I’m going to tie a couple of recent blog posts together today. I’m reading a great non-fiction book called ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell. It explores the quick decision making process we all employ every day, and more importantly when we decide to act on them or ignore them.
Among many interesting case studies and research anecdotes, it talks of two people who are professional tasters. Not only are they able to easily distinguish the difference between Coke and Pepsi with the same ease as if comparing wine and water, but they are able to pick up on the nuances between batches of the exact same product!
This got me thinking about my previous post about phenomenon books. Generally writers don’t like phenomenon books (and it’s not just jealousy). But these phenomenons are not pushed along by writers, they are driven by readers. In much the same way as a bag of Smiths salt and vinegar chips will always taste the same to me, but have glaring seasonal variations for the professional taster, readers do not always know the rules of writing, so when those rules are broken they don’t let it impact on their enjoyment of the book.
I read the Da Vinci Code before I joined my Melbourne writers group, and therefore before I learned many of the skills of good writing that I now know, and I loved the Da Vinci Code as much as anyone else.
Two years ago I picked it up again with the intention of reverse engineering it to try and work out what made it so popular. This time I really struggled with it. Point of view slips left me confused in some places and as you know Bob’s* were sprinkled all the way through it –how had I missed all this before?
Just like a taster can probably no longer eat mass-market brie and enjoy it, I (and many of you who comment here) have got to the point where we can no longer enjoy writing which breaks the rules unintentionally.
In some ways I am grateful for all the rules I still don’t know or haven’t mastered because I think that maybe that lack of knowledge allows me to read and enjoy a lot of popular books that many of my writer friends dismiss or dislike.
This does kind of beg the question… Who are we writing for then? Readers, or writers? I guess the answer always comes back to that same truth in writing fiction, a rule one could almost say; always write for yourself, if nothing else your rule breaking is set at the perfect level for your enjoyment.
*As you know Bob refers to the act of a character telling another character something that both of them know, purely for the purpose of letting the reader know. “As you know, Bob, we have never successfully herded the cats into a pen, but this time might be different.” Bob already knows that.