The movie discussion got me thinking about what I read and why I like it.
I've read some books that while I acknowledge their greatness once I put them down, I think "There, that's done another one scratched off the list," yet realize I am unlikely to ever read them again. These are well written books with good stories yet I have no desire to touch them ever again. The reading was more of a chore than an enjoyment.
Yet there are a slew of other books I know aren't written as well or whose stories have obvious flaws of either character or believability etc... that I will probably pick up again and again over the course of my life to re-read.
So, what are your "Good books that you don't like" and "Bad books that you love"? Can you rationalize any reasons why that's so in each case?
In my case, I read Ender's Game and Leguin's Earthsea books once, and I acknowledge that they are good stories well told, but have no desire to touch them again. (I know I am likely to be lynched seeing as I am on OSC's website, but that's my honest opinion).
Whereas I re-read Mercedes Lackey'S Urban fantasy books every half decade or so and recommend C.J.Cheryyh's Gates of Ivrel and sequels to anyone. I just rebought James White's Sector General novels several years after trashing them, because I felt that compulsion to reread, even though they seem slightly dated, sexist, and seem like an episode of Star Trek mixed with ER.
Is it just a matter of what makes a good story is a matter of opinion? Can I learn anything to add to my writing by analyzing this? I'd like to write books that fall into the 'want to re-read' category, but I'd also like to put out a product that's well executed.
In the second part of the question, what makes a novel re-readable, my opinion is that the story profoundly, emotionally moves the reader. I've read and reread a few, a rare few more times than some fanatics have seen the Star Wars movies. Lately, I've been rereading to dissect for what it is about the methods and madnesses there is in those stories that acheived the emotional power of the story--the plot. My conclusions are propelling me toward reaching the summit of my climb up the storywriting mountain.
A linear train of thought for the protagonist and the protagonist's predicament presented first, no digressive, nonlinear, stream of consciousness type of narrative. It's a one-track story that is easiest to read and most emotionally powerful.
I still wanted a critical tool for analyzing what makes the train linear. In any practicing writer's stories, there's always causation, escalating antagonism, proportionate tension, chronological timeline, and of course consistent point of view character and narrative posture and psychic access. However, all of that is purely structural mechanics. Most any semi-advanced emerging writer can get there. Something else was lacking in my writing and my search for a critical tool. The Ah hah! moment came from another path of study. What moves me is the emotional potency of the story. Underneath all the mechanical structure is an emotional structure.
The discussion in my reading circle has recently focused on emotional structure, when, where, why, and how did the reader respond emotionally to a story under the microscope. A story we've been examining has all the mechanical features of plot in good order and strength, but none of us reader-writers were fully satisfied with the story and couldn't put our fingers on what wasn't working. Four scenes, well correlated scenes and smooth transitions and dynamic plotting, but something was off. The emotional investment of the reader was changing tracks with each scene. The first scene developed some of the protagonist's motivations, conflicts, desires, and each subsequent scene did too. But just as I realized the emotional anchor of the scene, the scene changed and the emotional anchor changed. I had to reinvest emotionally in a new track. By the time the core of the story's emotional structure was related, I was uncertain if that one was the focus of the story.
So the critical tool I've uncovered is to evaluate whether the emotional structure correlates and coordinates with the mechanical structure. It's working for my critical reading experience. The story I'm currently writing will be the aqua regia acid test.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited September 29, 2008).]
I've been strongly influenced by some literature I know to be bad---factually wrong, poorly written and conceived, stilted dialog---you name the problem, it had it. But a lot of that bad writing moved me deeply, bad or not, and I try to look for any part of it that was good.
(This refers to work I knew was bad when I read it---as opposed to stuff I liked and thought was fine, but didn't age well.)
quote:Is it just a matter of what makes a good story is a matter of opinion?
Yep, I think thats pretty much it. I don't believe in the concept of obectively "bad" writing (or anything else creative.) Some of course feel that means there also couldnt be "good" writing...but the thing is, I feel all creative efforts that people put time and thought into are good. Good for that, and good because somebody usually more than one somebody, is going to enjoy them.
Now yes, some technical aspects are somewhat objective...but a story is more than the sum of its parts. A story can have huge technical flaws but still be loved by people, can still move and effect people as much as a technically near-perfect piece.
I dearly love Earthsea, especially the first one. But the fact that I love it and for you it wasn't that great doesnt make it "bad" or "good", nor does it mean my taste is somehow superior to yours. It means it was a work of creativity that served its various purposes for some, and less so for others.
I should have mentioned somebody by name. I've been highly influenced by the lurid and poorly written work of Emile C. Schurmacher. You guys probably haven't heard of him but I've let myself be influenced by several of his books and articles.
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John Norman's early 'Gor' books(before he changed publishers and obsessed on the slavery/bondage aspects of his world) made me want to write. I don't know if I could actually read one now. Posts: 340 | Registered: Jan 2008
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Sure, it was well written, the storyline compelling enough to keep me reading, but I HATED that it didn't contain a SINGLE LIKEABLE CHARACTER! I kept reading, HOPING (beyond hope, apparently) that someone would rise above the primordial ooze of detestable people. It never happened.
