Last week I gave you all a list of five things I’ve learned from highly successful authors. All of those things were positive and empowering lessons I had picked up from those authors.
Today isn’t exactly like that.
While this post is indeed a continuation of the previous one, the lessons in here are (mostly) good things I’ve learned at the detriment of the author (at least in my opinion). Basically, for most of the following authors, I’ve learned from their mistakes and things they didn’t do so well (again, in my own opinion).
I’ll start us off with one that’s more like those in the previous post in order to avoid having a post too full of negativity.
Prose Can Be Beautiful – Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare’s books were introduced to me by my girlfriend. I was sceptical at first and hesitant to jump into an Urban Fantasy with strong Romance-subplots and basically a love-triangle. The cliché was just too much. I’m also not a huge fan of either those two genres.
Then I started reading and boy was I wrong.
The story was really damn good, but what struck me was just how poetic and beautiful the prose was. The author has a way with words that most fail to match. Not too descriptive, but also not too plain. The writing hit a sweet spot in the middle and I could find almost no faults with it.
For years I had been worried that my writing wouldn’t have the same aesthetic qualities of good poetry. I had been worried that balance between good description and straightforward storytelling wasn’t possible.
Cassandra Clare proves that this isn’t the case. Your prose can be beautiful and functional!
You Can Have Too Much Detail – J.R.R Tolkien
Now for the lessons I’ve learned from things other writers didn’t do so well (again, in my own opinion – don’t crucify me). For all the things that Tolkien did right with The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, there is one thing he did that made it nearly impossible for me to carry on after the first ten pages.
He didn’t just sprinkle in too much description. He bludgeoned the reader over the head with it.
Even in the Tolkien fan-community, there are those who can’t stand how he describes every blade of grass and the history of the trees in every meadow. It’s just too much. Now some people do like it, I won’t deny that. There are masochists in the world and they’re entitled to their own opinions of course.
Personally, I can’t stand it. I’m glad that Tolkien is an example for me on how not to do description (everything else is well done though).
Don’t Spread Your Story Too Thin – Robert Jordan
I started reading the Wheel of Time series a few months ago. It’s really good and had me gripping the book with a mix of excitement and suspense. As an Epic Fantasy series of twelve (very thick) books, it had the risk of easily losing that initial magic, but I doubted it would come to that.
Robert Jordan starts out small and grows the story as he slowly adds more viewpoint characters and a larger scope. It’s akin to George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series in that regard. Unfortunately, the story gets spread way too thin as it grows, and characters/subplots get added that I really don’t care about.
By book five, I could barely keep interest in the story and eventually dropped the book altogether. Now I do fully intend to get back to it, but for now I’d much rather read books that actually capture my imagination.
No hate intended toward Jordan or the books though. I just think it could have been better handled.
You Can Have Too Little Detail – Trudi Canavan
Young Adult novels generally aren’t too detailed because, well, young adults don’t always have the attention span for it. Besides, most of those stories take place in a world similar or identical to our own, so tons of description isn’t always necessary.
Fantasy usually requires more description since it’s an entirely new world being presented to the reader. Young Adult Fantasy needs to strike a good balance in between where the reader has enough description to go on, but not so much that it bogs the story down for the reader (C.S. Lewis did this very well in The Chronicles Of Narnia).
Trudi Canavan didn’t get the memo.
Her writing is very minimalist (there’s a whole rant on minimalist writing coming up pretty soon) even for a YA book. Now this would be tolerable if she wrote contemporary fiction or even Urban Fantasy. Unfortunately she chose Epic Fantasy and that just didn’t work out.
You can’t have minimalist description in an Epic Fantasy, regardless of whether it’s meant for YA readers or not. Because it’s Epic Fantasy, my brain expects a certain level of description and worldbuilding. When that doesn’t happen, my brain sees only one word constantly flashing by my mind’s eye.
I dropped her books and I don’t think I’ll ever pick it up again.
Fame Does Not Mean Quality – E.L. James
We writers will generally not have our very first books published since they’ll be full of errors and problematic prose. We usually have to wait until we’ve written a few books before we write one of a decent enough quality to be published. Unfortunately, E.L. James had her first book published and it blew up.
This is bad since she never had to go through all the growing pains other writers have to in order to get better. The result is that her story is (mostly) decent, but her prose and style is amateur at best.
Now I won’t berate her for the success she had. In fact, I kind of pity her. How is she going to become a better writer now? The world was happy with crap, so why do anything more than crap?
Whole articles can (and have) been written about this author, so I won’t go much further. The lesson I’ve learned from her is probably one of the most important through.
Just because your work is liked by many doesn’t mean it’s any good. Good writing needs to stand on its own merit and not rely on popularity.
What Lessons Have You Learned From Successful Authors?
Let Me Know In The Comments Below!
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