Yes, I recommend reading terrible books. Why, you ask? Because it helps you learn what not to do as a writer. And that’s even better than learning what to do. It’s highly subjective what to do a how to write. I doubt any two writers will agree on everything even if they agree in general.
But there are many no-nos that just about every writer would agree with. If not, then I worry for them. And I worry for the author of the series that prompted this post. I don’t even want to say who it is because the writing and story are that bad. I’m not the only one, and some of the Goodreads reviews made my point. I’m currently on book 3, but I have it as an audiobook in my car so I don’t waste my precious reading time. Thank you, audiobooks.
And onto the no-nos based on this particular series. They shouldn’t be a surprise, but they’re a strong reminder how you can ruin an entire series.
- Don’t bore your readers with backstory or history lessons, especially long conversations that don’t lead anywhere or just keep going round in circles. If the character is learning new things, that’s okay, but bear in mind that your readers might not want to know every single detail that goes beyond answering the essential questions in that moment.
- Don’t overdo descriptions to the point they become info-dumps rather than visual exposition unless it’s particularly important to the character on an emotional level. Find a nice balance between descriptions for your readers and the reactions of your characters.
- Make sure your book stays relatively consistent when it comes to age category. Things like love scenes and swearing, for example, need to be toned down for YA but freer for adult. That’s not to say you should throw sex scenes in every other chapter (unless it’s a romance or erotica, which is a whole different tone) or have overly foul-mouthed characters all the time. And please have character be realistic when it comes to sex. It’s one thing to get a little embarrassed when over-sharing or if another character spills intimate secrets, but getting overly squirmy and making a big deal of someone’s limited experience is more YA than adult. Adults can be immature at times, but keep their immaturity realistic and limited.
- Don’t overdo character traits to the point they’re in every scene or made a big deal of every time. Traits are important, and it’s okay to have another character point them out occasionally… within reason.
- Don’t be vague on things that your characters (especially POV characters) should know inside and out unless it’s really not necessary in that scene.
- On the other hand, don’t save things or hints of things until the final chapter or later book in a series that your characters should know. It’s okay to drop a brief mention of things that don’t mean much at the start, but you need something to set the foundation for when you do need them so it doesn’t feel like cheating or a deus ex machina.
- Don’t avoid the learning curves. I mostly mean this in relation to magical abilities, but it applies to general skills too. Your characters need to learn to use said skills and even struggle at first, maybe even have a fail or two to make it more effective when their skills finally click. That clicking moment is a big deal for your characters.
- Don’t forget the plot. I’m a huge fan of character-driven story, but the book needs some semblance of a plot that coincides with the character’s goals. Establish their personal journey from the start, and the main plot should slot in.
Oddly enough, this particular series has a tone of very specific elements that my series has. I was super miffed to read the place names, nicknames, even many character traits and arcs that are identical to mine. I’m not worried though. My story is way better since I don’t do all the stupid things I’ve mentioned above, and there’s an actual plot.
So reading terrible books actually helps you as a writer avoid those major let-downs for readers.