1. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    What is the better novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by architectus, Feb 20, 2009.

    The novel that might not win awards, or receive high praise from editors and critics, yet the majority of readers love the hell out of it? They read it more than once, perhaps back to back. And because of this, it remains a bestseller for months.

    Or the novel that wins many awards, is loved by the critics, is praised by the editors, yet the majority of readers don’t love the hell out of it? And because of this, it doesn’t become a bestseller. It is not read back to back.

    Obviously, a novel that can achieve both would be great.

    But which would you rather have? A huge fan base that is practically a cult following, or win a Nebula award and only have a small following of readers, namely critics.

    I would say the greatness of a novel is judged by how many people love the hell out of it, and how long people continue to love the hell out of it. For this reason, Twilight is great. Time will tell if people continue to love it.

    If a novel can gain such a huge cult following, it must have something special about it, regardless of how poorly it might be written.

    I would rather have the huge fan base.
     
  2. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Well, obviously the goal is both. (for me, anyway)

    I think that appealing to your target market should come first. This goes well beyond demographics or genre, which are very general. You should be very familiar with all popular books that are anything like yours. Not to copy, of course. But to see what worked, what didn't, and just what exactly appeals to those readers. Use some of those basic elements in your own unique way.

    I take technical advice any time I think it can improve my writing. When 'doing everything right' makes your writing awkward, stiff, or in any way less apealing to the target market, then it's time to start tweaking. So the best writing is usually a combination of natural language, readability, and all of the technical details we like to argue about here.

    Finding a balance is key.

    I think virtually anyone would rather sell a crapload of junky novels than a few great ones. You're essentially asking me whether I'd want to do a good job or be a millionaire... Doesn't matter what field of work we're in... the answer will always be the same:

    Show me the money!!:D

    But some writers think that just because others have poor writing ability, and great success, they should be able to achieve the same with similar effort... When especially poor writing becomes massively popular it's the exception, not the rule. These books are just like lotto tickets. There are just so many that someone has to win. But would you think that just because your neighbor won the 6/49 with a single ticket, you should be guaranteed a win with 10?

    Trying to mimic a lotto win is not a good idea. The best way, IMO, is to examine these books to find out why they became massively popular despite poor writing. Take the good, improve on the bad, and write a better story. That's the only way to get a decent chance... like having 50,000 tickets vs 10 or 100. Most likely you still won't win the big prize... but it's only common sense (or should be?) to minimise chance.

    My 2 cents...
     
  3. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    How to write a book that falls into one of those two categories or both is a whole other subject.

    I think most would choose the money, hehe. I figure that will be most people's answers. But I was wanting to know what people truly believe is the better novel. The one that wins awards, or the one that is faithfully read by millions?

    I think no matter how poorly or well written the faithfully read novel might be, it is the better novel, regardless of what professional critics say.

    I guess the question is really, what makes a novel great, what the professional critics have to say about it, or what the millions of faithful readers have to say about it? I think what the majority of the readers have to say about the novel means more.

    What novel captures your attention, the one that won a Nebula, or the one everyone is telling you that you just must read?

    The ones that everyone recommends is the one I usually check out. It is the only reason I read The Davinci Code. I have read many novels that won a Nebula, or a Hugo, and many of them disappointed me, but not just me. If a novel is highly recommended and won awards, well, I must check it out.
     
  4. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Almost invariably neither (99.9% of the time). The rest of the time it's a split 50/50. I loved Harry Potter about as much as I loved reading Darkly Dreaming Dexter, or Lolita.

    Dexter was chock full of grammatical issues, and the author probably did about a hundred things 'wrong' according to this site. Yet it will always be one of my absolute favorites. Because it reads perfectly. Same goes for Lolita - purple prose doesn't begin to cover that, but Lolita was fabulously written.

    On the other side we have Harry Potter. It's very good writing in terms of storytelling, technical ability, character depth... Just about everything. But it's far simpler than the other two examples I just mentioned.

