I’m not dissing anybody

You are a member of a writer’s group. Every now and then, somebody will make a comment about how bad they thought Harry Potter/Twilight/ The Da Vinci code was. Everyone else will chime in and nod sagely.

Does this sounds familiar to you?

What is it that makes ‘Hating Harry Potter’ a mandatory attribute for aspiring writers?

I’ve read all Harry Potter books. I’ve also read all Stephanie Meyer’s books. I must be one of the five people in the world who hasn’t read The Da Vinci Code, but this has nothing to do with its success. It’s because the subject of digging into religious history doesn’t interest me, and I have a lot of other books I’d sooner read.

I quite enjoyed Harry Potter and Twilight. Sure, when I look at them with my writerly eyes, I can see places where I thought things got a little wobbly, but I can’t think of a single book I’ve read where that wasn’t the case. The overall reading experience was a positive one. Which is why I totally don’t get why so many aspiring writers take delight in dissing these books as pieces of crap. The universal writerly crapometer seems to be set at a particularly sensitive setting for very successful novels.

It seems to be OK, expected even, amongst aspiring writers, that you hated these books. Admitting that you liked them feels like treason.

Why? Why? Why?

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27 comments on “I’m not dissing anybody

  1. Just one of the many many reasons I’m no longer a member of a writing group.

    I discovered in parenting that everything to do with my relationship with my child improved when I adopted the mantra – ‘good enough is good enough’.

    I carried it through to many other areas of life and it translates everywhere.

    Perfectionism just stifles and paralyses.

    I LOVE the Harry Potter books and have re-read all of them many many times. Didn’t like Da Vinci Code – but that’s my taste – not a value judgement.

    The only people who don’t make mistakes are people who don’t do anything at all.

    I also love cliches – they become cliches for a reason.

    • what is perfect anyway? What one calls beautiful prose, another will call flowery drivel. These are books that have worked for many people. Rather than dissing them, we should look at what they did right.

  2. Ohhh I’ve SO been there! Never hated Harry Potter actually. Da Vinci Code was badly written, but interesting plot. Twilight was absolutely terrible and I think it’s horrible, but I can see why it’s popular with the teens. Eragon was my true one big hate.

    That’s why I stopped going to a lot of forums I used to be a regular on. One forum would do an all out attack on anyone who DARED like David Eddings. Despite his clichedness and inability to come up with a new plot, David Eddings is still on my shelves and enjoyable.

    One thing that always amuses me is those aspiring writers who go “Oh I could SO write better than them and earn that much/get movie script/etc”.

    Can I blame the fact that I’m bitchy about books because I want to become a publisher? Can I? 😛

    • I LOVE David Eddings as well. Though I suspect I was really loving the parts his wife Leigh Eddings was doing more than his. I like their books because of the personalities of the characters. I am very keen on ‘soap operas’ in interesting scenarios. Good luck with being a publisher – the more publishers on the planet the better!

    • One thing that always amuses me is those aspiring writers who go “Oh I could SO write better than them and earn that much/get movie script/etc”.

      LOL! That is so true! I also think it’s a stage that all aspiring writers go through. The ‘what is so good about this anyway?’ stage. Seeing what is really in the slush at ASIM had strengthened my belief that getting published is a matter of luck of finding an editor who sees a spark in something you’ve written.

  3. This is definitely in the top 10 reasons as to why I’m no longer in a writing group! Got so sick of hearing this rubbish, and the whole Golden-Age-SF-and-nothing-else got pretty old, pretty damn quick.

    Clearly, these writers have done *something* okay, to be read and adored by so many. I’d love to write something so accessible!

    It’s more or less envy-in-disguise from journeyman writers who can’t understand why their own stuff isn’t getting picked up.

  4. I don’t like to diss others – particularly knowing what a struggle I have writing anything that is even passable.
    I do find it funny that I ended up writing crime when I don’t gravitate towards reading it (Colin Dexter, Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendall and PD James excepted).
    I was surprised to find so many editorial errors in a bestseller by Deaver though. My flatmate (who owns more crime novels than you can shake a stick at) said it was something to do with the hurry to get another bestseller on the shelves. So they miss the errors, or nevermind the errors? Which doesn’t look good to my mind. What’s the story with that?

  5. Partially, it’s a defense mechanism that boils down into a kind of backward hope – well they got published and are huge, and my book is so much better, surely I will get published.

    It’s difficult to be continuously rejected.

    Part of it is the normal dissatisfaction with what’s out there now. A lot of writers write because they can’t find the book they want to read.

    • Hey, thanks for the comment.

      I think, if it is really a matter of ugly jealousy, which writer’s groups fervently deny (because someone who uses as many adverbs as she does couldn’t *possibly* be any good), this is a really childish reaction. I feel these people should know well enough to spit their dummies in private.

