Saturday, 27 October 2007

Thinking about Mills & Boon...

What makes good writing good (and bad writing bad)?

I listen to the radio while I work; BBC 7, Classic FM and Oneword mostly, and today I happened upon the Mills & Boon serial, The Greek's Chosen Wife by Lynne Graham.

It was immediately obvious what it was, as I came in on the statutory bit at the end where the conflict between the hero and heroine segues into declarations of hidden love. And it was quite bad. Not just the predictability of the plot (arranged marriage turns to true love) with its stock characters - he gorgeous and commanding, she beautiful and feisty - but the quality of the writing, which was both overblown and inept.

Nick, the golden-eyed hero, seldom says anything; instead, 'Nick imparted wryly', 'Nick censured huskily' or even 'Nick slotted in'. 'He found her mouth' had me jeering at the radio, below her nose and above her chin, now there's a surprise.

The book was plain bad, just as Jane Austen's are plain good. But what about good bad books, like the Famous Five series, or Dracula? Or bad good books, like À la recherche du temps perdu?

Your nominations?


  1. That dialogue is putrid. It stinks through cyberspace.

    For good bad books, I nominate all the Harry Potter books and The DaVinci Code. Compelling to read, not necessarily great writing.

    Bad good books? I had WTFs for Ulysses, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, and numerous other classics.

    And I agree that À la recherche du temps perdu is pretentious. Tchaw!!! Like I'd ever read it.

    - Norm (I couldn't seem to log in)

  2. Found you in statcounter forum poking around for info on putting the code on blogs. Have had mine for quite some time but not sure if my placement is best.

    Anyways, I just wanted to chime in on what makes a "bad book" good...

    Continuity of flow. For example, there's something I've always found interesting about military snipers. I never knew quite what it was but I always thought there was more to it than just sitting in a tree, picking people off while waiting to be found and killed.

    Apparently, there wasn't.... until recently, actually. When Jack Coughlin came out with "Shooter". It was his account of a period from just before "9/11" through his time serving in the early stages of the 2nd war with Iraq.

    He completely transformed the concept of sniper as a sit-and-shoot kind of mentality into a highly mobile strike team that would leapfrog the battle, find the best positions and keep demolishing the highest ranking enemy officers (and weaponry) from 1000s of yards away before the main military forces even arrived.

    After that section was cleared, they'd leapfrog the main body and set up way ahead to do it all over again.

    Before I even picked up the book and started skimming, my attention span would have only allowed me to watch documentaries on TV every now and then but the book was so expertly written that I just kept reading and went through half of it in the store. I bought it and read the rest at home. I could have read the rest of it in the store but I actually WANTED the book.

    That's how well it was written.

    The guy didn't trail off into too many side stories and complex opinions. He just kept telling the story, moment to moment and one could feel as if he were really there for some of it.

    That ability is what, for me, makes a book good.

    Sam Freedom

  3. Norm, I agree - except I gave up on the Da Vinci Code during the first chapter. Just too toshy to waste time on.

    Sam, always nice to have a new visitor to the blog.

    I must get a copy of 'Shooter' by Jack Coughlin - you make it sound compelling. (I am currently watching a riveting TV series, about the training of commandos).

    And I totally agree with you about it being the story that makes the reader keep turning the pages. Other things are important, especially the characters, but less so. Look at Dick Francis's early novels, which keep you up till you've finished them. Apart from the hero, his characters are fairly stock, but it doesn't matter - you have to find out what happens next.

  4. I've never been able to get more than a few pages into Dracula; it's success mesmerises me.

    For good bad books... Whisper of Death, by Christopher Pike. It's a pulp teenage horror of the kind that was very fashionable in the mid-nineties, and it's unreasonably great. None of the rest of that genre stand up to nostalgia as well as that.

    And bad good books? As much as I love 100 Years of Solitude, dear God does that ending reeeeeeeeek.

  5. "its", not "it's". Now I'm grammar-nazing myself.