The Writing of Dan Brown

It took me much longer than usual to finish Dan Brown’s newest novel, The Lost Symbol. This is not a reflection of the content of the book; in fact, it was a busier than usual schedule that prevented me from reading as much as I wanted to. I thought the book was great. It was very much in the same vein as Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Brown has a knack for writing historical fiction and making it quite riveting. They way he twists quantifiable truth with fictional accounts is amazing. This is probably why it takes him so long to write his novels (his last book, The Da Vinci Code, was published in 2003, and I cannot even imagine the amount of research that goes into each book.

This post was meant to be a review of The Lost Symbol, but I realized that I’m not intelligent enough to dissect the entire novel after only one read through. I am also not intelligent enough to deconstruct Dan Brown’s writing and criticize his sentence structure and prose. Anyway, that would just be unfair; considering this website, Dan Brown is an easy target for this kind of critique.

Personally, I feel that judging Dan Brown this harshly is unwarranted.

Granted, Brown is not the best writer. His use of prose is clumsy at times and he misuses words in different contexts. Brown will never be compared to Hemmingway in a contest of famous authors. But Brown can do one thing that Hemmingway couldn’t; sell 2 million copies of a book in a single week. Clearly, Brown doesn’t write because he wants to leave an undying, flawless piece of art with the world. He writes because he has a story to tell and wants to make money at the same time.

What is wrong with that?

Geoffrey Pullum, a linguistics professor in Edinburgh, really tears into The Da Vinci Code in this article here. And he has many valid points. He also concedes the fact that nothing he says will be able to harm Brown or his career, which is another valid point. So why bother? The Da Vinci Code sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide since its release. Apparently, there are 40 million people who were willing to put up with “bad” writing for an enjoyable storyline. So what was the purpose of writing a scathing article about Dan Brown and his writing style?

Maybe because The Da Vinci Code sold over 40 million copies worldwide?

I think that Pullum harbors a little resentment against Brown because of his success. Here, Pullum sees an author who has no grasp of proper writing, a boatload of books. Meanwhile, Pullum himself faces everyday educating the minds of authors as to give them the tools to avoid the kind of clumsy, erratic writing that Brown has turned into a victory. It’s the kind of thing that makes you question if what you are doing serves any point in the long run.

Yes, most of Pullum’s criticisms are justified. The craft of writing is an objective task, and talent can be measured by a set of rules created by linguists from a long time ago. But Pullum also attacks the plot as being “ridiculous” and the puzzles as “stupid.” And here is where Pullum is completely wrong. Pullum may be a more adept reader than the general public, including me. He may have been able to see the plot-holes and puzzle answers from the moment they were introduced, but a simple person like me found them to be intriguing.

It seems to me that Geoffrey Pullum is a condescending writer who dislikes whatever fails to measure up to his standards. For many people, though, reading is not an idea of finding perfect syntax and sentence structure; it’s about drawing away from the real world and escaping into fantasy for a while. I congratulate Dan Brown’s success as a writer without any sort of writing talent. To be quite honest, it’s something that I hope to do one day.

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