    The determining factors are always - how does it sound? How does it flow? What does it feel like? Good writing is like music, or gourmet cooking. When I hear a false note it ruins the piece. When there's too much salt, I spit it out. But I listen to heavy metal and Beethoven one right after the other, and love them both.

    The best book is the one that can sweep me up. I'm an extremely open-minded person and I'll enjoy anything as long as there are no false notes.

    In short, good books grab my attention. I don't care how they are good.

    I'm sorry if, again, that's not the response you wanted...
     
  5. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Dexter is awesome. What do you like better the TV show or the novels?
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    The novels, of course!

    The TV show distorted his character too much, and lost most of the humour so essential to Dexter. Still, I watch it like an addict anyway:p.

    Can't wait for the fourth! Who would have ever imagined that a serial killer could be so funny?! Such brilliant originality is one of the things I admire most in a story.

    And my sister is a raving Dexter addict, too, thanks to me. She won't watch the TV show with me... because she's fanatically loyal to the books:p.
     
  7. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Having both would be nice. Honestly I'd say that if you can't have both neither of the options is better than the other. Normally the best books will have both (Ender's Game actually won a Nebula award and has a horde of raving fans XD). I tend to find that when I've read a book that is one or the other, I find things I don't like about it, and even though I might call on in either case a good book, I wouldn't call them great.

    There are factors in determining a good book outside just popularity or awards. I don't think a books quality can really be judged by it's success but merely by its own merits. Of course the merits will often result in popularity or awards but I don't think it's always true. The Star Wars books are quite often very good, but they don't have the same level of fame Dune might have. The Halo novels are also rather good but again don't have the same level of critical success. A good book is good because it's good. What qualifies as good will vary but I don't think popularity or awards alone earn one "great novel" status. I've read some pretty crappy novels that have both and some good ones that have neither.

    Twilight? Meyer knows how to speak to the young'ns. The story line really struck a cord in teens and I think now that that's the magic behind it's success. Horrible writing though, really horrible writing.

    Starship Troopers. A very interesting read with some rather unique and iconic concepts that have shaped the world of science fiction in almost every media form since it's publication. Good writing, a unique story line at the time. But, crappy plot. It's more a philosophy rant in novelized format than a real novel.

    Twilight hasn't received the best of the literary praise but it sure is darned popular. Starship troops has a good share of both negative and positive criticism and is a widely read book, but I don't think that these days it's really that popular anymore and I can't say I've ever actually met a die hard Troopers fan like me. They're both strong in their areas but got their own weaknesses. I think the "better" novel in any comparison will vary by person and we have to determine the books quality by it's own merits. I don't think there's a single winning formula.
     
  8. Bob Magness
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    Bob Magness Senior Member

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    I can't really say. I disagree with the critics about as often as I disagree with the masses.
     
  9. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    I don't think either option sounds particularly good to be honest.

    But I wouldn't sell out my integrity as a writer for millions- I'd rather write stuff that I know is good, and is liked by a few people, than write something I know is crappy and make millions. Because self-respect would make me happier than money would.
     
  10. Enslaved
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    Enslaved New Member

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    well, the better novel is for sure the one that's objectively better written, more original, intelligent, deeper characters and so on. Twilight caters to the masses of teenie girls and gothics who just love romantic vampire stories, so the big success has nothing to do with how good or bad the novels are. It just shows, that it satisfies a popular demand.

    I dont wanna hate on twilight or anything, anyone who can write something that became that popular obviously has done something right, but still its far from what i'd call a great piece of writing :p
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have little interest in stalking the best seller list. I buy a lot of books by impulse.

    Admittedly, the cover is often my first attractor. If the title or the cover art looks intriguing, I'll pick it up and open to a random page near the middle. If the writing looks interesting, I'll flip to the first page to see if the author can grab my attention.

    It's not the awards or the popularity that pulls me in, usually, although I did buy and enjoy The Lovely Bones because I saw it mentioned on the Today show. If I find an author I like, I'll seek out more books by him or her.