      If there is one thing I’ve already picked up in my short time behind the scenes at ASIM magazine, it’s the amount of personal preference (the editors’!) and luck that goes into selecting stories for an issue. I don’t expect submitting novels to be any different.

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  8. Well, the Harry Potter books are not brilliantly written, but the writing gets better as you go along. The stories are entertaining too, which makes them good reads (notwithstanding the last book, Harry Potter & The Interminable Emo Camping).

    Never read Twilight – the very premise makes me shudder with horror. And not the good kind. Whether they’re well written or not doesn’t get a look in.

    But Dan Brown? Really, I’ve no resentment for his success, but the truth is that his writing is often really terrible. It’s more a case of a publishing house not getting a good editor in there than anything else. But if you’re going to sell 80 million books, you’d expect the editors to trim out stuff like:

    “The Knights Templar were warriors,” Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space.

    I wrote more about this here: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/2009/09/19/telegraph-20-worst-dan-brown-sentences.html

  9. I haven’t read Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyers. I have got a Harry Potter book on the shelves which I may read one day, although after watching the first one and a third movies, I think that may be a while away as I did not enjoy them. I’m not interested in reading about religous conspiracies so I don’t think I will ever read the Da Vinci Code (although I did go and see the movie, just to see what the fuss was about. It was not that awe inspiring).

    I read David Ebbings when I was younger and I know I enjoyed it, but I can’t really remember what his novels were about, other than good magic versus bad, unlike others which I remember like LOR and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

    One author who had been much criticised in the past for being a LOR rip off is Terry Brooks. A couple of years ago I read a review about his latest fantasy series The Genesis of Shannara which sounded more like apocalyptic science fiction, which I love. It is set in the not too distant future on an Earth ravaged by environmental disasters, where evil comes in the form of genetically engineered monsters, fought by magical knights who drive around in solar powered SUV’s. I bought the first book. In it, Brooks tends to cliche, with mystical Indians and elves who want to distant themselves from humanity and its problems. His writing had a lot of cliches in its descriptions too, eg he was not above writing something like: it was as cold as ice. But enough happened in the first book to get me interested in finding out what happened next. So I read the second book, which was a much better written book. More action, less set up, and less cliches. I’ve have the third, and I think final book, and I am set to read it after I finish the book I reading at the moment.

    I think one of the main reasons I like it is its theme. The main characters are mainly kids who are coping with a world totally stuffed by adults, which could parallel what is currently happening in the real world in regards to global warming.

    I have rubbished Brown, particulary after I read that the Di Vinci Code had one of the biggest marketing campaigns in history with 10,000 copies sent to reviewers. And I read an except of Angels and Demons in the Age which I thought full of cliches and cliched characters ie a priest who is being tortured screams “have mercy” (or something along those lines), really would anyone who isn’t a character in a book or on television scream that in those circumstances?

    But because of the subject matter I forgave Terry Brooks for the same sins.

    Dan Brown is getting very good reviews for his latest book, many saying its a rip-roaring adventure.

    Graham.

    • we have a copy of the new Dan Brown book in the house, but I doubt I’ll be reading it. Like you, I have little interest in anything that mentions the church, the devil or demons. Life’s too short to read books about subjects that don’t inspire me.

      I have read all Harry Potter books and all Twilight books.

      I have also read one book by Terry Brooks. Yup. LOTR rip-off. He wrote (about three times) the worst writing example I have seen for a very long time in published fiction: ‘He shook his head negatively.” OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!! Yet, I can see that this type of story appeals to people, and that people WANT more stories like LOTR.

  10. I don’t beat on HP, DB and Twilight because it’s popular to beat on them. I beat on them because they’re just plain bad books. The first few HP’s were fun and charming but the last four were bloated and shoddily written, feeling more like first drafts than finished pieces. The Twilight saga was the most vapid, misogynistic fluff I’ve read in years, and Dan Brown is a writer of average talents who rode to fame by rewriting a much better novel as a cheap, shoddy, cliff-hanger-every-chapter suspense novel.
    Maybe it’s become popular to bash these big three franchises, but the beatings started for a good reason – none of those franchises deserve the fame, money or attention they’ve earned. There are much better writers in all those fields being trampled and forgotten because of schlock marketing, and that gets me angry.

    • could you tell me what ‘deserves’ fame, then?

      Literary drivel with perfect sentences but crap plot?
      Pacy detectives with so much action that character has been left behind?
      Science Fiction with pages & pages of pseudo-scientific explanation?
      Chick lit that’s all angst and nonsense and no substance?

      Give me a book, and I will point out some flaws. Nothing, and nothing, is perfect. All books were written for an audience, with a target group in mind. But few mid-list authors don’t cop anywhere near the flak from wannabe writers.

      I reckon a lot of wannabe writers are so immersed in creative writing instructions, they have lost the joy of reading. They let the flaws that every book has overrule their reading experience.