And, by the way, you can't judge the book by the musical. Ne'er the twain shall meet. The book is VERY adult in tone and content, the musical makes Elphaba sympathetic.
Bad books? Your mean books that have better stories than prose? Books that cheat?
I like Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, Piers Anthony, Michael Crichton, Robert Jordan, Stephen King, John D. MacDonald, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Jeff Shaara, Michael Shaara, Brian Lumley, John Saul, Dean Koontz, Ken Eulo, Michael Stackpole, Dan Brown, Tad Williams, David Gemmell, Mario Puzo, Frank Herbert, Robert McCammon, Peter Straub, Michael Moorcock, R. A. Salvatore, Brian Jacques, John Sanford, Lawrence Block, Steve Perry, Gary Brandner, S. P. Somtow, Robert Harris, Kevin J. Anderson and Leslie Charteris. Flawed all, but their stories are worth delving into.
Faulkner, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and (this is really going to burn a few buns) Asimov all have waxed long-winded and pompous on occassion. A sentence with over 250 words in it (I don't give a damn how the author's name is spelled) is well past a rambling run-on.
The only author to make me throw his work and swear never to pick it up again was John Farris with The Axman Cometh. Although, The Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson came very close--and I'm still not sure what the hell the book was about--I perservered. And they were by no means good books.
Iain Banks -- I think he's one of the best writers in all of SF. BUT. The man cannot seem to tell a story. I buy all his sf novels because in them are some of the best bits of real sf I have ever read. It's worth the price of the book for those moments. However, I have to force myself to read the whole book. Karl Schroeder is another. I should absolutely love his sf, but there's something missing -- probably on the emotional level. Still, I buy his books for the ideas and insight into how to write about truly far-off sf cultures.
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There's nothing wrong with enjoying Twilight, or anything crappy. If you enjoy something more power to you. I enjoyed watching Nash Bridges when it was on even if the stories were kinda stupid, often gimmicky, and ultimately predictable.
There is something about story telling that fascinates me, often (I've found) real quality (like fine literature and the classics) bores today's wide audience and won't sell. Whilst something formulaic and maybe even badly written can be widely loved. What I'd like to know is what is the hot spot on this continuum and if it's necessary to "dumb it down" some for more people to appreciate it.
Now, I'm not saying this is necessary, but pretending you had to write something stupid in order to publish. Or stray from the "Truth" of your work some. Would you do it? If it was the difference between published or not. Or te difference between millions of dollars and a couple thousand?
Well I don't think people try to write bad books. I think that if someone went out of their way to dumb a book down to make it a bestseller they would fail. Sure there are some people who write lazily because they can get away with it (Cough Cussler) and there are some who get a bunch of other writers to write their 'storylines' (Like Patterson and The Nancy Boys.)
I hate Fitzgerald, someone has to hold me down to get me to read some of his work.
My guilty pleasure though is Hemingway, I go to him when I want to go slumming. The man just knew how to write a sentence.
But good books will win out, (and by good books I mean the ones we love, not the ones that sit in the ivory library) someday Faulkner will be forgotten and Rowling will be Shakespeare. And then we shall dance.
The issue I am dealing with lately is I am finding what I like to write is not what I like to read.
I've got a Terry Pratchett style story in my WIP. I didn't know it was Terry Pratchett-like until I checked out one of his books at the library. I'd never read him before, or if I did it was long, long ago in the mists of ancient history. I took it back. It didn't interest me. I don't know if that's good or not.
I've always gotten a kick out of Cussler's books even the one's he has 'collaborated' on. Same thing happened with the endless books coming out of the Tom Clancy machine of 'collaborators' milking the Clancy brand.
Other good books I don't like. I don't like the thickness of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. It's still sitting there with the bookmark a third of the way through.
It kinda makes sense that you wouldn't like the kind of stuff you write. I find myself picking it apart, if they do something good it makes you compare it to your work, if they do something bad you really notice it. Anyways it turns into work, which is fine sometimes, but when you want to reading for recreation it's usually best to stray from your own stable.
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I love to read writers that make me want to write. Some would not be considered 'Good' writers per se, but they inspire me with their style, stories, or even just their voice. Koontz comes to mind as a writer I read even if I know he's not an exemplar of good writing. I recently rediscovered Elmore Leonard, and read every book of his I could find. Pyre D:If you like the stark style of a Hemingway, leonard is a good stand in, especially his early western stories.
My guilty pleasure has always been Stephen King, and while I agree his later stuff is not as good as his earlier works, the writing is not bad in the Cussler/Dan Brown way.
My guilty pleasures include Cussler, Fleming and Charteris. Plenty of cliff hangers, good guys beating bad guys and driving classic cars and winning beautiful women, not to mention some lessons on writing books of mass appeal.
"Good" stuff I love to hate includes Shakespeare and Dickens, both of which I was force-fed as a child. The language is tediously long-winded, circuitous, taking forever to get to the point, and when you say, "I don't get it," they say, "Well son, you don't understand the story because you didn't pay attention to your history lessons." Too right! Who cares about who married who to avoid war with who cares, when the physics lab has mysterious machines to mess with and the chemy lab didn't get blown up yet this week.