    I think that answers the question, even though it wasn't a straight line response.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing about literary and film critics is that they can get jaded. They have to watch so many movies and read so many books that they would never touch if they were not required to.Things that the average reader either likes or doesn't even notice, will make the critic hate it because it's too much of a distraction. Critics also don't notice things that readers/viewers do. In some cases, they don't have the experience to judge a certain book/movie properly.

    I don't remember many reviews for Spiderman, but the people who already were very familiar with it probably liked it more. I heard critics were totally clueless as to why Dr. Osborne was making a formula to create super-humans. They called it a plot hole, therefore making it a weaker movie. No one I know missed out why because they noticed the military uniforms and automatically made the connection that it was to create super-soldiers for the American army. Even if they didn't, they know that it's a convention of comic books for scientists to be working on this sort of thing, so no grand explanation is needed.
     
  13. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I'd rather be popular, but in terms of reading material ("what makes the better book" ), it's impossible for me to decide. (And even being popular, it'd be nice for some of that popularity to come from critics and not just readers who might know nothing about writing! I have some deep subjects in my writing that only a critic and not a regular reader might pick up on.) I notice when I go looking at book reviews online, I browse both the "popular"-type reviews AND those from critics, because one group might know what makes a book more interesting in general, whereas the other group might be better equipped to comment on the writing and research skills involved. It's just not an either-or thing.

    And some people who read books just for fun can be really good critics. And vice-versa.

    So I lean more toward popularity, but sometimes one really can't tell. I judge on a case-by-case basis. (I read mainly nonfiction on obscure subjects, so if I went by popular opinion, I'd never read anything!)
     
  14. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I think winning over the editors and pros is better to begin with. Sure the book may not be popular, but once you can achieve critical acclaim, popularity is easier to come by.
     
  15. Scarecrow28
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    Scarecrow28 Contributing Member

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    I'd rather write a book that's loved by all that read it than one that is reviewed well by criticis but doesn't do as well with the actual readers. Sure, I would prefer to satisfy both audiences. But to me having a complete stranger tell me how much they loved my writing would mean so much more than a simple review.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first, define 'better'!
     
  17. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd rather have fans. But, for the moment, I'd be ecstatic to get something accepted by a publisher. :) But, yeah, fans. Now...does anyone pick books based on Oprah's Book Club?
     
  18. TwinPanther13
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    You know what I see it like this. You can write stories to make money while you work on something that is more substanial. If you can not get a novel that is award winning and a best seller accept it.

    Professional writers write to pay the bills. They write that which they hope will sell. If they look beyond that some may write something that can stand the test of time. C.S. Lewis wrote many novels, but the one he is most known for is "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe."

    I guess I say try to write the highest quality money maker you can then, if you want to win a Nebula award try to do that.
     
  19. Acglaphotis
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    I lost respect for the author after the third book. It not only distorted the WHOLE series but also disregarded the very fact that made Dexter as enjoyable as he is (that he is as he is, not anything else 'modifying' his behaviour.)

    And I'd like that the second season of Dexter were turned into a novel; the Lila character was excellent.
     
  20. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Dexter was a book first, I did not know that. I will have to seek out the series. I liked the Dresden files. They were based off Jim Butcher's series of books about Harry Dresden. The first season is short and I don't think there is a second, but it was good.
     
  21. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Neither.

    As far as I know, the Dresden Files is a series that is basically one of those books you find in the book store one day; read it, love it, and you don't really know anyone else who knows about it and you haven't heard about it winning any awards.
     
  22. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I would choose winning an award. Winning an award gets your name out there, so to speak, which in turn should boost sales. For me, respect from fellow writers and critics is more important than what the average person thinks. Besides, I really wouldn't mind winning something like the Nobel Prize!
     
  23. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Yet everyone knows Jim Butcher and apparently that is his major money maker.
     
  24. Arrow
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    I wouldn't mind writing a piece of fluff that caught the eyes of millions. Then I could draw those millions toward my (hopefully) finer, better, more literary writing.

    I guess that would mean Paid and Proven.
     
  25. Leo
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    Leo Senior Member

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    I think an important point to make is that a book doesn't have to win awards in order to be a good, literary book.
     

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