December 23, 2011

Good writing, bad writing

As I mentioned earlier, the current audiobook that I'm working on is Left behind. As usual with my audiobooks, I listen in installments that correspond to whenever I'm driving someplace in my car (for more than a fifteen-minute ride), so I've progressed a bit this week, although I'm still only about halfway through. My early impression is mixed; the first few hours' worth was not particularly preachy (as I had feared), and in fact was setting up quite a few of the characters---all of whom are, by definition, not "true" Christians, not saved, etc---to be very sympathetic, positive characters. Unfortunately, the writing is not very strong. There are a lot of extremely ham-handed attempts at plot movement that amount to nothing but cheap plot devices, hard to believe even within the context of the premise of the book. But, I'm ok with hack fiction; sometimes it's entertaining anyway or otherwise of value.

Then it started veering off in the direction I had been originally expecting. One of the two main threads of the story has begun focusing entirely on one man who is in the process of Accepting Jesus Christ As His Personal Saviour, and his daughter who (so far) isn't---because, clearly, the author decided he needed a foil so he could explain things and persuade the reader. The problem is, he's really bad at it. The "logical" arguments for why she should convert don't even make sense within the context! The author is just not very good at putting himself in the shoes of a skeptic, I guess. (The skeptics that he does invent are impossibly stupid: fully a week after the Rapture, and nobody in the whole world other than the near-Christians seems to have noticed that it is only the devout fundamentalist Christians who were taken away.) And the other main character, in what I assume is about to become the Antichrist plot, is somewhat interesting but a strange mix of clever and stupid, presumably in a bid to make the reader feel smarter than someone who's supposedly clever. That plot has some promise as a suspense-thriller, but characters keep doing things that aren't motivated and/or don't fit their previous actions, so it's hard to really get into (and just as you do, it switches over to the other plot with its plodding pontificating).

The writing style and (lack of) skill reminds me of Dan Brown, whom I've complained about before, except with value-added proselytism.

What takes it from awful to excruciating is what I have to compare it to. Yesterday I was going into the city to meet some high school friends, and I was going to be taking the El partway, so I grabbed a book book to read; I borrowed Kathy's copy of A game of thrones, which I've been meaning to read for a while. This is quality high fantasy, with compelling characters and a gripping plot. When a minor character almost dies in this book (twice so far!), you're on the edge of your seat and unable to put the book down, hoping the character will manage to pull through. As opposed to in the other one, where a character gets blown up and your reaction is, "yeah, saw that coming. Shucks."

Earlier today I actually caught myself putting off driving to the mall for some shopping, because it was going to mean listening to more of the Left behind. It's bad enough on its own, but having to alternate with actual good writing makes it nearly unbearable. I may have to just give it up as a bad job and move on to one of my other audiobooks instead. :P

"The terror of printing the most basic of the earthy Germanic words for human excrement clearly continues unquelled. Except here, of course, because on Language Log we are linguists, and we don't give a shit. We don't believe simple Anglo-Saxon monosyllables will either sear your eyeballs or warp the moral fiber of the young." --Geoff Pullum

Posted by blahedo at 10:57pm on 23 Dec 2011
Good luck. I have this weird sense of gestalt that makes me finish books I start, even if they're awful. Makes me really elective about what I even start reading! Posted by Chelsea at 8:59pm on 24 Dec 2011
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