Sunday, January 3, 2010

What America's Next Top Model taught me about books

I'll admit it, I'm a fan of America's Next Top Model, and if I happen to run across an all day marathon on VH1, nine times out of ten I'm in front of the television for hours. I've tried to fight it, but I just can't. The show sucks me in every time.

During a recent ANTM junket (it was the one with Jade, the bitchy but beautiful girl I wanted to strangle on every episode), something one of the judges told a contestant struck a chord. She was told she wasn't pretty. Wasn't pretty? But this is America's Next Top Model. And all models are supposed to be pretty? Right?

Apparently, pretty isn't what everyone is looking. Interesting is what the judges wanted from the contestants. Just a pretty face won't get you very far in that competitive industry, and the same goes for publishing.

Some people have a knack for putting together long, flowing sentences that are so lyrical you can hear a harpsichord in the background as you read. But a bunch of well-written sentences strung together without an interesting story behind it will not get you passed an editor assistant's desk. Time and again, usually when judging writing contests, I've run across pieces of work that are filled with beautiful, perfectly written words, but the stories lack substance and have me bored by page two.

There's more to writing than just "pretty" sentences. You must know how to craft a story that pulls readers in and doesn't let them go until the last page. Some people are born with this gift, others have to work for it. But if you want to survive in publishing, it's something you had better master.

That episode of America's Next Top Model reiterated something I've known to be true, but have to remind myself of every now and then. There is room for all kinds of stories and writing styles out there. And what works for one person won't automatically work for another (just check out some of the disparity in reviews of my books). But the underlying core of every good book is an interesting story, whether the writing is "pretty" or not.


Shauna Roberts said...

Uh, I think you mean a viola da gamba or some other bowed instrument, not a harpsichord, which is a plucked instrument. "Skeletons copulating on a tin roof" is how one person famously described the sound of a harpsichord.

Good post. I always have trouble with this in my writing. I get too wrapped up in trying to improve the language and don't spend enough time on upping the reader excitement.

Chicki Brown said...

Insightful entry, Farrah. As a fellow ANTM fan, I also posted about how the show has influenced me when it comes to my writing. Stop by when you get a chance.

Farrah Rochon said...

Shauna, thanks for correcting my instrument choice. You'd know way better than I would. :)

I'm the opposite when it comes to writing. I don't concentrate enough on word choice, and get wrapped up in the story. Thank goodness for the editing stage.

I went back and read your post, Chicki. Very good observation! I think creative people put up with repeatedly being rejected because we simply must do what we are called to do. We love our respective crafts too much not to do them.

BTW, I loved Mercedes, too! :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

Good post. You're absolutely right, good editing is the lifeline of the storyteller who can spin a great tale, but is less detailed about the elegance of the language.

Liane Spicer said...

You're right, Farrah. Story always comes first. I adore pretty language - I can hyperventilate over a well turned metaphor - but that alone won't hold me. As long as the writing isn't full of errors that pull me out of the story, a great tale trumps all every time.