1. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Is it possible to learn from reading a bad book?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Man in the Box, Nov 23, 2013.

    I'm still an amateur at writing fiction, so the question is tailored for someone like me who wants to learn the craft.

    Simply put, is reading bad books a good idea when trying to learn? Of course, you need a point of view when determining whether what you're reading is bad. But for someone who hasn't yet mastered the basics, is there any benefit in doing it? Because maybe you can inherently know the flaws in a work, but you judge a book as "bad" after having read your share of "good" books.
     
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    If there's something in the book that jars me, I stop and analyze why it's not working for me. So in that sense bad books can be helpful, I think. On the other hand, if it's really bad, I don't usually finish it. E.g. I couldn't weather the 50 Shades while some people claim to have read it just for the bad factor.
     
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  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely there is much to learn by analyzing what doesn't work for you, and why.

    The biggest danger is learning from a poorly written book, without understanding why it is badly flawed. The only way around that is to read voraciously, so you have a broad base of comparison.

    Popularity of a book is not a good indicator of its quality, sadly.
     
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  4. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    For once I agree 100% with @Cogito. :)

    It's not like this bad book you are about to read and learn from is your first book ever? I mean, if you have a need to write and a will to be a writer, I guess you are already a reader with some experience. I mean, I hope you're not into all this because of money, girls, cocaine and fast cars. (you're about to be very disappointed if so) :p
     
  5. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You mean the life of Hank Moody in Californication is just a big sham? :(
     
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  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm in agreement with Cogito as well. What I'll add is that one could look at why a book that may be poorly written ends up being popular. Often it's the storyline that interests/captivates readers. One can learn from that as well--although it's a likely misstep to try and ride the wave of what's currently popular. By the time it's written and ready to find a publisher (or self publish), that wave may have already crashed on the shore, or there are so many trying to ride what remains of that wave, that it'd be more productive to find a different wave, possibly your own.
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Adding to what TWErvin says, there are differing views of whether a book is bad or not. You might find a book to be bad, but suppose millions of people adore it and the author has a loyal set of readers ready to defend it. Even if you think the book is bad, there is clearly something to be gained by reading it and trying to determine what made it so successful.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto the cog dittos... but with this major-minor addition and word change:

    The biggest danger is learning from a poorly written book, without understanding why it is badly flawed. The only way around that is to read well-written books continually, so you have a broad base of comparison.
     
  9. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @TWErvin2 I'm not so sure if a (would-be) writer, or even well-experienced literary critic can extrapolate why some piece of crap hit the bestseller list - anymore than film theorists can deduce the blockbusting quality of a summer blockbuster. It has more to do with marketing and aggressive (book)selling techniques. And tricks, of course. For example, 50 Shades is packed and sold as "intriguing, taboo-breaking erotic thriller": but realisticaly, it's just porn :D
     
  10. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bluebird, I am not saying one can predict what's the next big subgenre/hit/area of interest will be and to write it before anyone else. There are just some things about stories that resonate with readers, and doesn't seem like a re-tread. Knowing what has resonated with readership (themes, types of characters, plot devices, etc.) even in a 'bad book' that still attracts a strong readership can benefit a writer.

    Marketing and aggressive bookselling will struggle in an uphill (maybe up cliffside) battle if the story doesn't resonate or interest readers, even with a novel that is technically well-written.

    It should also be noted that some formulaic writing meets with success as well. Romance for example. There is something in certain types of romances that readers enjoy returning to. Maybe the names and locations are different, but much of the plot and theme remain similar. So a writer, reading what many would call 'bad romance novels' could learn some techniques employed and befit from it, even if in a limited fashion when writing outside the romance genre.

    Don't ignore the little bit of luck that might also play in a novel's success. When and if and where it gets reviewed, what lists it gets placed on, etc.
     
  11. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh isn't that everybody's dream :)
     
  12. JoshC
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    JoshC New Member

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    Is it possible to learn how to write well by reading a bad book?

    I don't think it's possible to learn to do that just by reading anything, but what you read can certainly influence how you write.
     
