Eat Your Vegetables

When you were a kid and your mom presented you with, I don’t know, BRUSSEL SPROUTS, *cough* you’d scrunch up your face and push them aside and refuse to eat them, right? Of course you would. They were green and not chocolatey.

brussel sprouts. ew

You would then get that classic parent refrain, “Eat your vegetables, Gracie.” (Your parents probably didn’t call you Gracie, but you get the idea.)

Turns out that in many cases, parents really do have your best interest at heart. (I think this is my first step towards adulthood. *wobble*) Vegetables are, in fact, good for you, even though many of them taste suspiciously like the monsters that live under the bed. And by making you eat your veggies, your parents not only made sure you grew up “healthy and strong,” they taught you a valuable life lesson.

Stuff you don’t like can be good for you in the long run.

Let’s apply this to writing. :-)

Say you read a book and you hate it. People generally fall into two camps on what they do at this point: the “Maybe-it-will-get-better/ I-owe-the-author/ I’ve-already-invested-this-much-time” camp and the “Life’s-too-short-where’s-the-trashcan” camp. I alternate, depending on just how bad the book is. But that’s not the point of this post.

So these bad books are the brussel sprouts of life. Let’s take those brussel sprouts and make lemonade. (what?)

Read the book again. You heard me. Stop whining, it’s good for you.

And take notes.

Where, exactly, does it go wrong? Characters or plot or style or something else? Is your reaction visceral or rational? Is the problem in the way the author did something, or is it just something you happen to not like? (someday I will spiel on romance in mysteries) Compare a chunk of dialogue you don’t like with a chunk from a book you do like. In a technical sense, how are they different? Does the book have any redeeming qualities? Do other people like it (*cough* DaVinci Code *cough*) and if so why do you think they do?

Now apply this to your writing. Look for and avoid those mistakes you saw. This process can be just as rewarding as trying to emulate good books. Every good book (read: book you like) is good both because of what it contains and what it doesn’t contain.

As a bonus, not only does this game help you understand the technical, crafty aspects of writing, it gives you ammunition when you come across someone who actually does like the book. If you’re going to dis someone’s favorite read, they’ll want you to back it up. Now you can! (As APW knows, I am bad at following my own advice. I PROMISE that by the end of the summer I will tell you what I don’t like about the Harry Potter books. crossmyheartandhopetodie.)

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4 Comments

  1. May 7, 2008 at 2:39 pm

    Some parents don’t know how to cook vegetables. They turn them into mush and then wonder why their kids hate vegetables.

    I don’t know how this relates to the real topic of the post, but I felt compelled to say it.

  2. ~grace~ said,

    May 7, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    haha, that is true. However, in ma mere’s defense, the vegetables stopped being mushy after I grew teeth. :-)

  3. angela said,

    May 8, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Great post. It’s true..bad writing has something to offer us as well as good. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. ~grace~ said,

    May 9, 2008 at 10:14 am

    thanks for stopping by, angela!

    finding the silver lining in bad writing also makes it seem like less of a waste of time having read it. win all around!


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