I recently read a Joe Konrath blog “The Tsunami of Crap” and it caused me to wonder why we Indies, as a group, should be singled out for poor writing.
I've read books by Legacy publishers that also deserve the same title, but somehow The NY big six seem to slither out of the appellation, somewhat like greased pigs.
Out of over six billion people in the world only a thimbleful can point to a collection of paper or a file on a computer, and proudly announce. “I wrote that”.
The announcement becomes more meaningful when the collection of words totals tens of thousands or more and the story has a beginning, middle, and end. The vast majority of people can't or won't do it.
Regardless of the quality of the work, the fact that an author sat down, slogged through the writing task, and in the process, created something never read before, is to me, a monumental accomplishment.
True, the result may be trite, riddled with mistakes, jumbled, incoherent, composed of poor grammar or just completely confused, but the fact still remains that the author created it.
Many people, proud of their newly born word-child, stop at that point and simply release the mess to the internet.
It's a really bad decision. Stop it.
Stop and think about the three most important aspects of the work you've created, grammar, style and content. These three elements are the building materials that constitute the structure of your work. If they're not applied carefully the building will fall down.
Grammar constitutes the bricks and mortar of the story. Crumbling bricks and poor mortar will doom even the most thoughtfully designed house.
One of the problems with grammar is the fact that we don't often use it. We may have been educated in public or private school systems where grammar was taught, but since it didn't constitute a significant portions of our lives the lessons were quickly forgotten.
Lessons learned well in schools tens of years ago, hardly apply to today's concepts of modern writing. For example, I was taught to always use a comma before a conjunction and today that's not often done. Passive voice was a common aspect of books, even classic works, when I grew up and today it's considered bad grammar.
We speak using poor grammar, fragmentary sentences, wrong tenses of verbs, slang, incorrect use of personal pronouns, the list is extensive. Frequently, using our voice, we write as we speak. Is it any wonder that a person, who has never before written a story, finds that they have unintended problems with grammar?
Most would-be authors find they must learn the concept of good grammar anew to be able to write what today is considered a grammatically correct book. If a “classic book” came under a modern editor's sharp knife it would most likely not survive the process intact, losing multiple commas, phrases, and entire chapter-length swaths of text. (Moby Dick is one good example.)
Many people have significant stories to tell, good stories, but even with the best of intentions, they must learn the “new rules” by trial and sometimes humiliating error. The serious ones don't give up. They learn from their mistakes, correct them, and proceed to the next work.
The concept of style is a tricky one. It involves multiple issues, narrative, dialogue, organization and plot, to name just a few, but mostly in hinges on voice.
Voice is a subtle thing. It's the element of your story that maintains the reader's interest. A book can be narrative style, composed principally of dialogue or some combination, but regardless of the type, a book without voice is a house about to fall.
Voice is the unique feeling you impart to your work. The element that identifies you as the story teller and makes the reader want to know what's next. Your voice may be flippant, humorous, sober, somber, threatening, romantic or sad, but it must be present throughout the work.
You can write the most complicated plot ever conceived and polish the grammar until it shines, but without your unique voice it's flat and lifeless.
I've read books that contained fragments of puzzle pieces that the reader must stitch together at the end to assemble a whole story, but because the author's voice provided the framework, the book worked and worked well.
I've personally read books that contained numerous grammatical errors but because of their content, I also witnessed they were widely popular with many readers. I've also read prosaic novels, in which the author lovingly crafted each word and must have spent years in creating the work, that were flat, lifeless and boring; frequently books in which the author took two or more long chapters to come to the point. (“Lord Jim” is an example.)
People may argue this, (and most likely will) but I think there are two types of readers. The reader who desires to escape into another world and the reader who salivates over words and symbols. The former reader constitutes the clear majority, while the latter reader occupies a small part of the market.
The first reader wants to escape the humdrum reality of life. He or she wants to experience new worlds, intriguing characters, interesting situations, romance, sex, violence, fear, ...the list goes on.
This type of reader could frequently care less about prose, in fact, it gets in the way of a good story.
He or she also wants to feel superior to some of the characters in the book, such as the tragic person from a dysfunctional family, the stupid heroine who enters the darkened hallway, knowing the monster's bound to jump out, and the drunken detective who can't or won't cope with life.
The escapist reader wants fun quirky characters, the type of people they could never emulate but who provide the spice that makes the content interesting.
On the other hand, the prose reader savors the caress of each word, looks for hidden meaning within the text and teases out the symbols cleverly embedded in the work. This type of reader is apt to be critical of a misplaced comma, an overlooked passive voice sentence or an incorrectly spelled plural possessive. To these readers a grammar error is like a verbal landmine and when it explodes, it spoils the whole work for them. Their meaning, when it comes to content, is the artistry displayed in the author's wordsmithing, the brush strokes of metaphor, simile, alliteration and onomatopoeia.
In the end, readers cross the lines, some more balanced in their tastes and some more swayed to one extreme or the other.
The “The Tsunami of Crap” doesn't apply simply to grammar. If you as an Indie author want to become successful, you would be well advised to excel in all three of these areas. Grammar alone won't do it, neither will style or content. A careful balance of the three should be your ultimate goal.