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The story and the writing.

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I picked a book at random, or rather an author from the long list on the site, and one of his stories. There were a lot of reviews for the book, mostly good, but not all. Reading the story raised several issues for me about writing and review comments. Perhaps the most important concerns something I have always wondered about - how do some readers rave about a story that others slate?

I think I found the explanation and it is this - some readers comment on the story whilst others comment on both story and writing. This was evident from the book I picked at random. The story was a trope, the abused runaway saved and brought to a happy ending. The majority of reviewers were positive, more than positive, it got some rave reviews, the like of which stated, "You have GOT to read this book gay...straight...12, 15, or 120 years old it's for everybody...children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, communities...everyone. I wish this was a movie. I wish this was required reading in schools lit programs. 

I did read it, but gave up halfway through, I had to agree with the more critical reviewer, "The language was stilted and false throughout. The descriptive passages were often amateurishly phrased and the dialogue was, now and again, untrue to the character's rhythms and speech patterns." I perhaps wouldn't go so far as the reader who wrote, "This book was so poorly written I would have thought a 14 year old wrote it. I got to about 55% complete and shut it down. This is one of the worst written books I have ever tried to read. It is a shame because I really wanted to read it."  It was not the worst written book I ever tried to read, but I did stop halfway through.

So why such polarity in reader comments? I think it is as another reviewer commented, "The only qualm I have is that it is indeed somewhat clumsily written. The plot and the emotions the story brings out, however, more than make up for that."  The majority rated the story on the tale being told whilst some others could not overlook the poor dialogue and not so great writing.

The poor dialogue raised for me the obvious point that it is difficult for an author who is sixty plus years old to write teenage dialogue. If they can, they have a good memory or are great life observers. However, simply recalling one's own youth does not allow you to easily set a story in modern times. If you are an author in your sixties or older, you certainly never had a mobile/cell phone and sent text messages all day long!

I personally can't totally ignore the writing for the story, because there is pleasure in reading a well crafted novel which lies not only in the story but the use of language. I can forgive poor grammar and not so great construction for a good story, but I can't forgive a novel that attempts to create a real life drama and fails because it is unbelievable. We, the readers, can be asked to suspend belief for the sake of fiction, but not to the extent that the characters are rendered unreal because the teenagers speak and even act like adults and not teens. There are after all hundreds of stories with the same theme to read.

Why are so many readers happy to read what I and a few others find problems with? They identify with the situation, they enjoy the emotion, and the rest doesn't matter. They have a point, which is why I got halfway through, I just couldn't make it to the end, despite the story.


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Just like writers have different sentiments and points of view and value systems, so do readers.   If the latter get what they're looking for in a story, that's what matters to them.

You didn't mention a writer, so I say the following completely independent of your criticisms. These criticisms are my own, but they allow me to address your points.  There's a well-known writer up on several other sites, Gary Q., who is no longer active.  He wrote several stories that are loved by his audience.  By me, too.  I read them all more than once.  If you're looking for adherence to grammar and punctuation and snytactical perfection, if that's necessary to your enjoyment, then you'd shut him down after one or two pages.  His English is best described as atrocious.  Did that stop me from reading his work.  No.  I put up with it.  I liked the stories.

And of course that's fine; we all are free to read what we like and enjoy.  And with some authors, if you can suspend that need for perfection or rule-following because you like the characters they develop and are interested in what will become of them, you'll stay with the stories.  

Anyone who's read my writing knows I'm finicky about the English I use.  So I had to suspend that pedantic pretentiousness while reading Gary's stories.  And I had no problem doing that.  I wanted to see what happened next.  What a great storyteller he was!

I can certainly understand people criticizing his stories.  But I've had the same reaction to some of my writing: people loving a story, others providing me scathing reports on it.  We're all different; we all like different things.  I personally am glad we have writers like Gary giving us what they do.




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17 hours ago, Talo Segura said:

Why are so many readers happy to read what I and a few others find problems with? They identify with the situation, they enjoy the emotion, and the rest doesn't matter. They have a point, which is why I got halfway through, I just couldn't make it to the end, despite the story.

I don't think you'll get a definitive answer. Each to their own, and the world is (generally) all the richer for it.

I read a lot of fantasy, and  love it! Others read Mills and Boon - dear god Noooooo!  I suppose it depends on personal tolerance: a great story can easily be killed by inept writing.

Also, a lot of writers aren't bothered - or don't know about, or have access to - an editor or beta readers. Maybe the writer of the story you're describing is one of them?

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