Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Bland Writing

Having written about why we shouldn't compare ourselves to any other writer, good or bad, published or unpublished, I was reminded of talking with someone recently about their work. The writing was fine.  It wasn't badly written, the grammar and sentence construction good, there was pace and flow. The story situation was interesting, the description okay, the action had drama.  It was fine.  But...

It was bland.  There was no energy.  There was no edge.  And above all, the characters were neutral.  The writer put them through the motions in a competent way, but there was no flair, no verve in the writing.  It was all rather well bred, well composed.  It was polite.  Beige, I suppose.

And beige isn't interesting.  The worse book I've read recently (more accurately, part read) was The Shakespeare Secret.  It's not good, and I've written why elsewhere in the blog.  But no one could accuse it of being bland - if anything, it's the opposite.  It's so colourful and pacy, reading it is like being hit repeatedly over the head with a rolled up newspaper. Ditto other not-so-well-written books that have come my way.

So perhaps that's the answer to the bad writing conundrum.  It gets published because it's not beige.  Instead, it's a rainbow confection full of colour and life.  Not my cup of tea, maybe, but at least it's got energy.  Meanwhile, the beautifully behaved book that will never scare the horses sits quietly and politely in the slush pile.


Victoria said...

Thanks, Sarah - that's a post that stirs much thought.

I'd find it hard to belive that anyone sets out to write a flavourless book. At the same time, I suspect many writers prefer not to deal entirely in blood-and-thunder, but would rather base their characters' development around relatively small-scale, day-to-day events. Surely this approach needn't make for beige writing?

It would be rewarding to know more about the art of giving colour to inconspicuous happenings.

Sarah Duncan said...

I think people often subconsciously want to play safe and not offend anyone, and that can make for a flavourless book.

But you don't have to have what you call blood and thunder to add colour - my favourite writer, Anne Tyler, hardly ever has 'big' events in her books; it's all the small stuff of everyday life, and I don't think anyone would call her writing colourless. I'll do a post on this asap...