Saturday 18 June 2022

I don't care how good a writer you are...

There's a viral tweet that says (I precis) that the person doesn't rate a book on how well written it is - they rate it based on things like:

- whether it made them cry

- whether they read it in a short time

- whether they became obsessed with a character

All of those are perfectly good things to give a book 5* for. And if the tweet weren't viral, I wouldn't be writing a blog post about the small disconnect here. But the fact that it has 80,000 likes makes me want to question why.

It's as if people are celebrating the idea that writing doesn't matter and that "good writing" is some form of intellectual elitism that doesn't have anything to do with them. They're death metal fans and they don't care about opera.

But that is, of course, nonsense. It's akin to saying "I don't care how good a brain surgeon you are, as long as you get this tumour out." "I don't care how good a mechanic you are, as long as you fix my car." Sure, the end is the thing that's important to you ... but the end is generally strongly correlated with the means.

Your car is unlikely to get fixed by a terrible mechanic. And it may well stay fixed longer if the mechanic is excellent rather than merely competent.

You might claim not to care how well written a book is ... but all that other stuff you want is unlikely to happen if a book is badly written. You will not obsess about a character if that character is presented to you by someone who can't write.

Yes, writers come in different flavours. Some have excellent prose, some have excellent powers of description, some shine at dialogue, the main strength of others is in wonderful storytelling. But, all of the writers who have written books that made you cry, storm through in days, and remember them for years ... all of them are good writers.

You could take the powers of the best damn storyteller to have ever lived, put them in the mind of a random member of the public who hasn't written anything more involved than a shopping list since leaving school, and say "go". The resulting mess would (99.999% likely) not have any of the items on the wish-list up top.

You do care how well a book is written. You're just listing different measures of it.

When someone says writer XXX has bad prose, or writer YYY has pacing issues, they mean compared to other successful writers.

Bottom line, a book working its magic on the reader is a well-written book.

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