Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. Especially if you review Young Adults books.
I wonder how hard editors have to work to get some of this stuff in shape to be published. I asked my editor, once (she’s now the editorial director for a major New York publishing house) how, when she was so hard on me, and so demanding of excellence, she could have let a certain book slip into print. She answered, “You didn’t see it the way it was when we got it. I won’t even try to describe what was wrong with it.”
This blog post, back then, resulted in a wonderful article by John Dykstra in Reformed Perspective Magazine–which I’ve been able to locate, and which I’ll re-post for you tomorrow.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I hate fantasy cliches–the Invincible Female Warrior, the Thief With a Heart of Gold, Know-It-All Elves, etc., etc.
Fantasy can be made into a useful tool for Christ’s Kingdom–I’m totally convinced of it. But first it has to be straightened out.
I post this every now and then to illustrate the kind of trouble you can get into if you try to review books honestly.
I couldn’t read the whole series: just couldn’t take it. I bailed out when Gilgamesh’s mother, a pagan goddess, called him “Gilgy.” This story lasted 5,000 years for that?
It’s just a fact of life that not everybody can write both fiction and non-fiction. You can be good at one and awful at the other.
And it’s also a fact of life that awful fiction sometimes sells like mad. It takes more lifetimes than I’ll get, to come to terms with that.
Y’know how some movies are annoying because they’re so actory? By “actory” I mean that they seem to have been made only to give actors an opportunity to show off for each other, with no consideration for any wider audience.
Some of you, naturally, will someday want to try your hand at writing fiction. If you do, please to try not to be too “writery.” Like you might be imagining some reader shaking his head in awe and admiration and muttering, “Wow, this guy’s better than Hemingway!”
What makes prose too writery? Well, tell me what’s wrong with this picture:
My [bleep] personal life was like a goose without a gee, a slapstick tragedy. The hairs on my legs stood up and laughed at me. I live face-down in that ignored Gomorrah that calls itself Fashoda, New Jersey, along with all the rest of the acrophobic midgets and the songs that voices never share…
Imagine half a dozen pages of this, and you’ll get the picture.
For almost every purpose imaginable in literature, plain English will suffice. If you’re William Shakespeare, of course you can go beyond that. Way beyond it! If you’re Ross Macdonald you can tiptoe right up to the edge without falling off. But most of us are better off just saying what you mean.
I say it’s an achievement when the reader of your book loses the awareness of reading a book. Something to shoot for, eh? Or, to paraphrase Sun Tzu, “The supreme art of writing is to write without writing.”
When I wrote The Throne (No. 9 in the Bell Mountain series) the whole ending of the story flashed into my head in the time it took to climb two steps.
How to feel like Rocky Graziano…
You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot of excitement in writing a novel. Like, you’re just sitting there, writing. But that’s only on the outside. On the inside, you’re living the story. Seeing, hearing, feeling, being.
It’s the only way to make it come alive for your readers.
It’s only been a month or so since I finished writing The Wind from Heaven, Book No. 13 in my Bell Mountain series, and already I’m champing at the bit to write another. This is going nowhere, yet: I’ve got the rest of the fall and all the winter before I can start again.
I have to wait for the Lord to give me the germ of the next book. Maybe He’ll give me a dream about it. Or a new character, demanding to be born.
I’m hungry to find out what happens next. What about those ships from far across the sea? Ebed, the boy spy trained by Gallgoid, has been taken aboard one of those ships. What are they doing here? What’s their mission? And will the new regime in Obann City prove to be any better than the old one? And will Lord Chutt, the usurper, live long enough to stand trial for his various misdeeds? How will that turn out?
I just don’t know. Not yet.
Well, one thing I can do is re-read the whole series, all 13 books–not an onerous task. The other thing I have to do is wait. That’s the hard part. It always is.
I’m never happier than when I’m sitting outside on a sunny day, with my cigar and legal pad, with no awareness of time passing, writing one of my books. But before I can get there, first the book has got to be born.
That’s just so cool, when a dream grows into a book. I don’t map these out ahead, like I used to do, long ago, with my horror novels. I just go with whatever God gives me.
And I do enjoy the ride!
Just as merely destroying the dining room can ruin a do-it-yourself magic trick, there are just as simple ways to ruin a fantasy.
Among many effective methods is the trick of repeatedly dragging the fantasy story back into the drearier aspects of what we generally think of as the “real world.” In the very worst example of that that I ever saw, the Elf turns to the Dwarf and says, “We must learn to respect a diversity of lifestyles.” I happen to know the author who wrote that. He’s a good guy. Otherwise he’d have to be put to sleep or something.
Having the characters in your fancy talk like modern teens’ text messages is guaranteed to ruin your fantasy. You’d be better off writing it in Rongo-Rongo script. Then at least we could maintain the untestable possibility that it might be good.
“Reality”? Or just a lot of dirty dishes?
Have you encountered this–people trying to appear intelligent by insisting that only the bad and ugly stuff is “real”? Of course you have.
The question I can’t answer, or even imagine an answer for, is why anyone would want us to believe that. To stifle belief in God–so that, in our desperation, we will turn to puffed-up goofy mortals for our salvation?
Yeah, that’s probably it.
I am re-running this post as a public service.
It’s not everyone who can produce a really rotten novel. Indeed, it’s a gift. But if you’re shooting for sheer unreadability, these few pointers will surely get you started. And it’s no use complaining that certain individuals have gotten rich and famous by writing pure dreck.
Now I wonder–who could we say is (or was) the Cervantes of the truly rotten novel? Any suggestions?