EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook [link] for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!1. Stephanie Meyer.
Yeah, yeah, big shock. The thing about Stephanie Meyer that gets me isn't necessarily her actual prose (although it can be pretty bad), but the fact that she breaks so many writing conventions. Probably the biggest being that her protagonist never truly sacrifices anything to get what she wants: she gets her boyfriend, she becomes a vampire, her father's suddenly okay with both of those things, she gets the baby, her spare is somehow happy being paired up with her baby. Everything ends up perfect and wonderful for her for all eternity. Anyone else ever have that happen to them? Total perfection with no struggle on your part? Can you relate to that? Didn't think so. Ultimately the story's only value is in escapism, and as anyone past the age of 4 knows, running away from your problems makes for a lousy life. Stephanie Meyer milks detail, has numerous scenes that are not important to the story and have no bearing on it, uses dues ex machine, breaks her own established fantasy rules, and in the first damn book
has the climax happen offscreen
. Throw in a generally unlikable placeholder character, and it's easy to see why this book series got so popular. The vast majority of people who read it obviously had never read anything else before.2. Christopher Paolini.
Paolini is a wicked brew, one part terrible prose, one part cliché, and one part insulting lack of research. Paolini undoubtedly benefits from "everything old is new again", because he regurgitates the world of Tolkien and dumbs it down for 4th graders. Paolini's world-building is patchy at best, and mistakes made in it created the character of Elva, among other things. Eragon being a character with no clear arc of growth has led him on a wobbly path, swinging from a know-nothing farmboy, to a master swordsman, to a vegetarian atheist, to the guy that cries when bunnies die but not humans, to strangling a soldier in cold blood, to deciding that hey, maybe meat and gods aren't so bad after all. If this is your character's growth arc, you have an assload of things to reconsider. Paolini had slick marketing. Harry Potter will be here in 100 years, rubbing elbows with Aslan and Alice. Eragon won't. I confess I'm looking forward to the last book, just because I've gotta see if Paolini can resolve everything. I'm betting he can't. He lost track of things too easily, and it shows. Terribly. Throw in a cliché' storm world and a Star Wars plot, and Paolini is a shining example of why you shouldn't emulate in the first place. Paolini is clearly trying to emulate Tolkien (as he's admitted himself) and failing miserably.3. Cassandra Clare.
Clare wrote a Harry Potter fanfiction, then rewrote it as her Mortal Instruments
Trilogy. I cannot read Clare for too long before my stomach starts to hurt and I feel the sudden urge to go write. Clare is the queen of cliché'. She took Underworld
, Interview With the Vampire
, Holly Black's Ironside
trilogy (Holly Black is a real life writing buddy of Clare's), and mashed them together without changing a thing. The shallow, pretty Hollywood-esque appeal is there, but that's it. That's all you get. And when the story starts getting stupid, I start getting mad. The characters in this act like total assholes to each other. To the point it makes Eragon looks like a mature, responsible adult. Any cliché you can think of, this book has. Parents are Useless? Got it. Teens are Awesome and Know Everything? Got it. Jerkface Hot Guys Are Every Girl's Dream? Got it. When I learned Clare's books series is going to made into a movie, I swear I died a little aside. I had to take a few days to reassure myself that what I was writing was worthwhile, because it seemed so easy to just suck and get paid. Clare's plotting and character are what's the most annoying about her series. Her characters are spurious people! People that I would not want to be around, let alone trust with my life. Petty, vile, self-centered teenagers with a moral relativist complex are scary to me, not heroic. Her story is nothing knew, but she seems to enjoy playing around with incest a lot. Author Appeal. Creepy.4. J. K. Rowling.
Oh, now, hear me out. Rowling of course doesn't belong alongside these terrible hacks. But there are a lot, A LOT of people out there emulating her. Fanfiction.net has something like 50000 stories alone. I've also read a few legitimately published books that try to imitate that dry British wit mixed with fantasy and don't work. There are two things that I think the large majority of screaming Harry Potter fans don't realize: one, that the writing of the entire series took 17 years. That's a fourth of a human lifespan, and a very, very long time dedicated to world-building and plotting. The other
thing is that Rowling doesn't consider herself a fantasy writer, she considers herself a mystery writer, and if you look at Harry Potter, that is the definition of the series: it's a fantasy written as a mystery. The formula of the books follows a delicious mystery plot to a T: you have a whodunit, there are clues scattered throughout the book, and then an expository character comes along after the reveal to explain how the crime was committed. That's not to say Rowling doesn't capture a very classic hero's journey or a morality tale of good versus evil, but at the heart of what she was doing is mystery. (Know what Rowling's next book is gonna be? A mystery.) Cross-genre done successfully makes for a massive readership. Stephen King crosses horror with literary, for example. Fans of mystery and fantasy find appeal in Rowling's work. Too many people forget this, and just wanna recreate the world of Harry Potter without examining why it works. Taking the formula of one genre and the trappings of another is not as easy as it looks. Slapdash makes no Harry Potter. Add Rowling's skill at pacing, exposition, and humor, throw in the largest literary phenomenon of my generation, and it's easy to see why so many imitations of Rowling make me cringe. Recreating a Harry Potter, like recreating Lord of the Rings, takes a good chunk of lifetime, not 5 minutes spent thinking how one can just change Harry's gender and have a whole new story.5. Erin Hunter.
Hoo boy. I realize this author is, in fact, two people. But holy crap, five minutes of reading their cat world or bear world makes me want to climb a wall. Not only do they have civilizations that would never happen with regular old humans, they forget that their characters are animals, and keep changing the playing board
. A tantamount rule that was unchangeable and unforgiving in one book gets a shrug in the next. Starclan! Starclan
! If I were a cat leader I'd go insane trying to obey their rules and listen to their completely unhelpful prophecy and scolding advice. Not only that, so much of it all seems so pointless. Characters die pointlessly, characters succeed pointlessly, villains are stopped pointlessly, characters turn evil or go insane pointlessly. It doesn't matter, because the Status Quo is always going to be that you're a miserable cat who somehow cares about a bunch of stupid rules so that you, a cat, don't end up alone. A CAT.
The rules change all the time, so that needless drama can be continuously wrung out of it. Oooh, a prophecy no one understands and Starclan says is really bad but won't do anything but drop unhelpful hints? That's never happened before! Starclan says you can't do this cause it breaks the rules? Wow, I bet that's never happened before, either! Clans interbreeding is a no-no? Well, cats are notorious for sexual fidelity, and of course not obeying a rule would drive a feline insane. Insane, I tell you! There are no goals in Warriors
, no achieving of them, either. Misery and violence will always happen, and the big problem I have with it is that most of it is self-inflicted. If the idiot cats would just stop listening to their stupid star ancestors, every problem except getting food would go away. Warriors
is a perfect example of unnecessary drama, plotless plot, and how to not characterize animals. Books are not supposed to make you wonder "Well, what's the point of this?" Life does that enough for you.