Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Never Underestimate the Power of a Reader’s Imagination

I’m not a great writer. My prose will never win any awards. And I grudgingly accept the fact that a majority of writers (including unpublished ones) will always be able to construct snazzier sentences and snappier descriptions than I could ever hope to do in my lifetime. I’m not being pessimistic here—just realistic. I’ve spent much of my life avoiding the practice of writing, so I have no reason to expect myself to suddenly be able to write sentences with the same skill as people who’ve known they wanted to write ever since they could hold a pencil. Some people have a flair for words. Some of us don’t.

But that’s okay. My gift is dreaming up stories and plot twists and crazy characters, so if I have to hammer away at the words for an extraordinarily long time in order to keep the reader entertained, so be it. Still, I always worry if my words will be good enough to keep someone reading long enough for them to get hooked on the plot. Fortunately I’ve discovered it’s not always about the words.

I recently finished a (self-published) book that was, well … truly awful. I won’t mention the name, but the writing was simplistic and repetitive, the dialogue was embarrassingly bad, the characters were cardboard cutouts, and the story had no plot twists other than a few that were telegraphed so blatantly I was sure the author was attempting to trick me in some way. In other words, a book that even I could have written better.

And yet, during the final quarter of the book, when the protagonist and his party were breaking into the bad guy’s stronghold, I found myself surprisingly captivated. The sentences and descriptions were just as lackluster as the earlier parts of the book, but I didn’t notice (at least not much). I was right there with the MC through the whole scene, constantly worrying that the daring plan was about to fall apart.

I was shocked. How could I have gotten so caught up in such a poorly written scene? The answer is simple. Once you’re emotionally invested with the characters and/or the plot, it’s a lot easier to ignore simplistic writing. And what does this mean for me?  It means I have a chance to succeed as an author. Of course, I’m not suggesting that good writing isn’t important—if I have a choice, I’ll always choose the story that’s better written—but a great plot and interesting characters are just as important as the prose. And as long as I keep working on improving my writing skills, my chances of being published can only improve.

Has anyone else found themselves pleasantly surprised by a poorly written book?


  1. Yes. If it's an imaginative story, it doesn't have to be the greatest prose in the world.

    We can only be who we are - as people and writers. Embrace your originality.

  2. Fascinating post. But I know EXACTLY what you're talking about! This has happened to me too--and it also taught me the lesson that without having interesting characters and plot, it doesn't matter how good the writing is. Too true.

  3. I don't believe there is such a thing as 'good' or 'bad' writing. It is, after all, subjective.

    We are all different. Thank goodness.

  4. So now I have hope, too. I just have to fine the time. I got hooked on your book before I could say, "I'm a fish!" Since I just took the vast majority of your suggestions for my first three chapters, I might have time to re-read your last chapter on the way to writer's workshop tomorrow. We'll see. I might sleep half the way.