A few years ago, I read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the secret of her success, and I never found it. Perhaps it was hidden beneath her appalling writing style, but her poor writing dimed any possibility of my enlightenment.
Even a neophyte writer knows that any action a character undertakes must be motivated. Although in life we often act on a whim or a hunch, when a character in a novel does it, it comes across as too slick, too much author convenience, as if the writer couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with a plausible motive for the action.
For example, in one book, the writer had someone searching the character’s house for a set of papers, which weren’t there because the character had removed them on a hunch. You and I could never get away with that! We’d have to come up with a motive, and it’s not that difficult. The character could have taken the papers to a diner to peruse them during lunch. Or maybe taken them to a safe deposit box. Or any reason other than a hunch.
Even worse, when the character found out her house had been searched, she was stunned. Then why the hunch to remove the papers? Maybe she was expecting rats to eat them.
In a roundabout way, I suppose I did learn something: write intelligently, at least until you become a bestselling author. Bestselling authors seem to get away with increasingly shoddy writing (since I read this author’s books in sequence it was very obvious how lackadaisical her craft had become in her later books), and yet we are supposed to continue to treat them and their books with respect.
In a discussion on Facebook, a writer posed the following question: Seems nearly every day I hear a writer complain that Grisham has become a hack, or King should go back to drinking, or Clancy wouldn’t recognize POV if he tripped over it. When you’re struggling with getting recognition, how do you deal with jealousy of successful authors?
Before I was a writer, I was a reader, and as a reader, I have every right to complain that such writers have become hacks. In fact, it’s because the writers I used to like started turning out substandard work and I couldn’t find new authors that I like, that I started writing. I figured if I couldn’t read the books I liked, I could write them.
Apparently, though, once you become an author yourself, you are supposed to give up your critical capacity. If you say anything against another author, it comes across as jealousy, as if you’re envious of the other writer’s success.
In the particular case of the bestselling author I critiqued above, I am not envious of her success, I am not envious of her fans, I am not certainly not envious of her writing style. Though I’m mystified by her ability to write so copiously since writing comes hard for me, but I’m not envious of that ability, either.
I am, however, jealous of the time and money I spent on her books, and I’d like them back.