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Why writers should leave Dan Brown alone

As you may or may not know, there’s a link to an article called ‘Dan Brown’s worst 20 sentences’ doing the rounds. Elsewhere, someone’s posted a Reader’s Guide (as in sarcastic commentary) to his latest book, The Lost Symbol, on their journal. I checked them both out, but you won’t get a link to either of those web pages from here.  

 

Honest criticism is one thing, but these two pieces aren’t looking to be helpful, they’re designed to encourage other people to make snide remarks and join in the laughter at Dan Brown’s expense. The ‘worst twenty sentences’ article tries to dress itself up as a serious critique, but one look at the title tells you the writer’s real intention.

 

According to the list, Dan Brown’s most heinous crime was choosing to call his novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, because, as every smart person knows, Leonardo Da Vinci, actually means ‘Leonardo of Vinci’. 

 

So what? Before the book came out, if you’d asked just about anybody in the western world if they knew who ‘Da Vinci’ was, I guarantee you the vast majority would NOT have said, “Oh, hah, hah! You poor, cretinous fool, there’s no such person as OF Vinci.”    

 

I don’t understand why some people feel the need to play this ‘Bash the successful author, because we’re so clever and he’s so stupid’ game. If you don’t like a book, by all means say so, but the moment you invite others to join in with the public mockery, you’ve crossed the line as far as I’m concerned.

 

“Yeah, but he’s a famous author,” they, and a big chunk of their followers say. “He’s not supposed to write crappy sentences.”

 

Really?   Can any of us, with hand on heart, claim that we’ve never submitted something to an agent/editor/publisher that, when we look back on it later, didn’t contain a single ill-turned phrase? I know I can’t. 

 

Along with millions of others, I read The Da Vinci Code and enjoyed it. I also read Angels & Demons (which I preferred). I’m about sixty pages into The Lost Symbol, and so far, I like that too. 

 

If the people who try to pull other writers down spent more time trying to improve their own work, and less time demonstrating their complete lack of class to the rest of the world, maybe they’d have a better chance of ending up as successful as Dan Brown one day. Of course, before that can happen, they’d need to grow up. I hope they do.

 

What do you guys think?

 

Am I being unfair? Are famous authors fair game for ridicule, or should we focus on improving our own work?

 

As for me, I continue to pursue my dream of becoming a successful writer, derided for my lack of talent.  I'm already halfway there, now all I need is a best-seller.



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Comments

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selfavowedgeek
Sep. 26th, 2009 11:51 am (UTC)
I see what you mean.

Honestly, I don't prefer Dan Brown's writing. I've tried reading The Da Vinci Code several times and just can't get into it (much like trying a few times to get into Twilight). Is he a decent enough storyteller? I suppose so, by all accounts, and from what I was able to read (about a third of the book), yes, his handle on pacing is pretty good. However, on a sentence level, he just didn't appeal to me. Now, does that make him or someone like Stephanie Meyer in the case of Twilight fodder for outright ridicule?

Can't say as I would take it that far although I have made fun of Meyer's writing, mainly to say that, had she cut out telling how often characters *look at each other* and somesuch, that the books would be leaner than a doorstop. ;)

But back to Dan Brown. You mentioned that you preferred Angels and Demons. So, would you recommend that book as a starting point for a guy who is still willing to give Brown a try?
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 11:54 am (UTC)
Sure, but I'd get it from the library, that way I won't feel bad if you don't like that one either ;)

Thanks for sharing :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
Critic, no problem. Public mocker, not so good, at least to my way of thinking.

I'm still waiting for someone to poke fun at that guy who put Dick Moby's name the wrong way around on the book cover.
kmarkhoover
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:01 pm (UTC)
I understand your point of view and you make a cogent argument. From my own perspective the real crime is how mediocrity often passes as art, or is viewed as art, or elevated to art status, by publishers, readers and especially other writers who should know better.

I remember when The Bridges of Madison County came out and everyone was hyping it. Being a writer, and figuring I was missing out on something, I read the novel. I thought it was absolutely awful for no other reason than it was so stupefyingly mediocre and formulaic. And yet people were latching onto it like it was the best thing since sliced bread.

