Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Bad Writer's Tripping Point For Me

I came across this post a few days ago by Jason Sandord called The Bad Writer's Tripping Point. He basically asked at what point you, as a reader, stop reading bad writing.

Under normal circumstances my tolerance for bad writing is pretty low. I have too much to read to spend time on something I'm not enjoying for whatever reason. But sometimes I'll push on, despite a main character I don't sympathize with or plot points that don't make sense. If the concept of the book is original enough, I'll even ignore bad writing.

But there comes a point when enough is enough. I debated doing a review of this book for a while. I wasn't able to finish it, which generally precludes a review. On the other hand, it's a great illustration of how far a reader will go for an interesting story, regardless of how bad certain things get. Up to a point.

I like assassins in fiction. I find them interesting. So I was excited to see Jon Sprunk's Shadow's Son. The cover was fantastic and the back blurb looked good. I'd read a review that mentioned the vocab got a bit heavy for a fantasy novel but didn't think that would bother me.

Little did I know. When the narrator uses words you don't hear in everyday speech it's a bit jarring but not a novel killer. When the street urchin turned mercenary turned assassin uses a word like 'victuals' rather than 'food' or 'grub', that's problematic. And Sprunk used a LOT of words that aren't common use words. "A blanket of clouds occluded the stars." "...the cool steps wended beneath her feet" (which I'm convinced is an inaccurate use of 'to wend', meaning to go or to travel). I actually started turning down pages when I encountered something odd, and I'm not one for defacing books.

In addition to individual words, he also used a lot of metaphors, and metaphors that, while graphic, stay with you for all the wrong reasons. Here are two. "Once he started talking, it all gushed out of him, like pus from an infected wound." Now I understand the idea of talking about a problem and feeling better afterward. But I've never compared that to draining pus from a wound, and would rather not have had to. Yes, it is original, but, well, I physically recoiled from the book when I read that line, and that's not something that happens too often. My second example also stayed with me. "The terror of her situation crept over her like an army of biting ants." Again, it's a unique picture, but not one that works for me beyond my thinking it's a strange image.

I still thought I could handle the vocab, annoying as I found it. It was the next two points, in quick succession that made me finally put the book down for good. These happen near the end of the book, so it's MAJOR SPOILER time.

1. We find out the main female character is really the daughter of the Emperor, who was deposed 20 or so years previous. The girl, a spoiled 17 year old who knows nothing about governance as she's spent her life shopping and waiting for her adopted father to find her a husband, immediately decides she wants her throne back. I'm left wondering how she could possibly be better than the current government, corrupt as it might be. Even if she could mount a rebellion, she could never keep power or rule well.

2. Here's where I ultimately stopped. I can accept a lot of things but this stretched even my credibility too far. In order to leave the city the assassin takes the girl to a secret exit in the cemetery. It's a fake grave commissioned 50 years previous by "...the various thieves, con artists, sellswords, and other scum..." "Workers were smuggled inside the crypt night after night for many long months to work on the clandestine project." It seems to me that any secret involving so many people would have been found out long since. Who were the workers? None of them talked? No one noticed construction work going on at the cemetery at night for MONTHS? City officials never wondered how these people entered and left the city?

If I hadn't wanted to like the book so badly I'd have stopped reading around a hundred pages in. As it was, I made it to page 187 before throwing in the towel.

What gets you to stop reading a book?

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