Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Can't Write Worth a Darn...

Is it wrong for a writer to diss another writer's novel in public? What is the difference between bashing and critical analysis? Where do you draw the line when discussing another writer's books?

On February 2, Stephen King said in an interview with USA Today that Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a darn." He added, "She's not very good." For a writer of his caliber, he showed an embarrassing inability to articulate his comments. Furthermore, he failed to substantiate his opinions with evidence. Telling the world that a writer is "bad" is so vague it communicates nothing useful.

Interestingly, he acknowledged that the pacing contributed to the appeal of Twilight. However, his assessment of the tame sensuality in the book falls short. Granted, the young readers (and their parents) do find the sexual tension non-threatening, but King failed to recognize that Meyer provided excellent motivation for why the characters used caution when touching. I cannot think of anything more deadly than a man's fear he might inadvertently kill the young woman he loves.

The stakes are life and death. That is what makes Twilight so compelling.

Now I have a confession. After seeing all the publicity for the movie, I decided to read the first page of Twilight at the bookstore. I did not expect to like the novel. After all, I wasn't the target audience. So I turned to the Preface and read five short paragraphs. Chills erupted on my arms. I shut the book, walked straight to the counter, and flipped out my debit card. One week later, I finished the last book in the series. Then I gave the books to my daughter who is in college. She rarely reads for pleasure. One week later, she finished the entire series.

Stephenie Meyer is not a perfect writer. None of us are. And her works do not appeal to everyone. No book does. But prior to Twilight, I cannot recall the last time I could not put a book down.

Tell me what you think of King's interview. Here is the link to the article:

The image is courtesy of:


Kimberly Frost said...

Beautifully articulated. You're very right!

Colleen Thompson said...

Although I didn't care for Twilight, it's obvious Stephanie Meyer has tapped into something that appeals to millions of readers. I think it's important to read and study books of that nature to try to analyze what worked rather than tearing down what didn't.

King's a wonderful craftsman. As such, he sees the craft issues Meyer hasn't yet developed. But she's a natural storyteller, and there's always a place in the world for these.

Lark said...

Maybe he read the last book in the series which went so appallingly astray I threw it across the room.

I don't think someone of King's caliber should stoop to trashing another author's work, but with all the hype on the series and the movie, I can see why he might comment that he's unimpressed.

Vicky said...

Hi, Lark, I had issues with Breaking Dawn as well, particularly in the last quarter when Meyer introduced dozens of new characters, complete with histories of each. If King had cited specific issues with the books, I would not have had a problem. King is more than capable of communicating his criticism in a professional manner. But then again, a professionally worded critique isn't likely to generate buzz. :)

Vicky said...

Hi, Colleen, the issue I have with King's comments is that he *failed* to mention specific areas where Meyer can improve. Yes, I recognized more than a few beginner mistakes. And I didn't care ... until the last book. Apparently quite a few readers expressed disappointment with Breaking Dawn. Some even wanted to return the book. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to write with all that attention focused on you? Shudder!

Tamara Hughes said...

I hadn't really heard about Twilight until there was buzz about the movie. And after I saw the movie, I was interested in reading the book. I finally got around to starting it this week and love it. I agree that her prose isn't perfect, but that's OK with me. The story has totally sucked me in, and I can't wait for the next break in my day when I can read more. To me, that's a good writer. King has a right to his opinion, and yet he had to expect a backlash from his comments, given just how popular this series is. And maybe that was his intent...Bad publicity may be good publicity when it comes to promoting his new book. Just a thought.

Sara Thacker said...

Hmmm, One thinks Stephen just wants some promo for himself.

Vicky said...

Hi, Sara & Tamara,

The promo issue occurred to me as well. :-) Tamara, I remember that sucked in feeling all too well! I felt like a crack addict - LOL! When you finish the book, you can read a partial of the same material in Edward's POV on SM's website. I'm such a Twitlit. :-)

Colleen Thompson said...


Interesting discussion.

I can't see that King owed Meyer constructive criticism. For one thing, she hasn't asked for his advice and at least in terms of fans and $ doesn't seem to need it. And if he'd presumed to offer an unsolicited writing clinic, we'd all be wincing a lot harder.

I read King's comments on various authors, including some he very much admires. But that's the way with all of us; we all have likes and dislikes.

Was it good manners for King to state his opinions so honestly, so publicly? Maybe not, but at least he's shaken some of us into discussing books and authors -- who's good, who's bad (or 'not to our taste' is more like it, I'd argue).

Thanks for the discussion!

Lynn Irwin Stewart said...

I'm in the camp which believes Mr. King should have kept his mouth shut. Not because he doesn't have the right to say whatever he wants (freedom of speech and all that) but because having the right doesn't make it appropriate. I'm not sure what he hoped to accomplish by dissing Ms. Meyer -- but, maybe, in the end, it's worth it because people are discussing reading and writing. Still, I think saying what he did was, well, not nice. By the way, I haven't read any of SM's novels -- and haven't read SK in many, many years -- so I don't have a horse in that race.