22 August 2014

Confessions of an Avid Reader - And Other Such Nonsense

I stumbled across a picture on Facebook today and it reminded me of something that I've been coming to terms with over the last little bit - some of my favorite books, the really good ones that have me hooked and will never ever let me go are really, really poorly written. And none of us avid fans care.

Shakespeare doesn't seem to have a lucid grasp of the English language half the time. (This probably has to do with the era in which he lived, but that's another blog post for another time.) Most turn of the century works are very dry and matter'o'fact, among these Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Princess of Mars, and Dracula. Go back and read the beloved and lauded Harry Potter novels, yes, go back to the first one, and you will see that even the esteemed J.K. was extremely immature in her writing of HP and the Philosopher's Stone. I could even argue that that well renown worker of magic, who taught many of us classic fans what a novel is, is guilty of some things that many editors nowadays would be aghast to find! She uses *gasp* semicolons abundantly and frequently places conjunctions at the beginning of sentences - both things an editor friend of mine insists are major no-nos in writing. But somehow they all get away with it!

Now, I am being facetious, of course, but you get the idea! If you go through any great work of literature you are sure to find many technical problems, misspellings, grammatical errors, plot bunnies, and what may be considered generally as poor storytelling. Some write their narrators with no voice. Some have no real taste for aesthetic appeal, specifically when describing things (if any of my fellows have read The Neverending Story, you may know what I mean). Others oversimplify, even for children's books. And yet, without fail, we love them. We read these books over and over and over, devouring them like a favorite meal - or a favorite dessert. We consume, share, read aloud, and get new copies of these books the instant they come out. We even get multiple copies if we really like the cover or size of one, and then we turn around and get the eCopy for light travel reading!

Case in point - Stephanie Meyer.

So, confession time. I love The Host. I'm nearly done with it and it won't let me put it down. It is like the experience of reading Twilight (yes, I read the whole thing) but ten fold. If I didn't know better, I would say that the book is possessed and calls to me with a the voice of a siren whenever I have a spare minute. What's worse, once I have the book in hand, it's as though the binding grows hands, reaches out and holds my nose to the page. It becomes increasingly difficult to put the book down. I've had this experience before, with other books, of course, but it seems very prevalent with Stephanie Meyer because... it's just... so... bad! 

I had a friend discuss this with me once. She summed it up with:
"It's like book crack! You open the pages and you're hooked on some new kind of drug. Because the writing really isn't very good." And I'd have to agree! 

From her frequent mid-sentence interruptions to her inane ability to force her reader to loose track of who is talking due to her under-use of nouns and inability to use quotation marks to carry over into another paragraph when speaking in short sentences (can I just say this is really annoying) to her blatant overuse of the word "chagrin" Stephanie seems to break most literary rules. Things that would normally really irritate readers are somehow over-tolerated. I've even seen multiple typos which makes me wonder about her editor. o.O Still, I cannot put the book down.

Now, I must take a moment to defend her. Stephanie's writing has vastly improved. You can tell just by the first few lines that she's really grown as a writer by the time she started The Host. Her writing is more mature, and it's not just that she's writing for adults rather than for teens. She reached her million words by the time she finished the infamous Twilight Saga.

I've heard over and over the Rule of 10,000 - 10,000 hours spent actively, consistently working on a skill usually equivocates in an expertise regardless of education level. This is also true for writing... but it's less like ten thousand and more like one million. It has been said that a writer must write one million words before they write their first original word. This seems pretty obvious in most premature writers. Take Christopher Paolini, his first truly great piece was his final book, which seemed the most original and most clearly defined. It just seems deeper than the others, and maybe that's because it is. The number one complaint I heard from most of my friends while reading his absolutely fantastic series was that they wished that his parents had given him more time and let him mature as an author. I would contest that this has something to do with the one million word rule. And this seems no different for Stephanie Meyer.

By the time Stephanie finished the Twilight novels, you could already tell that she had vastly improved as an author. I have said many times and will say again, if she had just started with the final book in the series and went from there, the literary world would be the better for it! Seriously, hold your vomit and take a little of your time to actually go and read ALL the books in the Twilight Saga. Gag your way through the twisted relationships, and the sparkly vampires and read the books as though you were watching the writer struggle, rather than hearing Bella be a useless bag of... well, you know. The journey of the character Bella is on par with Stephanie's journey as a writer, going from being a holier-than-though why-do-I-even-bother kind of a person, to an emotionally devastated why-do-I-even-write-this-crap sort of person, to someone that can not only stand on her own two feet and say "I have something to write for!", but also into someone who has near-godlike super powers that has us all under her spell.

And by Breaking Dawn, Stephanie has taken her characters on a journey of actual improvement. She dragged her characters through an emotional roller coaster on par with Six Flags and then bothered to end the thing without even inciting violence. I could go on, but this is an argument for another time.

All of this brings me back to The Host, all the wonderful, addicting, book-crackiness of it. The narratorial style is annoying, you want to punch the pacifist main character, and yet by the end you find yourself wondering why you had ever thought such horrible things and, dare I say, you even love them.

But along the way she annoys every perfectionist bone in my little writing body almost to the point of making me want to go through the entire book with a red pen, marking all the confusing, annoying, chagrin-having spots and sending her back the copy with an angry note saying, "Why do you have to get me addicted to this sort of BS?!"

But I don't. Instead I devour the entire thing in record time (for me anyway) all the while giggling and snorting my book-crack down to the very last author's note.

So, what is it? What draws us back to these super-addictive, badly written books? Is it the characters? The plot? The world building? The bad-writing itself? Or is it some bizarre mash of all of them? I would say it's probably the latter.

Orson Scott Card once said that children tolerate one form of bad writing, while adults tolerate a completely different kind of bad writing the trick is finding the bridge between the two, the comfy place in the middle where both adults and children will want to read the book. I would say the Stephanie has probably found that middle ground, specifically with The Host. For us, as adults reading this novel, the words being said may be flawed - and looking back on it now, I can see how she may have done this on purpose given the difference in storytelling between the two main characters - but still, the story is worth telling. It's worth reading, and, quite possibly, that's why we tolerate all the mistakes in all those classic novels. Because the story itself is bigger than the words that contain it, because the story itself is more important than those mistakes.

As a note, yes... me and my Mormon writers. *sigh, ugh, the whole shebang*.