details of why and write something that's interesting and compelling.

    As for the details of your own post (heh):

    I have liked books with many levels of bad plot.

    I have liked books with poorly developed or poorly designed characters, but not (I think) with boring characters.

    I have liked books with mediocre prose. I have liked books with terrible prose.

    My own strengths as writer are, I think, strongly voiced characters and making a connection between high falutin' ideas and individual emotional experience.

    But that's just what I think.

  5. Yes on all three questions and ditto to what Rick said regarding the greatest strength. I also, so it seems, have a good ability with dialogue.

    As for this year . . . query, synopsis, submit query, cross fingers, hold breath and . . .


  6. My strength is... that I'm a compulsive writer. And I'm sick of keeping those stories in the drawer. So you'll see them out there, starting this year! :-D
    Happy New and Creative Year of Writing!

  7. Rick, I could use a bit of determination at the moment! Lately I've felt a little too content.

    Michelle, it is lovely when a book does get all three, isn't it? :) Twilight is a great example. Although I haven't read all of the books (I only read part of one) I can see what you mean.

    Gia, whenever I find a book like that, I admire it, because obviously the writer has developed something I haven't been able to develop yet. I wonder if it makes it easier to learn from a book like that.

    Nevets: "Interesting writing is interesting. Compelling writing is compelling." Very well put! As for connecting big ideas to individual emotions, that's something I'm still working on.

    Scott, hopefully you won't have to hold your breath for too long. Good luck! Dialog is something I have to work on.

    Barb! Good for you! Yes, get them out there!

  8. @Domey - You work on that, and I'll work on actually having things happen in my plots.

  9. My strength is setting description. My prose is awesome, if I do say so myself. However, everyone who has read my work has told me that they can't connect with my characters. That is what I'm going to work on in 2011: character development.

  10. Nevets, nothing needs to happen in plots. I've already come to terms with that.

  11. Yes, Yes and Yes. Even in the same book.
    My favorite authors (science fiction) have give an overwhelming sense of a greater future and that with work and intelligence anything is possible as well as awe of what the future can bring. characters, plot, prose was secondary.
    My strengths are being able to convey a sense of a greater future and an awe of what humans can do if they set their minds to it.
    Hey, maybe that type of sf will make a comeback.

  12. Aimee, that's awesome that your prose is awesome! I love that kind of pride.

  13. I just want to caution everyone that although as readers, we might be able to point to flaws in books we otherwise love, but the writers of those books probably didn't say, "Well, if my characters are flat that's okay because my prose shines like the sun" or whatever. The writers were probably trying to write as well as they could on every level of craft of which they were aware. Which is what we all should do.

    I'm reading a book of short stories by a variety of authors right now, and they are not all equally brilliant. One of them starts off in second-person. "I hate second-person POV," I said. "This is really going to suck and I hope it's short." And then, at the end of the first paragraph, the story became utterly amazing. I don't know how that applies to this discussion, but somehow I think it does.

  14. @Domey - No joke, if the alphabet were a plot I'd be cool with A H T Z, and letting the rest be carried by implication. *sigh* :)

    @Scott - That's a great warning. Thanks for calling attention to it. No one I can think of sits around and says, "I'll do this with flat characters to save time," and I hope they never do.

  15. Nevets: One thing I have always done is keep character motivations very subtle. I don't like it when stories state "X is doing Y in order to Z" bluntly. But I do like a really tight plot that works like a well-oiled machine.

    Though I am thinking less these days in terms of plot/character/theme than I am of a single entity called the narrative. I begin to think that plot/character/theme/etc are all illusions. Don't ask me what I mean by that.

  16. I think I'm at the same place, at least on the constructive side of the equation. When I'm reading I sometimes pull apart the pieces a little more, but when I'm writing it's all just narrative in my mind.

    Sometimes when I'm revising I find myself still falling into a trap of breaking apart the elements, but I honesty find the story suffers usually suffers for it.

    I'm a writer because I want to tell a story, not because I want to situate characters within a setting that they might experience a plot and undergo development, as described by my prose.

    Which is why I think you can have good literature that fails on particular elements if the narrative is strong anyway.

  17. Project Savior, that sounds cool. For me, the fact that good books can be written gives me a sense of awe as well.

    Scott/Nevets, for me, as a writer, I may not sit down and say, I'm trying to write a flat character, but I do have elements that I care about less. Endings for me have become far less important/interesting. Although, when I good ending comes along in a book I read, I usually really enjoy it. I think a piece of writing could not be concerned with certain elements, and a writer could not be concerned with certain elements.

  18. Domey: Yeah, that's it exactly. You as the writer sit down to write a narrative that you find engaging, and you emphasize those parts you find most important and ignore the stuff you don't really care about. But it's not like you willfully say, "I'm going to have boring characters." Though perhaps that's not a bad idea. A lot of the things I do these days is to try to set difficult problems for myself in stories. I like to sort of give away big surprises at the start of the story and see if I can still keep the reader turning the pages for 78,000 more words. Mighty Reader hates that. "Why do you give away the big plot twist in the first chapter?" Because it's cool if I can get away with it! Some readers might think I don't know what I'm doing. So. Hmm.

  19. I always give things away too. For some reason it feels like I'm cheating if I hold something back. I don't do it for the challenge so much as to avoid the guilt. But, I do like the challenge!

  20. Sometimes I hold things back without meaning to.

    Sorry, Michelle. :) lol

  21. Yes I have and I try to learn from it.

    I'd have to say my greatest strength right now is imagination.

  22. Yep, just like loving a good old fashioned sci-fi B movie in all it's flawed glory, there are such stories I've loved, and remembered, and that's key because I'm sure there are a lot of 'better' written books I can't remember (or didn't even bother to finish because they lacked that 'something'...

    Far as my writing strength, I think that I can create decent characters. And if you need a description of colors, well, I'm your girl.

    So it is a great relief to know nothing has to happen in plot! I think that's the best news anyone has ever given me. Thanks, Literary Lab! :~D


  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Curse you, blogger comment doppleganger! *shaking fist at the sky*

  25. Robin, that's an awesome strength!

    Bru, That's a good point that a lot of "better" books are easily forgotten. Being able to describe colors is fantastic! I used to think I was good at describing music, but then all my descriptions of music started to sound the same.

  26. Davin, I stopped by to wish you all the best in this new year. The fresh, cool weather we've had reminds me of all the promises a new year holds.

    Yes, yes, yes! These questions are excellent. I love this: "For me, this is a reminder that my job as a writer isn't necessarily to get everything right. Rather, my job is to create a work that has something that excites readers and engages them." Truer words were never spoken.

    My strengths? Dialogue, (sometimes too much, which isn't a strength at all) and setting.


  27. Domey- just curious, are you a musical person? I wonder if it helps or hampers one's ability to describe music and am wondering if that factors in for you. I would bet though that your descriptions are more varied than you think.

    I've been obsessed with colors since I was a child but I think my best descriptions of them were actually written while I couldn't see them or much of anything else and I was forced to work from memory- from feelings about colors. Since getting them back (and more vibrantly because I don't filter UV anymore) I find I can paint them with more precision to my mental vision but finding the words to describe them is more difficult! Odd the way the brain works (or in my case, often doesn't!)



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.