I Just Don’t Get It

The first two commandments any serious novelist must follow are: Read a lot and write a lot. And of course, it’s important to read the genre in which you write. As an author who writes thrillers, I should be reading James Patterson, David Baldacci, Michael Connelly, John Grisham, and other similar novelists. Although I’ve really tried to “read a lot”, I don’t read nearly as much as I should. It’s not due to lack of effort or laziness on my part. How do I say this diplomatically? Well, it’s just that many of the bestselling thriller novels really suck. There, I’ve said it. 

Now I don’t want to take cheap shots at the “masters” of thriller fiction, but hey, I simply call it like I see it. Let me offer one stunning example. David Baldacci has written over 17 novels, and each of them hit the New York Times Bestseller List. I’m currently reading First Family, Baldacci’s latest book. I’m 166 pages into the story and as I Iive and breathe, I’m struggling to continue. To his credit, the plot is compelling, he’s very good about leaving a cliff hanger at the end of each chapter, and he doesn’t overdue it with his descriptions. 

But here’s the problem. The grammar, sentence structure, and awkward phrases he uses make this book seem like a tenth grade high school student wrote it. Seriously. One of the first rules a writer learns in Novel Writing 101 is to minimize passive voice. For example, instead of writing, “He was kissed by her”, write, “He kissed her.” It is the writer’s job to remove the dreaded “was” word whenever possible. Active verbs move the story forward. 

Here’s a sentence from page 6 of First Family. “While it was true that the president of the United States was the world’s ultimate juggler of tasks, it was also a fact that the First Lady, traditionally, was no slouch in that department either.”  Are you kidding me? How did this get past Baldacci’s editor? This is merely one of many examples of awkward sentence structure and overuse of the was word. 

I am so distracted with a book written so poorly that I find it nearly impossible to engage myself in the story. Given the sales numbers, I cannot dispute Baldacci’s overwhelming success. But I sure wish he—and many other bestselling novelists—would dedicate as much effort to language as they do to plotting. 

8 Comments

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8 responses to “I Just Don’t Get It

  1. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    i had to come back and comment dave as either everybody is skipping your blog or they cant be bothered commenting, that or no one comes here except me. Whilst I disagree with your beliefs some of the thoughts are mildly interesting. Baldaccis work has no doubt gone downhill over the last few novels as he struggles to produce work he is probably contracted to do (much the same as Patterson but he now contracts his work out to other no names).
    Still wouldnt mind the income from the crap novels though.

    • Daniel

      Actually, I don’t get lots of comments but traffic to the site is respectable. Personally–and I say this with the utmost respect–the “typical” reader is not that sophisticated. As long as the plot moves along and it’s an interesting story, they are very forgiving. But as a writer, I can no longer read books as a reader. It’s an afffliction that effects most writers. Consequently, I am more critical than people who read like readers.

      Have you read anything by Patterson or Baldacci lately? Absolutely dreadful! But you’re right: they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

  2. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    I meant dan

  3. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    havent read anything by either in probably 18 months read the jackets and a few snippets inside and that was enough.

  4. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    read all connolly, child, silva, slaughter , deaver, all kellermans (they are improving), lustbader, smith, some stephen king and the list goes on try to read 3-4 books a week. Read Steig Larrson millenium series recently, probably best books ive ever read, his style of writing is unequaled.

  5. Daniel

    Sounds like you’re a “read-o-holic.” I hear everyone rave about Larrson, but I red about 50 pages of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and couldn’t get into the story. Maybe I just don’t know good reading when I read it.

  6. Sir Ronald Bradnam

    each to his own my wife struggled to read them to and didnt think much of them the strongest book is the third book and the second was the worst but i just liked his style of writing.

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