The Man On The Street

Apologies for my absence – I have been studying. Since I embarked on this literary escapade something has been bugging me: James Patterson. Thin characters and lazy prose. But people love the guy.

It must go deeper than clever marketing. It must. Even my misanthropic default setting credits the average adult with than being more than a glorified baby sucking at the ad man’s tit. What am I missing here?

In order to find out, I forced myself to study a few of his books.

It was a struggle. I almost gave up after reading this line:

And there was no denying: they were wonderful in bed – or wherever else they chose to have sex. They were tall, in wonderful shape, handsome as film stars.

Wonderful? Wonderful twice? Who the fuck edited this piece of shit? Buy the cunt a thesaurus. Add that to the prudish skirting around their lovemaking habits: “…or wherever else they chose to have sex.”

Naughty! She done it on the sofa once, she was such a slag.

 

And that was near the start of the book, the place you’re supposed to be dazzling your readers, right? I’m right, aren’t I?

Maybe I was wrong about people. Maybe Sid Vicious had a point.

“I’ve met the man on the street. He’s a cunt.”

 

I trudged on. I forced myself. In fact, I have heard that in the next 50 Shades novel, Christian makes Ana read James Patterson’s entire works as he does her over an antique coffee table. And if she’s really bad, he makes her read EL James. (#meta)

Anyway, something odd started happening – I found myself thinking about the novels. I guess that’s why people call them “Hooks.” They got right under my skin. I felt a little dirty whenever I read a chapter or two. Thank God for Kindles, eh? Now no one on the train can judge me.

It’s Dostoyevsky, dahling…

Could I tell you about the characters and the settings? Fuck no. That shit went out of my mind the second I read all the generic, dull descriptions. But it’s the pacing; he’s a genius at pacing. (Bollocks, just used ‘pacing’ twice… #hypocrite)

Then I looked at my novel. It was terrible. Long stretches of nothing, bookended by significant events that have no weight because I haven’t built them up enough. And it was at that point, I put it in a dark corner and started again.

To assume the first attempt at something will be successful is both arrogant and stupid. Practice is what makes us great. Failing and learning and improving.

I have a real problem writing protagonists – I find them boring. Whenever I watch Star Wars, I’m always rooting for Vader. In 1997, I hoped that George Lucas’s new cuts would change the end of Jedi to see Luke turning to the Dark Side and the Empire winning. Unfortunately, what we got was a musical performance in Jabba’s Palace by a blue elephant, a CGI Sarlacc tongue and Hayden fucking Christensen.

What I do to get around my boredom of protagonists is make them, essentially, bad people. I don’t think you necessarily have to relate to the primary character to enjoy the book (look at Martin Amis’s Money or John Niven’s Kill Your Friends), but you do have to make them interesting.

So if I combine some decent prose with an interesting protagonist and crib the pacing from a James Patterson novel? Well, that could be pretty could. I’d read that. Gone Girl is an example of such a novel. Both narrators are dicks, but they’re interesting and the prose is great. And the icing on the cake? It’s got a killer plot.

I read excerpts from Amazon’s charts every now and then and I wonder why the fuck many of them struck a chord with the novel-reading public. Simple: they’re gripping. People can forgive mediocre writing, but they cannot forgive being bored. However, saying that, just because something has a great hook or a gripping plot, that doesn’t mean that it should be badly written. It’s okay to be accessible and classy. Like George Clooney, really.

Deep breath. Let’s begin again…

20 comments

  1. The last thing you want to read while writing is books. I could be cynical and sarcastic, but you were noticed by your absence. See, I’m being snobbish instead. Should I have written ‘are’ instead of ‘is’ in my opening sentence? Thinking of things like that is emabarking on the path to obscurity. Has anybody got a torch?

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  2. And hey, unlike Patterson you’re actually writing your own books. So you’ve got that going for you. What makes me laugh about Patterson is that in an interview he said, “I’m very good at plot and characterisation but there are better stylists.” – ie. He’s not really a writer but a brand (and seriously if he’s so good at characterisation why do his characters have to be so two-dimensional and bland?).

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    1. I think if I he was simply a brand, he wouldn’t be as successful. He’s good at lowest common denominator stuff. And often people like their escapism to be mindless. Some of his prose, though…Jesus!

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      1. Hmmmm I think it’s kinda like Shonda Rhimes. The shows are hers, the initial idea might even be hers and parts of the writing too. But really it’s just marketed as hers because people know that if you say “By Shonda” it’s going to draw initial attention and pick up viewers. It’s the name and the connection consumers have with it that sells – just like a strong brand. You see ‘James Patterson’ and you at least turn over the book and read the back blurb, or add it to your kindle’s ‘beach reads’.

        On the other hand, it is, as you say, about pace. Or rather pagination. You’ll notice his chapters are super short a lot of the time. That’s part of keeping up his frenetic momentum because he just cuts where the cliffs are, where the page needs to be turned. If there’s one thing to take away from him it’s to cut the waffle and make details count. But a lot of that is penny dreadful, paint by numbers. It’s smart. It sells. It’s not good writing per se but it’s a good(ish) story.

        To be fair it’s why fanfiction writers like E.L James and Cassandra Clare also have it down. They’re used to writing like old school Dickensian serialists. So they have to leave each chapter at a crucial point to keep readers coming back whilst not letting chapters get too long so their attention wanders.

        Nothing really wrong with it… but there’s often have something of a ‘what not to do’ lesson as well as a ‘what to do’ sometimes.

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  3. Promise not to cringe? Ahem, I write romantic suspense. I know, I know. Someday I’ll write that epic World War One novel. I consider this practice (unless I suddenly become the next Nora Roberts). Anyway, I have had to do the same thing when I edit my manuscripts. Get rid of the filler that bogs down the story. I have beta readers who’ve given good feedback on the pace and layout of the plot. Good luck! PS- You’re a potty mouth! 😉 🙂

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  4. Yes! This is exactly what I’ve been thinking about these crappy books that have been capturing everyone’s attention. People just get hooked to stuff that they can talk to their friends about without sounding boring.

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  5. What amazes me is how many of the buggers he manages to crap out. Of course we’ll know it’s because he doesn’t actually write them. Maybe I’m just jealous that if don’t think of his little novel factory scheme first.

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  6. Seriously! The last time I read a Patterson novel, my eyes “crossed” (pun intended). I know what you mean about the page turning quality of his books but, ugh, the characters suck. Have you read Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels? If you want to read a series, he’s much better. Hope you’re having a good day!

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