I recently read an article called “A reader’s advice to writers: A word to the novelist on how to write better books” by Laura Miller. She gives 5 tips to authors about what the reader wants in a book. Her fourth point caught my attention the most:
“Remember that nobody agrees on what beautiful prose style is and most readers either can’t recognize ‘good writing’ or don’t value it that much.” [emphasis added]
Sigh. Don’t we know it.
One of my big beefs with, say, Twilight is that the writing just killed me. I think I was tempted to bash my head against the wall if Bella talked about Edward’s perfectly chiseled, god-like body one more time. That and dozens of writing flaws made me cringe. And yet, I kept reading…all the way to the very end of book 4.
Which brings me to Laura Miller’s 3rd point–story is the most important element of a novel for most readers. Story comes before characters, theme, atmosphere/setting, and definitely the writing style. The story is what kept me going in Twilight. I hated Bella. I disliked Edward. Her writing drove me crazy. And yet I read on. The story was good. Stephenie Meyer had something there–a great story.
As I read Laura Miller’s article, I knew that what she said is sad (to me) but true. The average reader just doesn’t care if the author overuses -ly words or doesn’t use “said” as tags 99% of the time or doesn’t follow any of the other “don’ts” in writing. A good story will find readers. Good stories sell books.
Then why do I spend so much time worrying about whether my writing is polished, “good” writing? Because it matters to me. I think I have a good story. Well, dang it, I want a great book. And a good story + good writing = a great book. Or so I hope.
This is why I have to give two different ratings in my book reviews. I tried giving just one, but found that I can enjoy a book for its story and I can enjoy a book for its writing, but not every book is enjoyable in both categories.
Do you notice the writing style? If you notice an abundance of cliches and such in the writing, does it bother you? Or do you not care all that much?