# of pages written: 3
# of days left to write 1st draft: 95
I’m almost done with the first draft of my young adult fantasy novel. I just need to write the last chapter and then it will be complete.
Why am I not excited?
I guess it’s because I don’t think the book is of very high quality.
Well of course it’s not, Eva. It’s a first draft. You’ll revise it, and it’ll get a little better. Then you’ll revise it again and again and it will continue to get better. Knowing you, you’ll probably revise it fifty times, so when all is said and done it will be be fifty times better than it is now.
And besides, what is “quality” anyway?
* * *
Ugh. The topic of quality reminds me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which I will refer to from now on as ZAMM). My roommate Nikki and I have been reading this book for the past, oh, month and a half. Actually, she just finished it this weekend, and I’ve been promising her (and myself) for the past three weeks that I’ll finish it. Instead, it just sits on my nightstand while I read things like Tina Fey’s Bossypants and Lish McBride’s new young adult fantasy novel (Necromancing the Stone).
In ZAMM, the author (Robert Pirsig) is trying to figure out what “quality” is. How can you deem one book quality and another one trash? Is quality subjective to the person doing the judging (which he calls Romantic Knowledge), or is quality something objective that we can measure (which he calls Classic Knowledge)? In either case, it seems nearly impossible to define what quality actually is, especially when you take into account people of different cultures, experiences, or tastes. He comes to the conclusion that quality is neither subjective nor objective.
THEN he starts babbling about this train of knowledge and how classic knowledge is the engine and all the train cars, and romantic reality is “the leading edge of the train of knowledge that keeps the whole train on the track.” And quality is the track the train is on. Later he announces that quality IS reality, which I find really annoying.
This is why I dislike the book. It makes no sense. And I still don’t know what quality is.
Nikki asked me if I thought ZAMM was a quality book.
It’s an interesting question because even though I have not enjoyed reading it and think the author is an annoying mental masturbator who is mean to his son, I still think it’s probably a quality book.
When she came home today, I told her this:
Broccoli is a quality food. Objectively, it’s pretty hard to deny that it is. But a lot of people don’t like it. They might not have a quality experience while eating it, but they will experience quality results because of the nutrition it gives them. In the same way, I haven’t enjoyed the experience of reading ZAMM, but I have experienced quality results, such as having something interesting to discuss (aka argue about) with Nikki, as well as having things to ponder. Also, other people (such as Nikki) seem to get a lot out of the book and enjoy it, so certainly it must have some subjective quality, even though I don’t find it to have much at all.
This led us into talking about the Twilight books, which Nikki and I found to be, both subjectively and objectively, of terribly low quality. (How many times can you use the description “topaz eyes?” And why are you trying to convince young girls that they should marry right out of high school to a much older man and then have his baby even if it is literally killing them?)
And yet, Twilight had a few quality results. It got people (mostly tween girls and middle-aged women) interested in reading, and reading is more mentally stimulating than passive TV-watching. Plus, the books provide entertainment for those who have short attention spans. For example, I read the books while I was home sick for a week, and I did enjoy them on one level because they were easy to read and entertained me at a time when my brain hurt and I was feeling like total crap. Furthermore, here we are saying that the Twilight books are of such low quality, and yet I read them all. So did Nikki. So what can we make of that?
This led me and Nikki to decide that maybe everything has a little bit of quality. Maybe it’s a scale. Some things have more quality than other things. Everything resides somewhere on the quality scale, with nothing being a total zero or a total one hundred percent quality.
And instead of the ZAMM notion that quality is neither subjective nor objective, I’m going to say it’s both. Things can have subjective quality because we like to experience them (like donuts) or they can have objective quality because we know they are doing something good for us physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually (like drinking a shot of wheat grass.) Something can score high on one scale or the other, or both. So, for example, eating fresh picked raspberries is pretty dang high on the quality scale.
That all leads me back to my novel. How can I enhance both the subjective and objective quality of the book?
Subjectively: Do people think it’s fun/worthwhile to read? Does it make sense to them? Do they think the dialogue and characters are believable? Do they find it surprising/interesting/enlightening? Do they want to finish reading it once they start?
Objectively: Do I use active verbs? Is the tense consistent? Do I make sure not to repeat words or phrases too often? Do I combine scene and summary? Is there a clear conflict and resolution? Do I shy away from adverbs and the phrase “topaz eyes”?
The objective stuff I can do on my own, and when I need help with the subjective stuff, I can ask my writing group and friends.
But there’s still something missing. Something that has to do with quality.
Sometimes you read a book that is high on the subjective and objective scale, but there’s something MORE. You get to the end and all you can think is, “that was so good.” You can’t say why exactly, it just WAS. It was like the book illuminated something about life that is absolutely indescribable, and the author would never be able to explain the feeling you got in words, yet, somehow, through their story, you had this amazing sensation that something important had been revealed to you. And I think those books are the ones of true, true quality. Nothing can ever reach 100 percent, but those are the ones that get close. And those books are few and far between.
But one of the quality results I got from reading Twilight is realizing that it doesn’t have to totally rock the quality charts in order for people to enjoy it. Everything has quality in one way or another, and even a little drop of quality can go far.