*via Women Running from Houses (a blog that "judges a book by its cover")
In my search for my next good book, I've been reading loads of samples on my Kindle and checking reviews of books on Amazon and GoodReads, trying to decide what to read next. Without naming any names, I have found books which seem to break all the rules - backstory or prologues at the beginning, duplication, repetition and over-description, cardboard characters or cliched plot moments. And yet many of these books have an average of 3.5 or 4 star ratings. Essentially for every 1 reader who complains of faults, there are 10 others who loved the book.
I recently finished reading a book that I have not mentioned here or elsewhere - so let us say it will go utterly nameless. It is a recent bestseller that is too long and repetitive. It shamelessly rips off concepts from other popular novels - not just derivative, it feels uncreative. It offers up bad physical description (a horror I'm learning about in my own writing). i.e. She splayed her hand out on his neck possessively. Heavens help us. Maybe I just dislike the word "splay". I have never splayed a thing in my life.
And to top it off the main characters feel flat. One is a little too perfect: The leading man is strong, handsome, protective, intelligent, sensitive, and... of course, rich. But the leading lady is neurotic, insecure and weak-minded - although still stunningly beautiful and brilliant. One of her most frequent scenes is lying limp in his arms as he caters to her every need. It is such a lovely fantasy, isn't it? No wonder women like it. As I read, I found myself wondering if he q-tipped her ears for her or cut her steak for her or folded her socks. And when these two characters jump too quickly into sappy forever hardcore love and the reader is supposed to latch onto their incredible chemistry which never quite feels justified.
And yet... it is a best seller and lots of folks love it. Why? It had take-you-away settings ranging from exotic to cup-of-tea comforting. And of course, there was romance. I'm calling it "blankie romance", a term I'm coining here for the kind of romance that is like a child's blankie - the totem of comfort, a romance that is so inevitable, so flawless, so epic - the ultimate fantasy that is a salve to our modern quandaries. And most of all it had a Big Idea, generating suspense and adventure, even if the execution could be better.
Now I say all this, not because I'm whiny and bitter that these types of books get published - maybe I'm still too naive or optimistic to feel that way. But primarily I want to recognize that many people read to be swept away, taken on a grand adventure, to meet new interesting people in new interesting places, in situations that rarely bear resemblance to reality and if you can manage that convincingly your average reader may overlook a variety of literary sins.
I'm hardly advocating for writerly slack. I'm just saying that you can spend all your time trying to follow the rules and write perfect prose, but if you're not taking a reader on the journey they long to go on it doesn't really matter - whether it is a wild improbable journey or an intimate human journey.
I'd like my writing to be perfect from every angle. Who wouldn't? But it's a reminder to not get wrapped up in rule-following and perfection and forget the main objective: the pleasure of a reader turning pages.