January 06, 2011

Impressing the right people

Seth Roberts observes that too often scientists publish papers to impress their colleagues, not to advance the science.

Scientists want to be impressive. They want to impress lots of people--granting agencies, journal editors, reviewers, their colleagues, and prospective graduate students. All this desire to be impressive gets in the way of finding things out.

He draws a connection to best-selling author James Patterson, who says of his writing, "I don't believe in showing off. Showing off can get in the way of a good story." It also gets in the way of communicating with the reader.

This New York Times profile of Patterson makes me like him a whole lot--even though I don't think I've read any of his books--because it's clear that he respects his readers and the kind of books they like to read.

If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for a few friends, get a blog. But if you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs?

What we like and need is a good story, so much we'll read bad books to get them. And put up with typos and bad grammar to get them. Yet when all the ingredients come together, we can't eat just one, even if they're all the same.

Related posts

Elmore Leonard's rules of writing
Robert McKee's "Story"

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
1/09/2011 6:05 PM   
I personally find Patterson's stuff rather dull (it's written like The Da Vinci Code, which I also found boring), but I completely respect his career. This is a guy who delivers!

There's a scene in Castle where Castle is explaining a "real" case to Patterson and Cannell, and Patterson, thinking it's the plot for a new book, says, "That's your plot? It's lousy! Where's the twist? That's what your story needs: a different murderer."

The fact is, the twist Patterson advocates is a total cliche, yet Patterson is completely unrepentant about advocating it.

Ever since then, I've respected the guy.

Even if I don't read his stuff.