Thursday, October 30, 2014
First things first: you folks don’t have to yell at me. No, I did not get a manuscript out on the market or a story uploaded to Amazon. But I am making serious progress. I’ve been averaging two to 2-1/2 pages per day on the Talbot’s Peak novel. That may not sound like much, but for me it’s a lot. More than the occasional page or half a page I generally write. As for the porn, about half of that’s typed onto the laptop. I should have the typing finished by the weekend. Then I can start formatting and look for a cover artist. I’m still waffling on what pen name I’m going to put on it. I may just go for a single name, like Cher or Madonna or Nebuchadnezzar. That way there’s no chance of me duplicating an existing person’s name and landing in legal hot water. All across America the dozen Anita Dicks just heaved sighs of relief.
Best of all, once these two are on their way, I know which one I want to work on next. I’m building momentum! It helps that the weather’s getting colder. I’m less inclined to go ramming around and more inclined to stay in the house and work.
Got the leaves raked, too. I’ve been busy this past week.
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One more quickie before we get to the main topic. I’m reading Stephen King’s new one, Mr. Mercedes, and it’s got That Racially Charged Offensive Word in it. That answers my question about political correctness and censorship. It doesn’t answer the other question: if a newbie author writes a book and uses That Word, will they be told to clean up their prose? I can’t answer that unless it happens to me or until some writer it has happened to contacts me and tells me about it. Therefore, my conclusion is: it’s okay to use offensive language, provided a) you’re writing mainstream fiction, b) your book comes out from a big publisher with a lot of lawyers, and c) you’re already a megaselling author with a huge international following. Granted, I can’t recall ever seeing That Word used as part of a title, so there may be limits in place no matter what your standing.
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And now, at long last, the main event.
The other day a friend sent me an odd book recommendation. It wasn’t the best book she’d ever read. The characters acted in ways that left her going, “WTF?” Which didn’t stop her from finishing it, or reading other books in the series. They are, in the parlance, page turners.
Yeah, I know how that is. I’ve read The Da Vinci Code. And Twilight. And The Firm. Dear Gawd, The Firm. The critic who wrote, “Grisham’s characters give new meaning to the word ‘cardboard,’” hit it right on the nose.
Didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop turning those pages, cardboard characters and all.
There’s a difference between good writing and good storytelling. It’s possible to have one without the other, as many bestsellers have proven. If forced to choose, I’d rather have good storytelling. The story is what really matters, not how well or how poorly it’s written. The story’s why we’re reading in the first place.
I don’t mind bad books, but they have to be good bad books. The ones that have that certain magic something that makes you keep turning the pages. Twilight had it. The Hunger Games had it, along with better writing than Twilight. Stephen King’s books have it by the bucketload. Stevie himself has admitted he’s not the world’s greatest writer. Sometimes he hits the bar, sometimes he misses. But damn, can he tell one hell of a story. Bet that explains why he's popular.
For the movie equivalent, I give you Star Wars. Think about it. Once you get past the rousing score and the special effects, the movie’s not that good. The plot’s older than prostitution. The characters are one-dimensional ciphers. The dialogue is clunky and clichéd. (Harrison Ford reportedly told George Lucas, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”) Lucas himself didn’t think his “little space movie” would amount to anything. When it premiered in Hollywood, he was on vacation in Hawaii.
How many times did you and your buddies see Star Wars back in 1977? In my neighborhood, it packed ‘em in tight enough to play for a solid year. So what if the plot was creaky and the dialogue sucked? Lookit that friggin’ spaceship! That movie had a ton of magic, and we kept going back again and again to bask in its glow.
Imagine doing that in a book. The words and phrases and sentences you use may not be the best you could have picked, but it doesn’t matter. Your intent, your emotions, the magic overwhelms even clumsy word choices. Do it right and the reader won't even notice you. They'll be caught up in the story, even if it’s illogical, or the characters, cardboard though they are. They may throw the book against the wall, but not until after they’ve finished it.
Congratulations. You have just succeeded as a writer.
How do you learn storytelling? Wish I knew. The best you can do is read, read, read. If a book is bad but you can’t put it down, that’s the one you study. If it’s just bad, with no redeeming qualities, well hey, pick a wall.
Remember, even truly bad books have their uses. They’re proof that even crappy prose gets bought and published. If these turds made it onto the shelves, your chances just improved. Happy storytelling!