I've been writing professionally long enough to know there's no telling what people will like. And that's fine because it allows us a choice. But as my own person I do not have to recognize mediocrity or help elevate it in any way. I put Brown in that category because, let's be frank, his writing is pretty bad. Along with a whole host of others like Meyer, Auel, King, Rice, Collins...the list goes on. I mean, these are supposed to be the literary giants of today? C'mon.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
I guess that's fair enough, but shouldn't the derision be saved for the people who claim that these guys are literary giants, not the writers themselves?
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justin_pilon
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I agree, like 99.9999% jealousy as I see it. I admit he doesn't write the most beautiful prose in existence, but obviously it's not that bad if he sold that many copies. I enjoyed the Da Vinci code, too.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:18 pm (UTC)
My wife bought me the picture-book version. It was interesting to be able to see the discrepancies in (say) The Mona Lisa that Brown wrte about, really exist.

Thanks for sharing :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:19 pm (UTC)
My old gran had a saying. "If you can't say something nice, then keep your big mouth shut." I don't always follow her advice, but I think that one's a keeper :)

Edited at 2009-09-26 04:24 pm (UTC)
medwriter
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:32 pm (UTC)
I don't think a writer should ever ridicule another writer or actually another person. It's jealousy and sour grapes and serves only to make the person doing the bashing look bad. Personally I would not purchase a book by someone who participates in this. I am assuming that the people doing this are incognito and don't have the guts to post their names. It could easily come back to haunt them one of these days. These bashers and haters give a bad impression of all writers.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
'... I don't think a writer should ever ridicule another writer or actually another person...'

My feelings exactly.
ajjones
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:34 pm (UTC)
As my dad used to say, I feel very strongly both ways. People absolutely like to throw rocks and those who climb higher than them, and I've actually come across people putting Dan Brown down when they've never read his work, simply because he is so huge. I read the DV Code, and it's definitely an entertaining story, and I think it's an important story, historical fiction or not. But I do think some of the criticism from writers about this book is valid, as he really went out of his way to dumb that thing down for the masses, to a point where it was insulting to the reader. But then it is MASS market fiction, and his tactic worked, so what can you say?
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Though I'll happily promote a book I enjoyed, I make a point of not talking down a book that I didn't like on the web.

Sometimes, saying nothing at all is the right thing to say.

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southernweirdo
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
I'm with you. But it isn't the criticisms of the authors I find disturbing; it is the criticism of their audience.

Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer may not be to my taste, but millions of readers enjoy their books. Are all of them stupid? I think not. When people make statements indicating that these books -- and their readers -- are stupid it only highlights their own arrogance. I understand that the readers who enjoy these authors simply have different taste than me. Not everyone loves wading through James Joyce or Faulkner. This is understandable. Taste is subjective.

And everyone has their own guilty pleasures. My wife absolutely loves Stephanie Meyer; I enjoy reading ridiculous pulp horror and sci-fi novels. These types of novels serves the same purpose in many ways -- the same purpose as a Hollywood action movie -- sometimes you just need an escape. My wife thinks some of the books I read are ridiculous, and she's absolutely right! But that doesn't mean they aren't fun to read.

The simple fact is that Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer wrote accessible books that led readers to turn the pages regardless of how much "literature" they have been exposed to previously. They could be considered gateway books for many young and inexperienced readers which is a great thing. That people still read anything at all in this day of so many electronic distractions is a wonderful thing from my perspective. Who knows? Maybe someone who enjoyed Dan Brown could go on and find Umberto Eco (who's been writing about a lot of the same historical controversies from a more academic/literary point of view for years). That would not be a bad thing.

There are so many examples of authors who write accessible books. Some get blated for it while others are praised. For example: Dean Koontz. His books are much the same -- short chapters, short paragraphs, easy to digest sentences, and a basic formula (and his formula works, at least for his readers). Louis Lamour's westerns are much the same. In some ways these best-selling popular authors are kind of like the punk rock bands I used to listen to in the eighties and nineties. During that timeframe in punk rock every song put out by the band would often sound the same. The band just needed to be sure that if every song sounded the same they picked a great song (take the Ramones or The Dead Milkmen, for example).

I think it is fine to put out honest criticism. In fact, it should be encouraged. But "Anyone who likes this is stupid" is not honest criticism. Being critical of the readers is not really a critic's job -- they should be critiquing the work, not the audience. That's where many critics seem to fail these days, in my opinion. I see this in film reviews. A working film critic may see hundreds of movies a year. Their taste will be a little different, and most likely be more demanding, than the person who watches maybe a movie a week.