  11. “could you tell me what ‘deserves’ fame, then?

    Literary drivel with perfect sentences but crap plot?
    Pacy detectives with so much action that character has been left behind?
    Science Fiction with pages & pages of pseudo-scientific explanation?
    Chick lit that’s all angst and nonsense and no substance?”

    No, all those are shit too. I disagree that writers have lost the joy of reading. A crap book is a crap book – we all know that there are thousands of them out there. Ruzkin makes good points.

    Of course all books have flaws, but when books have as many flaws as Dan Brown’s yet are still touted and marketed as supermegauberbooks, then yes, they deserve ripping on.

  12. “could you tell me what ‘deserves’ fame, then?

    Literary drivel with perfect sentences but crap plot?
    Pacy detectives with so much action that character has been left behind?
    Science Fiction with pages & pages of pseudo-scientific explanation?
    Chick lit that’s all angst and nonsense and no substance?”

    All you’re saying is that we shouldn’t knock Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer et al for being crap because there are other crap authors out there. Why not admit that they’re terrible and find some truly great lit? If you want detective fiction with action, character and plot, read Le Carre. If you want paranormal fiction with real characters and substance, read McKinley. If you want challenging, mind-opening sci-fi without a reliance on action and lasers, read Stephenson. Chick-lit… I can’t help you there. It’s a genre defined by its lack of substance.

    Don’t excuse shit authors just because there are other shit authors, and don’t attack budding authors for wanting to improve instead of wallowing in mediocrity.

    • Good books, and mediocre books, are in the eye of the beholder, and everyone’s definition of good and bad is different. There are a lot of levels on which a book can work for a reader. I’m not a Dan Brown person. I just don’t enjoy the subject matter. I enjoyed Harry Potter for story and worldbuilding, and was happy enough to forgive the sin of adverbs. I’m told China Mieville is a good writer. I. Cannot. Read. It. That’s my preference. There simply IS no one yardstick with which we can measure good books.

      Saying ‘there’s a lot of crap out there’ and ‘most popular books are terrible’ sounds to me like the speaker has lost his love for reading. I have friends who admit they rarely finish a book they start. That’s plain sad.

      However, it seems that as soon as a book hits the bestseller lists, all the literati and wannabe literati come out and diss it as crap. To me, that spells ‘sour grapes’ a little bit too clearly.

      • That’s simply not true. There are a lot of books out there that are bestsellers that don’t get dissed. I don’t really mind the Harry Potter books, even though they’re heavily derivative and considerably flawed. I still enjoyed reading them (not so much the last one).

        There’s other mass produced, best selling stuff that I’ll really enjoy. Look at Neil Gaiman – he can sneeze on a sheet of A4 and as soon as it’s bound into a book it’ll sell millions. I love reading Gaiman’s stuff. I certainly haven’t lost my love of reading and there’s no sour grapes for people that have reached great success.

        But a shit book is a shit book and I’ll call it such, whether it sells 10 copies or 10 million.

      • I never said “most popular books are terrible.” You’re putting words in my mouth. We’re speaking about three big names now, three authors that have been slammed from all corners for frequently terrible writing. Sure, you can recommend a budding author examine Dan Brown’s use of rapid-fire cliff-hangers, or J.K Rowling’s interesting world building, or Stephanie Meyer’s very canny exploitation of a vulnerable teen market. But these three authors rode to fame on right-place-right-time marketing, not talent, and aside from very specific aspects of their style (as listed above), new authors have nothing to learn from them.

        Accessibility is certainly a virtue at times. The Backstreet Boys are accessible. Lady Gaga is accessible. But if you met a young guitarist who spoke dismissively of their success, would you call that “sour grapes”? Would you jump up and say “Well, obviously they’re doing SOMETHING right”? Or would you applaud the young guitarist for taking the harder, more rewarding path?

      • what they can learn from Brown and Rowling? Worldbuilding and plotting. I am of the opinion that those two things are MUCH more important to the success of a book than writing technicalities.

      • A bit further about the music analogy. Classical music popular music are different beasts altogether. While it’s certainly true that a classical musician gets valued on pure musical skill a LOT more than a popular musician, I refuse to assign a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ value to each genre of music. They’re merely different, and work, and appeal to people, for different reasons. So if I’d hear a young classical musician mouth off at Lady Gaga, I would call that sour grapes.
        I feel that the mark of a professional artist of any type is to simply shut up, at least in public, when they have an aversion to some other artist’s work. Digging in and flinging shit is the task of the critic. When done by a fellow artist, it makes the artist look bad. It’s a matter of taste, and an argument no one can win.

      • Alright, fair point on this all being a matter of taste, and also fair point on certain authors at least being valuable for teaching specific aspects of writing. I think we’re getting a bit too personal anyway, which is something I instigated. Sorry for taking this discussion way off topic.

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