Reading, Reviews

The Details

TLDR: When it comes to writing, what you do is less important than how you do it.

I read (or am reading) three very different books recently.

First, Hey Ladies by Moss and Markowitz, in which eight oblivious, self-centered friends arrange social events over email and make horrible life choices.

Second, Zero Sum Game by Huang. Bad good-girl mercenary uses mathematical genius to kick ass and chew bubble gum and she’s all out of bubble gum.

The Judging Eye by Bakker. Imagine Gandalf/Paul Atreides organizes a crusade to rid Middle Earth of alien evil.

Distinct premises with distinct executions. I love two out of three and it’s got me thinking that when it comes to writing, what you do is less important than how you do it.

Hey Ladies is laugh-out-loud funny and packed to the brim with jokes in every detail, from the intentional typos to the time stamps on the email through which the story is told. Which is a damn good thing, because the premise makes me recoil like a vampire from a crucifix. I only read it because it came so highly recommended by my wife. I regret nothing. It’s hysterical.

Zero Sum Game has an interesting premise, but I found the presentation flat and predictable. The mathematical acumen of the protagonist didn’t seem to manifest any abilities that were different from a dozen other grizzled, coarse-knuckled protagonists. The action scenes and dialogue were fine. The main character had some secrets in her background and trouble being in society because of her abilities. That was fine. But the writing didn’t grab me.

The Judging Eye (by the way, read the previous books first, starting with The Darkness that Comes Before) has a premise that starts out with a fish hook in my cheek, but that’s no promise of success. It’s easy to mishandle epic fantasy. Luckily the prose is pure poetry and each scene is a tight close-up on an individual character, their emotions, their struggles, their situation in a broad and interesting world.

So how does an author develop a knack for these details that snare readers and avoid the pitfalls of dry prose. I think the answer is practice, practice, practice, but also be daring, take risks. I love it when writers in my critique group use ridiculous metaphors, overly-flowery description, or confusingly realistic dialogue. They are experimenting. Imitation of your favorite authors can show a writer what works, but only trying what’s never been done before (and persevering through failure after failure) leads to a unique voice.


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