Sunday, January 4, 2015

Perfect isn't Always Perfect

I've just finished reading a book (not one written by anyone here at the Vineyard) that was technically and grammatically flawless. There were no repeated words, no convoluted passive sentences, no commas in odd places. The story was laid down word by word, sentence by sentence like railroad ties in a perfectly aligned track. Had the author submitted a chapter or two to a ninth grade English teacher for a grade, she would have gotten an A+, maybe with a few stars drawn around the letter A.
                And yet. Of all the books I read over the past year—and there were quite a few as I'm a bookaholic  who believes finishing one book a week means I'm not reading enough—this book was one of the ones I enjoyed the least. The story was flat, the characters stiff and unrealistic, and the dialog off putting. There was nothing to keep me turning the pages and, after I finally managed to reach the last page and close the cover, there was nothing that made me want to linger in the book's world any longer.
                Good fiction is more than technical perfection. Don't get me wrong, getting the basics right is important.  I don't like books riddled with errors any more than the next reader. Too many of them, and I will lose patience and close the book without bothering to finish it.  But there is so much more to crafting a good story than well constructed sentences. A good story makes the reader feel those sentences to the very bones of being. A good story makes the real world disappear as it immerses you in the one on the pages. A good story leaves your heart light, or takes your breath away, or makes you afraid to turn off the lights when you go to bed.

                We read fiction to experience something, and without great characters, without good dialog, without description that lets us see and feel and be in the story, we are left with nothing but disappointment.  The real challenge for a writer isn't in making the words perfect; it is in making them say something that transports the reader beyond the written page. 

'Til Next Time


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Sad. That person should have gone into copy editing.

Two weeks ago, I read one that was the exact opposite. I think the content editor died. I was bombarded with repeated words, incorrectly used words (revenge of spell check, perhaps), dangling “thoughts”, and horribly mangled spelling. Yet the story, once I started self-editing for good sense, was great.

A book like that can't win awards; and without a re-edit, will have no legs.

More is involved in creating a memorable book than just one discipline, be it editing or creating a compelling story.

Unknown said...

Absolutely, Julie. Clean copy is necessary for a good book. It's just not all there is to it.

Anonymous said...

Actually this discussion with an author friend present the view that there's more to a great book then grammar.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Unknown said...

Grammar and good editing are just the basic building blocks that *should* be there. You can still live in the house if the foundation's wobbly, it just won't be as enjoyable an experience. Same with a book that has a great story but lousy grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. It pulls you out of the story every time one of those sour notes hits. You can overlook it to some degree because of the story itself, but it's still always there, nagging at you. It all needs to work together.