Thursday, May 16, 2013

Story, Story, Story—It's What Readers Want

There's a big kerfuffle in the writing world about Dan Brown's new book Inferno and its meteoric rise in just a week's time. Dan Brown is one of those writers that most of us love to hate. He, like Stephanie Meyers and E.L. James, and a few other writers, are phenomenally successful while being—how can I put this? pretty weak writers. Pretty weak wordsmiths, that is, but they tell stories that people want to read and, for many readers, that's all that counts. Nothing wrong with that, either.

It is a bit frustrating to writers who take great pride in their craft but, even the best writing in the world has to tell a story and if your story doesn't engage the reader, your prose is probably not going to carry the reader through. There are different kinds of readers, of course. I couldn't get into the first Twilight book and gave up about halfway through. I couldn't even get through the sample of the first 50 Shades book (“I scowl at myself...” aurgh!) However, I liked The DaVinci Code and I liked Angels and Demons. I haven't read The Lost Symbol or Inferno but probably will. I think Robert Langdon is a pretentious drip but I love the way Brown pulls together art, mythology, ancient mysteries, history, etc. I got over Langdon's drippiness because I was fascinated by where Brown was going with the story.

Last night I picked up a copy of Andre Dubus' Selected Stories. He is one of those writers who makes just about anything interesting just by virtue of the fact that he is such a good writer. He can tell a simple tale without a lot of twists and turns but the stores are interesting because his characters are interesting and his characters are interesting because he knows them so well and he writes so nakedly about them. I can only imagine Robert Langdon in the hands of a writer of his abilities.

Much of what appeals to groups of readers has to do with where they are in their lives, too. I've written before about the “New Adult” genre hat has become so popular. Amazon has just added an entire new category called “New Adult and College Romance.” If you go to the page you will find tons of books in the category—many with covers that are dark and feature luscious male torsos. I like this a lot more than female backsides in thongs, anyway. I'm sort of intrigued by these books, I've skimmed through a few of them and they are sexy but not quite as erotic as the books in the genre I call “Beaten by the Billionaire.” Mostly they are about young women, often with wounds from the past, finding/avoiding/finding a guy who might be somewhat flawed but who is basically decent and whose love heals them from those past wounds.

These stories are tremendously popular with young women. Of course, being an old woman, I am sort of baffled by the appeal. I keep trying to imagine my 20-something self reading them but life was so very different in the 1970s than it is today.

But whether it is sparkly vampires, sadistic billionaires, hot cowboys, or Harvard symbologists, it's the story that keeps the readers coming back. We all love a good story—especially when they all live happily ever...... well, you won't know until the next book in the series comes out.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I don't get the appeal of those college virgin meets bad boy romances at all. It's not that I don't like romance novels on occasion, but the melodramatic college virgin books don't do it for me at all. Never mind that those books have zero connection to anybody's actual university experiences. At my university, for example, you were far more likely to find a feminist punk lesbian than a tattooed bad boy. Hey, maybe I should write that story.

  2. Maybe you should, Cora. I think I'm too old and too jaded. Whenever I read something like that I automatically think, "Yeah, they're going to make it for the long haul. Right."


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