It's funny -- and more than a little sad -- how the harshest criticisms of Brown and Meyer that I've read always seem to come from struggling authors. If they feel that what these best-selling novelists did is so easy, so simple, why don't they try to learn from the authors and find a way to recreate that success? I fear much has to do with jealousy more than honest criticism (not that there aren't things you can honestly be critical of in those novels -- see Berry's comments on "looking at each other" for example). But then again, young girls do make a big to-do over secret glances and that sort of thing. Maybe she is just speaking a specific language that I'm kind of deaf to as a married guy in his thirties. Berry and I are probably not her intended audience.

Sorry to ramble, but this has been on my mind a lot lately. I kind of take the criticisms of Twilight's audience personally because my wife, my sisters, my cousins, my aunts, and even my mother (who never reads speculative ficton) all love Meyer's books. When someone says the books or their readers are stupid you're talking about my family. And they aren't stupid. They're nurses, business owners, teachers, and professionals with advanced acedemic degrees.
selfavowedgeek
Sep. 26th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
Great points about the audience ridicule issue. Really, I've had students ask me why I sometimes will poke fun of Twilight. And I turn around and make sure they understand that I notice that, yes, folks who don't normally pick up a book are picking up Meyer and Brown or Patterson or whoever is a current flavor of the month. And that's a good thing--the reading. And when the relative non-readers tire of Meyer or Brown or Patterson, they'll most likely turn authors writing in similar veins.

I've even had fellow educators ask why I enjoy reading Louis L'Amour, and I respond with "Because he told a heckuva good story, and it's my Mountain Dew and bag of Cheetos."

So, there we go. I've applied that analogy to Meyer and Brown with students just to demonstrate to them that the books aren't necessarily junk food for the mind, but everybody likes their chosen soft drink and grab bag of chips/similar.

And although I haven't read much Koontz, what I have read I've enjoyed and chewed up in a few nights.

And as Clint mentions right below about crits of King, I'll jump on in with this: I think the guy can tell a story like there's no tomorrow, but as a *writer* I think his forte is with the short story and the novella as forms. Just my two cents.
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wendigomountain
Sep. 26th, 2009 12:54 pm (UTC)
Jon, I dig your mature approach to writers whom many consider to be dubious. I appreciate your viewpoint to say "give these folks a chance" and you are right, people love their work and buy it for a reason. Many of the same criticisms could be made about Stephen King and Jo Rowling's works too. I guess mileage varies. Personally, I don't like Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy either. But they make a living on what they do. I probably don't like more than I do. For the most part, I don't see the draw with Dan Brown, or the Celestine Prophesy, or any number of popular books. But until folks out there get better connections and get better publishing deals for "better" works, that's what's going to be the best sellers. So, instead of some awesome fantasy book out there, we'll get another Eragon book. Because of connections. Not so much how good something is. I can see why there is sour grapes, but who's fault is it? The readers who only know what books are out there from seeing them on the shelf, or the publishers who promote popular writers instead of no names? But sometimes the popular books are exactly what people want, and those book sales are showing where market trends are heading, rather than where they "ought" to go.
bogwitch64
Sep. 26th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
My husband LOVES Cussler. I tease him mercilessly. But he's READING. It might be the equivalent of a James Bond movie, but what the hell? He loves them because, like McDonalds, you KNOW what you're getting before you open the bag--no matter what you've ordered. That's what a certain type of reader is looking for.
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 26th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
reudaly
Sep. 26th, 2009 01:05 pm (UTC)
My issue with Dan Brown - and I'm one of those who wants to beat him to death with his own book - is structure and the hype.

Now, it's nice work if you can get it that allows to you publish a book that breaks every "newbie" rule known to man and make ginormous money off of it. But... that's not anyone I know.

I have problems with his book on the "info dump" level. The "cop out" level - he builds up all this suspense in the bad guys then...here he is. I felt cheated. We did NOT need to know as much about the Templars as he put in.

And the fact that people are taking a FREAKIN' NOVEL as GOSPEL FACT. Which then creates the controversy. I had problems with the "facts" he put out there, except they were perceived as FACTS and CONTROVERSIAL FACTS as that. There are other Templar books out there that even put forth the same ideas that maybe Jesus had children, and all that stuff that didn't get the HYPE and the UPROAR this one did - and frankly are much better stories.

