This post was inspired by someone trying to pick a fight with me on the internet because I criticized what I feel is bad writing in the "Batman v. Superman" trailer. Their comment wasn't worthy of a response, but at least now I have something to blog about this week.
Many years ago, I read a bad book, as one does. One usually does this without meaning to, unless one is a glutton for punishment or runs a "watch me tear bad books apart" sort of blog or is planning to read said bad book dramatically out loud in front of an audience. I ranted about the book on my old blog, and a friend pointed out two important things:
First, I could learn from this. Second, those things I was ranting about - did I do them in my own writing?
It hadn't occurred to me at the time to learn from the experience. The book started out very good, very interesting, with a character who was sympathetic and worked her way to a much better place in life through trickery and manipulation and generally being clever. Over the course of the story, she lost everything that made her sympathetic and interesting, developing into a screeching jackal of a character who called everyone who disagreed with her stupid and treated everyone around her as horribly as she possibly could, including her own children.
So, if nothing else, this book was a valuable lesson in how to make your reader love a character and then hate them all over the course of the same book. Looking back on it, I hope that was the author's intent, because it takes some skill to manipulate the reader like that. If they didn't mean that, well. . . . I'm not sure what to say about that.
But over the years, I've taken this to heart when I read something I don't like. I try to figure out why I don't like it, what the author did that led me to feel that way, and how to avoid it in my own work. I sometimes try to figure out how to replicate it, if I need to recreate something like that for a story.
I don't have any specific examples for this at the moment. The last book I read that I consider bad, much of the reason I didn't like it was because the entire female cast were either whores, former whores, or whores-to-be, save for one who was a bastion of incorruptible pure pureness (and thus the main character's love interest). I think all I could learn from that is the importance of complex and diverse woman characters, and I'd like to think I've got that down already.
Which brings me to the second point, one that's often harder to face. Whenever I don't like something about a book, I ask myself if I do the same thing in my work. Most of the time the answer is no, but when I can look at my writing and honestly say yes, well . . . it's not a good feeling. But I think it's easier to accept my own writing flaws when I can see how they would look to someone reading my work. This means I can work to correct them.
And if it helps make me a better writer, reading the occasional bad book is worth it. Though I'm still not going to do it on purpose.
So, what about the rest of you? Have you ever learned something from a book you didn't like, and if so, what? And did you realize that you did the same thing?