A friend of mine, someone with the best of intentions, said something the other day that nearly stopped me in my tracks.
“Maybe you’d sell a lot more books if you dumbed your writing down.”
Now, I had to think about that for a second because he wasn’t referring to my subject matter — the immortal Martuk slaying his way through a lifetime of endless centuries — but more to the way it’s written. It’s intelligent. It has a unique voice that still follows the basic rules of sentence structure and grammar. It’s ambitious but still accessible. The sentences are more lyrical than not. There’s character development and several story lines all spinning around a central narrative held together in a clever framing device. And this narrative is designed to not only stand alone, but stretch over a three-book series as well as an ongoing collection of short fiction.
Ah, you see? There’s the problem.
Publishing these days — and I’m talking about indie, single author, and the Big Five — isn’t as focused on quality as it could be. The mediocre is applauded. The abysmal is celebrated. Anyone writing anything that would be considered “normal” ten years ago — story, appropriate dialogue tags, realistic conversations from people who could actually exist — is thought of as an anomaly. Something new. Different.
And that worries me.
That the bar would be so low that the telling of a story would be thought of as something newsworthy is not a good thing. In fact, as I said in a recent interview, we, as Writers, should be expected to tell a story. Telling one should not be seen as something cool. It’s our feckin’ job, for Christ’s sake!
But so many have found success doing so little. Or doing so little so poorly that their attitude is, Well, people seem to like it, so why change?
Because you can do better. Because your readers, whether they know it or not, want you to do better.
Because if you keep half-assing it, that will become the New Normal, you won’t grow as a writer, and there will be generations of readers who won’t know Good Writing from a hole in the ground. Though you know damn well at least the hole will have a backstory as to how it got there whereas your book will be a long series of events that end up leading to a big fat Nothing.
So, here’s the deal:
I’ll continue writing the way I write. That’s the little I can do to change the tide. And when readers tire of piss-poor writing revolving around non-existent stories peopled by cardboard cutouts murmuring, sighing, giggling, growling, breathing, whispering, moaning, laughing inane ridiculous dialogue no one would actually say, my work — and the work of hundreds if not thousands like me — will be there waiting for them.
‘Cause I’ll be damned if I’m going to dumb it down.