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Writing or Riveting

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What’s more important: Good writing? Or a good story?
(Of course, a book should have BOTH, but…)

I cannot stand bad writing regardless of how riveting the story is. But I can cut a literary fiction some slack. This might sound outrageously unfair to some of you, but The Help fits into the good story-mediocre writing category. It’s well enough written but it’s like a writing-by-numbers exercise. It hits all the literary cliches—it takes place in the south, uses “authentic” dialogue, talks about important (hairsplitting) issues (racism) but is safely ensconced in the past, so it doesn’t offend well-meaning people in the present. It is just so entirely cliched. I was intrigued by the story idea and I can see why people liked it: it’s a good, fast read, but the dialect is sometimes cringingly bad, and also not consistent. The book is screaming for editing.

8 Responses

  1. Aw, Matt, really? You are breaking my heart man. I loved The Help. But I agree with you overall, give me good writing please.

  2. This was one hairsplitting question. 😛
    I loved your take on The Help.
    Check out my post here.

  3. I wasn’t wowed by The Help, either. I enjoyed reading it, but it nowhere near lived up to the hype, in my opinion. Give me some literary fiction with an unclear storyline any day!

  4. It is a good story..and I admit I like it. Is it great writing? Perhaps not, but certainly not bad enough in my opinion, to distract me from the story.

    as to the ‘safeness’ of the story. yes, you may have a point. setting it in the past makes it less confrontational..but I don’t think that negates the possibility of the story still making people think.

  5. The Help didn’t thrill me at all. I’m glad it was a fast read.

  6. That’s exactly why I haven’t read The Help yet. I studied linguistics in college and did a lot of work with AAVE and I lived in the south, so seeing a misrepresented southern accent and seeing AAVE written poorly gets me riled up like little else. It’s not something that’s easy to get right, so if you’re going to write it, which I hope people will, please, please research it.

  7. Agree about The Help. 100%.

  8. Stumbled upon your blog a while back but will now have to check in more regularly. The Help was a huge disappointment to me as I was expecting so much from all of the RAVES surrounding it. Was stunned to see absolutely no cliche left unedited – from the kind and loving “mammies” to the evil white Junior League racist toilet-fixated bad mommies to the demanding, highstrung “New York” editor. Ugh. And the poop in the pie? Really now, is that the best we could do? To me this book was nothing more than Fried Green Tomatoes meets To Kill a Mockingbird except that is giving it way too much credit. I will say the movie (watched it on a plane) was far superior to the dreadful book. And to imagine Kathryn Stockett counting her millions while someone like Jane Gardam is essentially unknown….oh, the injustice.

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