Less than a week after its publication, Dan Brown’s latest oeuvre is already a huge bestseller. It has, of course, attracted a lot of attention and an awful lot of criticism. Some reviewers sneer discreetly, others scorn it openly.
As a writer, I can only sympathize with the author. If I had received reviews such as: “as a stylist Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal he is now just very poor.” (The Telegraph), or: “it’s all twaddle” (The Daily Mail), I would stick my head in the proverbial oven and decided to write no more.
In addition, it is said that Brown’s writing is poor, breaks many rules when it comes to plot and structure, his research is bad and his prose often long winded. Stuff that most other writers could never get away with.
Similar things have been said about other bestsellers, such as Fifty Shades of Grey and many more. Those books that just run away and sell and sell and sell, leaving other writers far behind, scratching their heads, wondering WHAT is the secret? How can such bad writing have such enormous popular appeal?
It’s all very well and oh-so-easy to say that the general reading public is stupid, that readers don’t actually know what good writing IS. But that is not really the crux of the dilemma. Or the real story about the story.
Writing is a little bit like cooking. Put in the right ingredients, make it taste really good, and you have a product people want. The cake might be a bit wobbly, fall apart in your hands or could be a little burnt at the edges but if it tastes delicious, you’ll want to eat more and more and more. It’s not in the way you cook it, it’s how the ingredients appeal to the public that counts.
In this way, if you spin a good yarn, be it badly written and the historical facts a little off, people will still want to read it. In fact, generally,most people have quite a sketchy idea about history, art and religion, so the nitty-gritty of historical accuracy is of no importance.
In Dan Brown’s case, he hit the jackpot with the Da Vinci Code. He was very clever in creating a plot centered around they mystery of Christ, a very intriguing subject, throwing mystique and sorcery and alchemy and all kinds of taboo subjects into the story, which appeal to the masses.
Plus, setting Da Vinci in Paris and Inferno in Florence, among ancient buildings and artifacts was another clever idea. Add a soap opera ingredient and, voilà; you have everything that could possibly appeal to the millions.
My dad, a great intellectual and an avid reader, picked up The Da Vinci Code, read a bit of it and threw it against the wall. I picked it up and started reading. He then asked me to tell him what happened in the end.
Writers may scream and shout, point out all the flaws, laugh sarcastically and then cry in their beer about how another author writes a good story very badly and then rakes in millions.
The bottom line: Brown knows how to hook people with a story. And THAT’S the trick!