  13. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Hell no I'm in it because I just want to tell a story. :)

    Yeah I think Cog nailed it, it's what I was thinking, because it's so easy to let yourself be influenced by what you're reading unless it doesn't click with you somehow, like when I was reading Twilight. Actually I created this thread to see if there would be any worth in reading that specific book. Considering there are four in the series, it might be a waste of time to read them all especially since I already watched all the movies and all of them made me cringe, lol. I can't get to terms with how vampires and werewolves are portrayed in the series. I like gorier stories myself.
     
  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Forget bad books, read work posted by people on sites like this, and think in terms of reviewing. It's a great learning tool for several reasons. First, you'll react to things that you don't notice in your own work because you "fill in the blanks" as you read. And second, by thinking about how to tell the reader why something didn't work you're forced to think about why it didn't, and how it might be better written. That helps clarify things in your mind.

    But, that's not the best way to learn your craft. Educating your eye as to what to look for is far more effective. Will you notice that there's no scene-goal if you don't know there should be one, and why?

    One common problem is that people reviewing a piece will suggest more set-up, description, and world building to make the setting and action more meaningful. But the problem is really that the writer isn't making clear the three things a reader needs quickly on entering any scene, so as to provide context (where am I in time and space? Whose skin am I wearing? What's going on?).

    For adding craft quickly a bit of reading at the local library's fiction writing section can save a lot of head scratching, because if experience is a stairway educating yourself is an escalator.
     
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  15. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Of course: if you want to be a carpenter, you don't really need to know how a chair looks like: pretty pictures in "How to be a carpenter" books are enough :D
     
  16. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You're actually considering Reading all four books of a series you don't like? I couldn't force myself to do that. I don't know what the value would be in reading that much of it anyway.
    Also be careful not to confuse what's not to your tastes with bad writing. While twilight may very well be badly written, that's probably not specifically because the vampires aren't gory enough. Ungory vampires mostly mean that the books aren't in the horror genre.
     
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  17. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    What IS Twilight's genre anyway? :)
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say Urban Fantasy.
     
  19. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Steerpike or just porn? teen- girl quasi-urban quasi-fantasy quasi-porn? :D
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You misspelled 'queasy'.
     
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  21. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    I think you can learn something from bad books.
    But I think you learn more from good books.
     
  22. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    But you can learn even more than that by reading good And bad books and paying attention to what they did differently ;)
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No. I can't recall any elements of that, literally or metaphorically.
     
  24. DrWhozit
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    DrWhozit Banned

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    Fiction writing, especially, can be compared to visual arts. The question may not be "Is this a good book?" It may be "Am I a suited reader for this?"

    Picasso is not truly my favorite artist, still he was a cornerstone of success. An illiterate or pseudo-literate person likely would never take in an art museum if there's a Colts of Bears game in progress, if at all. If Mr. and Mrs. 5000-word-if-they're-lucky-vocabularary do take in an art exhibit, they are unlikely to grasp what the Cubists, Dadaists or even pop artists are conveying. They may enjoy Grandma Moses, yet frown upon their kids spending too much time in the arts, away from realizing their own failed dream of being a star athlete.

    Someone may not have the hand-eye coordination to draw, paint, sympathetically project light into the work and render a magnificently blended penumbra. Perhaps, though, they took at least one course in art appreciation, attending every art exhibit they can. The seriously educated art connoisseur will recognize the truth and elegance in an art form produced by a mind that sees the interstices. Through this, they may learn to also see what others cannot, or perhaps they could to begin with and sought out the abstractions with the relief of knowing like minds are really out there.

    Whose work is better? Grandma Moses? Andrew Wyeth? Picasso? Salvador Dali? Walt Disney? Robert Crumb?

    Whose work is better? Asimov? Dean Koontz? Steven King? Tolkien? Frost? Allen Steele? Michael Crichton? Frank Herbert? Louis L' amour? Stan Lee?

    Ask not what this writing can do for you. Ask what you can do for this writing.
     
  25. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @DrWhozit "course in
    art appreciation" - I thought this was another of your fantasies, but google confirmed the existence of such an academic timewaster. "I have a major in art appreciation." "My PhD was in art appreciation." ...naah, sounds as ridiculous as "creative writing"...
     

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