There’s a very popular book1 out there that’s badly written and has a dumb plot and a central character without a particle of gumption. Almost eveyone I know has read it and they either adore it or feel the same way I feel about it.
I admit that the people who love this book have kind of been driving me crazy. How could they think it’s well-written when it’s riddled with cliches and purple prose? How could they relate to the most passive protag of all time? How could they reread this godawful book over and over again? Have they all gone mad?
Then I cast my mind back to my first year of high school2 and the book me and all my mates were obsessed with: Flowers in the Attic by the prolific-even-when-dead V. C. Andrews.
- Riddled with cliche? Check.
- Purple prose i.e. why use one adjective when you could use many? “Long, grim, dreary, nightmarish days”? Check.
- Passive protag? They do remain in the attic an awfully long time without making a break for it . . .
- Stupid plot? Do I even need to type check?
And yet I loved that book and read it over and over again and talked about it with all my friends. At the time I thought V. C. Andrews was one of the best writers ever. I knew many adults didn’t think so, but what would they know?
Flowers in the Attic has coloured how I think about plot, characterisation and story for many years now. I don’t think it would be overstating it to say that without Flowers I would not be the writer I am today. (Yeah, I know, for better and for worse.)
I often say that you can learn as much—if not more—from bad writing than from good. It’s much easier to see what’s going on when something is badly written, and to figure out how not to do that. Bad writing pulls you out of the text over and over again.
But when I was compulsively reading Flowers I thought it was a work of genius. Nothing short of being shaken would’ve pulled me out of that book. I wasn’t learning the what-not-to-do lessons; I was learning about how to use melodrama, suspense and betrayal. Lessons that have come in mucho handy while writing the Magic or Madness trilogy.
If I could go back in time I would not tell the twelve-year-old me to put Flowers in the Attic down and back away from the table. So why do I feel compelled to tell people how bad this other book is every time it comes up? Who’s to say they aren’t learning a whole bunch of cool things about story telling from it? Or seeing other stuff that I’m completely blind to?
On the other hand, I haven’t reread Flowers since I was fifteen maybe it’s not as bad as I suspect it is . . .