The discussion in the thread of my last post came on the heels of my discussing writing on a thread at a forum called ImpishIdea. A writer there named Lccorp2 is posting a series of articles "sporking" Bitterwood for it's crimes against literature. Normally, bad reviews elicit shrugs from me. I've been around long enough to know that what I write isn't going to be to everyone's tastes. And, I sometimes gain really valuable insights from bad reviews. Suanne Warr's comments on excessive use of minor POV characters resonated with me in her review, and led me to try new strategies in later books for building scenes where I don't want to be in the head of the character who the scene is really about. I don't eliminate all minor POV scenes, since they are still useful tools, but I now save them for when they are the best of all possible tools, not just the most convenient one. (An example in Dragonforge is the one scene that is in the POV of Sparrow as she fights her way down the corridor of assassins to open the gate to the Nest. It's her only POV scene, it's probably under a 1000 words long, but there really was no better alternative than to jump into her head at that point, and the resulting scene is one I'm happy with.)
But, something about Lccorp2's criticism of the book struck me as strange. He's breaking the book down chapter by chapter; he dislikes it from the very first page, and by chapter 3 he hasn't found a single element of the book he likes. The book has failed on every single level for him. Yet, he kept reading the book to the end. It mystified me. There have been plenty of books that I've picked up over the years that weren't to my taste. Plenty more books I've never even picked up because I could glance at the cover and know instantly that I wasn't the target audience of the book. The Left Behind series, for instance. So, I put the question out there of why he'd kept reading the book.
It turns out that this website is in the habit of analyzing "bad" books in order to learn what makes them bad, with the intention that it will lead the readers at the sight, mostly novice writers, to discover how to improve their writing. In addition to sporking Bitterwood, they apparently have also sporked Twilight and Eragon, books that they hated for reasons they documented in great detail.
I'm actually somewhat flattered to be in the company of Twilight and Eragon. If my books could fail to please readers even one tenth as spectacularly as these books failed to please readers, I could retire a wealthy man. It struck me as a rather perverse and backward approach to learning to write--to take books that earned the approval of editors, publishers, movie producers, and millions of readers... then figure out how not to write like that.
In reality, it's a very simple thing not to write in a way that you don't like.
Just don't write stuff you don't enjoy reading.
I've never read Twilight. Would probably chew off my arm if I were chained to a seat in a theatre where the movie was playing. But, I'm not a 14 year old girl. I understand my own tastes and preferences. I'm free, among the millions of books in this world, to seek out and read books that I enjoy. If I know from the cover, or the pitch, or the first chapter, that the book isn't for me, I move on. Life is too short to waste time reading stuff you hate.
And, if you do hate it, there's no point in reading it in order to try to figure out the secrets of its success. You'll never grasp it. If you are searching for some magic formula of plot or character or dialogue that a successful writer has captured and try to mimic it, you are likely to fail.
The reason that my Twilight or Eragon or even my books manage to make it into print boils down, I think, to a couple of key elements. First, we actually managed to write a book; this is a pretty big obstacle for some folks. Second, we all got lucky and our manuscripts wound up in the hands of the right people at the right time. But, third and most importantly, I think Twilight and Eragon and Harry Potter and my books were written as labors of love. When these books were first emerging into the world, no one was paying the writer to write them. They were written instead because they were a story that the writer loved.
All the literary analysis of writing techniques, of style, of world building, of creating characters--it all has it's place, but it's almost completely useless as a guide to writing a good book. You are never going to be able to think or study or analyze your way into writing a book that people love.
There is only one law of good literature: Write what you'd love to read.
Not what you have read and loved. What you love, but haven't yet read.
To quote myself from the Impish Idea thread:
Every thing you write should be a love story. Not a romance. But a story written because you loved it.
Follow your passion. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Fill your book with the stuff that makes your heart race and leave out the stuff that bores you. If you don’t make it into print, at least you’ll have a book you can look at with pride as being truly your own.
Once you've learned this secret, everything else falls into place.