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Writers write; readers read

Depending on what writing bible you follow, there are only 3 real plots in the universe – or 12, or 37, or ONE. It doesn’t matter what the number is — the basic idea is distilling EVERY book into its constituent parts

But if you do that, you will reduce practically every book to the same set of criteria in the end. If you pick a book you love and one you loathe and put them both into a pot and boil their bones clean… don’t be surprised that you’ve got two remarkably similar skeletons.

There’s a LiveJournal community which goes under the name of “bookfail,” dedicated to readers talking about books which failed them on some level. The community has shifted a little of late to cover what has been headlined as “overrated authors,” and someone posted this bit distilling a certain author’s book into their constituent parts

“A young, shy man/frustrated girl discovers a parallel fantasy world. This character goes into it to escape the problems of the real world, but finds the fantasy world has its own dangers–though relatively infrequently are those dangers really all that dangerous. It takes a little walking around, but eventually the shy man/frustrated girl figures out the internal logic of the fantasy world, returns to the real world, and then realizes that the fantasy world was better anyhow–typically because there was some other friend or love interest discovered there that the protagonist wants to return to.
…..There you go. This guy has written like 20 books and you have just read all of them. You know, the Hero’s Journey was a lot more interesting of a formula before it was used as a basic escapist defense for people who are lonely, no matter how quirky.”

The poster is talking about Neil Gaiman, and his criticism suggests he just doesn’t like the author or the genre. Love an author or hate an author, but don’t do it because the author doesn’t write the kind of book you like to read.

Neil Gaiman’s books may have a common theme, but by God the man is a master wordsmith and the books are worth reading for the language and the storytelling. This is not to say that they will all be uniformly brilliant but they WILL be worth the journey ­ IF you like that particular kind of cup of tea. If you do not, then none of them will appeal, and why are you reading Neil Gaiman after deciding that he’s not for you?

The author writes what the author writes; a reader reads what the reader reads.

Readers – vote with your feet! Cross the aisle in the bookstore and look for something different if the book you picked up doesn’t appeal.

It’s just as well that there are as many kinds of writers as there are kinds of readers, because all of these varied tastes need to be sated by material . So there’s room for all of us writers out there, seeing as we are not really read by the same audiences.

The only question in reading a work of fiction is: Are you enjoying the journey?


About AlmaAlexander

I'm a scientist by education, a duchess by historical accident and an author who shares writing tips and glimpses of a writer's life, the mundane and the magic

2 responses »

  1. I dig your blog, lady — but I think the original reader has a legitimate criticism. I *love* Neil Gaiman, I’ve read Neverwhere 3 times, but I feel the man has started to repeat himself rather early in his prose career. I felt “Anansi Boys” was a retread of “American Gods”. Compare this to someone like Philip K. Dick, or Michael Crichton, or Ursula K. LeGuin, or Tanith Lee — each new work is fresh, it surprises you, but at the same time keeps the same elements that keeps bringing you back to that author. I don’t think The Hero’s Journey is to blame, but rather I think some authors find one favorite sandbox to play in and keeps going back to that sandbox. Some instances, I wouldn’t be surprised of it’s the publishers or even the fans who keep clamoring for more of the same (like poor Arthur Conan Doyle) which keeps authors pumping out the exact same book again and again and again.

    • worldweaverweb

      Hey, Frank, Nice to see you here.

      And it’s entirely possible you’re right IN GENERAL – many successful authors do tend to wind up repeating themselves a little as the years pile on. And I do have to admit that I didn’t think that “Anansi Boys” was one of Gaiman’s best efforts, as far as that goes. But the man’s short stories make the hair on the nape of my neck stand up, and he’s STILL a master of language itself – and he doesn’t really deserve being distilled into the One Plot To Rule Them All alembic in the way that the original poster had him…


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