I’m reading a terrible book.
I was calling it the worst book in the world, but I thought that a bit harsh. I’m sure it’s not the worst, but it’s definitely not the best.
Why am I allocating precious reading moments of my life to this not-the-best-novel, you may ask. (Boatman certainly has.)
Well, there’s three reasons why I started and one for why I’ve continued. (Two if you count a need to finish every book I start.)
One: they say you should read in the genre you hope to write for, and this loosely fits into that genre.
Two: I started re-reading the Obernewtyn chronicles last month (now that Isobelle Carmody has finally finished them), but the library doesn’t have any copies of book three in. I might end up buying it yet, but I’m waiting for it to be returned and in the meantime I thought something light and easy would bridge the gap.
Three: This is the second book in a series so I figured it had to be ok. Any book that has been published in a series has to have promise right?
So those are the three reasons I started reading this book that I won’t name because I feel kind of bad for the author. After all, they did put some work into writing it and I know it’s a pretty big commitment to have an actual manuscript finished, so good on them for that.
The reason I haven’t given up is because of another book I’ve been reading, which is very good: On Writing, by Stephen King.
This is actually the first book I’ve read by Mr King and that’s only because I’m not a huge fan of his more popular subject matter. Even after reading his own summaries of several of his titles, there’s only one that I would consider reading. Which frustrates me a little because I really like the way he thinks. (About writing. Not so much about some of the more terrifying themes in his books.) Anyway, having said all that, I have to say this: I love this book.
If you’re not in the know, On Writing is part memoir part writing advice and tips. The memoir part is interesting as memoirs generally are. The writing tips are brilliant.
There’s something very isolating about writing. You do it on your own, and then when you come back out into the land of real people, you want to tell everyone about it, but lots of people just don’t get it. And while online writing groups are great because you can give or get feedback or celebrate milestones, I’ve never really had the opportunity where I could just talk about how much fun writing is.
Reading this book was like having someone tell me it’s ok to love writing and I’m not the weirdest person in the world. Which I greatly appreciated.
There has been so much that I’ve got out of this book, that I’ve taken to breaking my rule about dog-earing pages, because I wanted to be able to come back to things easily. Some of these tips I’m taking on board about writing in general and others I’m able to apply to my current projects, which is even better.
Anyway, one of the many things that Mr King talks about is reading widely, and that at times it’s possible to learn more from a badly written book than a good one, which is the reason I haven’t given up on that not very good book. And truthfully, I have learnt a lot. Six lessons so far, in fact.
Lesson One: Over-description really is terrible. Especially when it comes to mundane items. They don’t need to be overstated.
Lesson Two: Be content with the word said: every piece of writing advice I’ve ever read has stated that writing ‘Sharon said,’ is better than ‘Sharon shouted,’ ‘Sharon purred,’ or ‘Sharon mused.’ I’ve always thought that was mostly right but context played a role; reading this book I’m going on record to say ‘Sharon said’ is always the best way to communicate the fact that Sharon spoke. Unless maybe she asked. I think asked is ok.
Lesson Three: Throw away the thesaurus. Remember that episode of Friends where Joey uses a thesaurus to write a letter for Monica and Chandler? There’s been moments like that in this book. Thesauruses offer words that are similar, but not always the same. One can walk happily, but one does not stalk happily unless they are a sociopath. (Side note — even Grammarly didn’t like me using stalk in that context.)
Lesson Four: Re-read everything. Make sure it makes sense. Such a simple point, but honestly it needs to be done. Otherwise you might end up with some very questionable sentences that change the whole meaning of a story. Including making a friendly hug appear to be the start of a lesbian encounter.
Lesson Five: Watch your stereotypes. This book is American. An Australian appears in it, as with that character, almost every colloquial Australian phrase ever coined (ok that was an exaggeration but there were lots), used in the wrong context. I’ve lived in Australia my whole life and I’ve never heard so many quintessentially Aussie words used in one exchange, as were written on one iPhone sized page of this particular novel. I wouldn’t expect to unless it was on Family Feud and the category was ‘Things Alf Stewert might say.’
Lesson Six: Every story has to ask a question at the beginning that the reader needs to have answered. If there’s no question, it’s just a random collection of thoughts and you have no idea where it’s going.
Bonus Lesson: Even not-the-best books get published. There’s hope for us all.
So safe to say, I’m going through my own few manuscripts with a much tighter comb now, trimming the adverbs at Stephen King’s request and making sure that I’m not guilty of doing all the things that have been driving mad.
So yeah. I’m reading a bad book, but I’m also reading a good book, and hoping that together, they will make me a better writer.
Have you ever read any bad books lately?
Have you checked out Stephen King? If you’re a writerly type I highly recommend it.
This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission but it doesn’t cost you any extra.