This weekend’s Book Blogger Hop question asked us what makes us keep reading a book or stop us from reading it. One of the reasons bloggers, including me, often mentioned was poor writing.
In comments to my answer Lisa of Lisa Loves Literature asked me this question: “What do you feel makes a poorly written book?”
Now, Lisa mentions Twilight as one of the books people often consider poorly written. Like her, I must disagree with that. Just like her, I get sucked into the Twilight books every time I read them and find myself unable to put them down.
Therefore, I started thinking about how to answer Lisa’s question. Since it would make much too long a comment, I decided to dedicate it a post.
Now, bear in mind, even though I graduated in English, I do not consider myself being of any authority in the field, so this is just my personal opinion as an avid reader of what makes a poorly written book.
1) Grammatical and spelling errors
This is self-explanatory. It is understandable if there is a typo or two. We are all humans and mishaps happen. However, when grammatical and spelling mistakes recur so often that they interfere with the reading process they cannot be overlooked.
2) Confusing use of vocabulary and awkward sentences
It really makes it difficult to read when there are obviously misused words and the sentences are formed in such a way that you must read them twice to get the meaning. This has especially to do with the use of pronouns. It is very disturbing when you have to flip back and forth to figure who or what was meant by a particular pronoun.
For example: “He liked her sister but she didn’t know about it.” All right, I made up this sentence, but I read plenty of similar material, which takes you a page to figure which one was clueless – “she” or “her sister.”
3) Incoherent transitions between P. O. V.-s and topics.
I love different P. O. V. -s and multiple topics/themes in a book if they are well organised and the transitions are natural. Jumping between P. O. V.-s and topics can be irritating.
For example: In the middle of a heated discussion between the policemen on the crime scene, there is a paragraph on the lead detective’s breakfast, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion. Even if it is somehow important for the characterisation, there must be some better place to fit it in.
Considering all of the above, I would say that a poorly written book is a book where writing gets in the way of enjoying reading. I enjoy reading when I can read a book smoothly. Do not confuse it with the difficulty or quality of writing. I think both “easy” and “difficult" books can be equally enjoyed if the writing is good.
Let me give some examples. While many readers would agree Sookie Stackhouse series is an easy read with one main story arch, it is not easy when you have to flip back a page or two to figure out who said what or where something happened (see number two above – pronouns). Though I love the series, the writing is a little off at times (but this is a very mild case of writing problems).
Conversly, Random Magic by Sasha Soren (see my review) is an instance of a well-written book. It is a book with numerous topics, elaborate sentencing, countless references (they require quite some worldliness to appreciate them all), and beautiful language; and is a really enjoyable, smooth read you do not feel like putting down.
In the end, I will return to The Twilight Saga (see my review). Examining its writing, I cannot find anything of what I mentioned to make poor writing in it. Its grammar and spelling are good, the wording is not only appropriate but also rich, the text is coherent and transitions graceful; all of which make reading unforced and engaging.
To conclude, I think good writing is such which enables the reader to enter the world it describes. If you imagine a book as a garden, the writing is the entrance door. If writing is good, you pass the door effortlessly, perhaps marvelling its intricate design, but then you take a stroll in the garden and enjoy it. In case of bad writing, the door to the garden is a plain iron framework; it is closed and you must strain to peek at the garden through the bars.