Friday, October 16, 2009

Learning Something from BAD Books

Okay, admit it. There are occasions when you've eagerly started reading a bestselling novel (that you've plunked down $30 hard-earned dollars for), and been wildly disappointed. Maybe as you flip through those pages, you see unrealistic plotlines, paper-thin characters, endless cliches, bits of stilted dialogue, or even poor basic language structures.

Then, admit this. Your next thought is: I could write a story/book better than this one. WHY is this person published, and I'm not?

The interesting thing is that we, as writers, can actually learn something from these poorly-written, how-on-earth-is-THIS-a-bestseller books. We can learn what NOT to do in our own writing.

For instance, when I was a student getting my teaching degree, I learned a heck of a lot about what makes a good teacher by watching good teachers. It makes sense. But - I also learned a lot about what kind of teacher I did not want to be, by watching the less-than-great teachers: overly-harsh, overly-critical, insensitive, aloof, uncaring, or boring.

I like to apply this to writing, as well. When I pick up a book I'm not particularly fond of, one that has (in my opinion) tremendous flaws, I don't stop reading right away. I try to learn from it. I study the flaws, study how they're made, then make a mental note to avoid them in my own writing.

You can learn almost as much from a bad book as you can from a well-written book. Not that you should waste your precious time purposely seeking them out, of course. But on the hopefully-rare occasion that you do run into them, take a little while to study them - and to figure out how you don't want your own books to be.


  1. Excellent post - I agree with you entirely. Quite a few times I've read a book that had so much potential, yet ended up terribly disappointing. Some could have been a lot funnier, some could have been more least I learned from them!

  2. Yes, Elle - isn't that so frustrating, having high hopes for a book (especially from an author you really love!) and then seeing it go "south?" Very disappointing...

  3. Great observation! Notice 'the hook', the plot development, the character development, the setting, the parts of the story, the conclusion.
    Something to be gained all the way through in the learning process.