When you’re reading a good book, it’s an enjoyable experience. You can get swept into a story and lost in the lives of the characters. Reading a bad book, however, can feel like torture. Sometimes you can be reading a book where the plot is dull, the characters are unpleasant, and the writing style makes you cringe. It can be tempting to put the book down and walk away – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. There are so many books in the world that it’s a shame to waste time on one you’re not enjoying.
However, as a writer, we can get a lot of benefit from reading a bad book. If you find yourself reading a book that you’re not enjoying, stop and think about why. What is it about the book that’s driving you away from it? The pace? The characters? The underlying concepts? If you think critically, you can notice the things which make this book one that you don’t want to read. Sometimes, I have been known to pull out a notebook and write down a bullet point for everything I disliked as I was reading a book I didn’t like. I wrote four pages of these notes for one book I disliked intensely.
The purpose of these notes is not to go and write scathing reviews on Goodreads afterwards, but to think about the elements that make up a book. When you come to your own writing, it will be easier to recognise the mistakes that drove you away from that other book, so you can stop them from creeping into your stories.
Even if you can’t face reading a bad book to its end, take the time to think about what it is that makes you want to put the book down. The more you think about the books you read, the easier you will find it to create a book that your readers won’t want to put down.
It’s worth noting that different books appeal to different people, so a book that you think of as “bad” might be another person’s favourite book. There have been books lauded as great classics that I haven’t got on with at all. Even a definitive list of “writing mistakes” is difficult to come up with, as I discussed in my post on breaking the rules. In the end all you can do is think about what’s bad for you, what drives you away from a story, because if you write a story that you will in enjoy, you can better odds of finding readers who will also enjoy it.