Can someone please explain why “literary” writers get to freely eviscerate the normal rules of writing but don’t get called on it, while you or I would be pilloried soundly if we tried the same thing? (Actually, we should be pilloried if we did such things. But so should the literary writer.)
I just finished reading a “critically acclaimed” novel, which was made into a “critically acclaimed” movie. I’m not giving the author’s name because the writer is still living and is pretty old. I’m also sure he’s a perfectly nice guy, and he has plenty of fans who love his work. (This book had 80 reviews on Amazon. 78 were 5 stars, 1 was 4 stars, and 1 was 2 stars.) But I want to make some points and his work is perfect to illustrate with.
1st rule of writing: Have at least one character that the reader likes and is able to identify with. This book had four primary characters. I felt some sympathy for one of the characters but couldn’t respect her. I quickly began to want the other three characters dead. Every one was a loser. And mostly they were just pathetically silly. I know there are people in the world just like these characters, but I don’t personally know or want to know any of them. All are addicts and I can’t imagine having a conversation with any of them that would go beyond drugs. How boring.
2nd rule of writing: Show don’t tell. The book is almost entirely dialogue or a kind of omniscient narrative. They did this and then this and then this. Except where drug use is described, there is a minimal amount of descriptive writing. The language felt simplistic and naked to me. The prose was just flat.
3rd and 4th rules of writing: Write as clearly as possible. Avoid pretentiousness. While the vocabulary was so simple that it wouldn’t challenge a 6th grader, the author deliberately used a bunch of silly and arbitrary expressions that upped the confusion level. For example, what possible reason can there be to leave out the apostrophes throughout. And I don’t just mean in dialogue. Over and over I read “youre,” “Im,” “theyre” and so on. It was so pretentious that I could barely restrain myself from throwing the book against the wall before the “I’m-too-good-to-use-normal-punctuation” attitude rubbed off.
5th rule of writing: Make clear during dialogue who is talking. Not only could our pretentious author not be bothered with quotation marks and dialogue tags, but he enjoyed cramming two or three speakers together in a single paragraph. And since two of the characters were constantly aping each other’s form of expression it often required calculus to figure out who was talking. Not that they were saying anything interesting anyway.
6th rule of writing: Introduce a new paragraph when the topic changes. Now, I don’t mind fiction with relatively long paragraphs, but 8 pages in one paragraph? Isn’t that either a bit careless or a bit pretentious? There were a lot of paragraphs that went on for at least 4 or 5 pages.
So there you have it. Can you explain why critics seem to love this work, why they ooh and ahh over every word that drips from the author’s pen? I don’t get it. I really, don’t get it, and I wonder if some of the Amazon reviewers who gave the book five stars had seen the movie first and were influenced by that?
Finally, though, I guarantee that you couldn’t drag me into another of this author’s books. Unless someone can explain to me why such things are permitted of some writers and not others?