Do I begrudge him his fame and money? Not really. Other people pushed his book into the spotlight. Do I wish he'd written a BETTER one to deserve it? Heck yeah. Or do I wish those who DID writer the better books got their cut? Heck yeah. Would I do it? In a heartbeat - but only if I wrote the better book. Though I wouldn't mind having his marketing team. They apparently can sell ANYTHING.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:35 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury, though they made a dreadful hash of the movie version (imo).

I'm with you on wanting Dan Brown's marketing team :)
temporus
Sep. 26th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Jon, we've had this discussion elsewhere, and I think you know I stand against many of these frivilous bashing just for the sake of bashing people. I'm well in the camp that people enjoy a little too much making these same claims against just about every popular author. I've heard these types of "critiques" against almost every big name author who isn't writing Literary fiction in my lifetime.

Anytime someone goes around trying to use "the rules of writing" as a stick with which to beat up authors, particularly those who have been published and are popularly enjoyed, I take everything else they say with a grain of salt. Particularly the old saw of "show don't tell" which is a "rule" that gets tossed around and abused in way too many a writerly circle. Do you think that if we looked through all of Shakespeare there would never be an instance where Bill TOLD us instead of showed us something? I am certain we could find such.

Don't get me wrong, there's room enough for reviewers who do not like the popular work, to examine it critically and find it lacking. I've no problems with serious examinations of what it popular, but I've little time to waste on people who wish to deride just for the sake of derision.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks Ed. You made a good point in our other discussion about this when you said the editor should share some of the blame too.

Thanks for sharing :)
bosleygravel
Sep. 26th, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)
I think the harsh criticism is case of sour grapes in most cases ... I haven't really read Meyers or Brown, don't really have the inclination too, so I can't comment as a writer on the quality of their prose. As a reader I can say both of those authors seem like they are basically writing screenplays in book form. Hollywood loves the 'high-concept because it sells, it sells because people want it. And that makes it a hot product because advertisers can sell their stuff ... it's commercial fiction from inception ... if that doesn't suit you as an author or a reader, project Gutenberg has 300 years worth of English prose for free. :D

Seems to me that neither author has an understanding with their reader that says "I'm going to write some beautiful prose and have intriguing characters interact in thoughtful ways,", more like "I'm writing a fast paced, easy to read, simple to visualize story that will be a movie in about a year."

So I think criticizing them as if they had somehow implied the the former is kind of a waste of time. I will say, in some ways, we are lucky that these big commercial names are keeping books in the public eye.

Hehe, sorry to ramble, I have way too much free time on Saturdays. :)
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
'...I have way too much free time on Saturdays...'

Make the most of it while you can. Once that baby comes... ;)
reneesweet
Sep. 26th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
Here, here! Not all popular books are my cup of tea and they're certainly not all perfect. I also don't think it's in good taste to publicly bash another author's success in the way you've described - without a serious attempt at critical merit. I try to adhere to the golden rule out here on the interwebs - would I be okay reading what I'm posting if it was about my someday-to-be-published book?

If you want to have a sour grapes pity party (and I've had a few of those myself), do it in the privacy of your own living room and recognize it for what it is.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC)
To be honest, the two pieces seemed more like 'see how clever I am' than sour grapes, but in any case I think they should have kept their thoughts off the web.

Thanks for the input :)
ckastens
Sep. 26th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC)
I agree, there is absolutely no point to this kind of bashing. In the end, it actually just becomes more free publicity for the author, so I find it all kind of ironic.
And if people continue bashing every successful book that comes out, they are just discouraging reading for the masses. Fail all around.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
Excellent points, especially about the free publicity.
j_cheney
Sep. 26th, 2009 02:46 pm (UTC)
I had this discussion with my 21-year-old nephew...who is a waiter.

Thousands of restaurants open every year. A lot of them stay open, but only a few make it BIG.....like McDonalds or Taco Bell. They aren't out there doing fine cuisine, but they're clearly getting a lot of customers.

A lot of people think Taco Bell serves crap, but you know, I eat there sometimes, too.
jongibbs
Sep. 26th, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)
See what you did? Now you've made me hungry :(
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