Really Bad Writing

My post on bad writing drew a lot of commentary.  Will was much kinder than I was:  “Point being, everyone has different tastes, and what I think is awful, someone somewhere loves it.”  And he’s absolutely right.  There are a lot of books – I agree with him about Zombie Porn, or pretty much anything shelved under “paranormal romance” – that are not to my taste.  But I totally understand that there’s a huge group of readers out there that have erotic dreams about Edward every night.

Not to my taste wasn’t what I meant by bad writing.  Stella summed up my feelings on the topic quite neatly:

Bad writing… that’s so subjective.  REALLY BAD WRITING… is NOT subjective.  I believe. Then again, who determines, REALLY BAD?

Me.  You.  Any of us can determine what is REALLY BAD.

So our question for today is: what is Really Bad Writing?

Ted offers:  anything by Vince Flynn, or that has even touched a Vince Flynn novel.  Susan uses the weight of opinion argument:  “I’m thinking 99 people out of 100 would agree (Why did I finish it?).”

I’m going to put my 2¢ worth out there, and then let you add yours.

1.  Facts so totally screwed up that it destroys the integrity of the story.  I’m sure this isn’t at the top of everybody’s list, but it will ruin the entire book for me.  In a novel that I recently finished, a European space consortium made a move to dominate the field by sabotaging both Russian and US satellites and rockets.  They needed time to perfect their own superior space shuttle design, which instead of using heat-resistant tiles to protect against re-entry heat employed a heat removal system using . . . drum roll, please . . . liquid hydrogen.  Writers, please.  I don’t insist that you understand thermodynamics.  But if you’re going to venture into the realm of science, please do enough research to know what you’re talking about.  Better yet, don’t.  NB: if you don’t know why liquid hydrogen won’t work as a cooling system and really want to know, ask.

2.  Stupid bad guys.  Six low-grade thugs are hired to beat up the detective.  Unfortunately, his mild-mannered demeanor is totally misleading.  So in one slick move he puts the leader down with an elbow to the throat, then cripples the second with a kick to the knee that folds it backward and destroys the joint.  The third guy charges and lasts about 2 seconds longer.  OK, boys and girls.  What do the other three thugs do?  They’re doing this for money, and probably not a lot.  Run away?  Not dramatic enough.  Take out their pistols to equalize the edge?  Naw, they didn’t bother to bring their pistols.  Hey, I know.  Let’s charge this guy so he can add to the body count.  This is bad enough in a grade B movie.

3.  Bombast.  Maybe this should be number one.  When your hero climbs on his soap box and lectures me about your pet political theory, I put the book down forever.  I don’t even care if I agree with it or not.  You want to write political diatribe, get a job as a scriptwriter for a talk show.  It’s OK for your hero to have opinions, but make it subtle, or find a different audience.

4.  Boring word choices and repetition.  “He saw a figure lurking outside.  He remembered the gun in his pocket.  He pulled the gun out of his pocket.  He pointed the gun at the figure.  He pulled the trigger.”  Sounds like a first grade reader.  “Dick runs.  See Dick run.  Run, Dick, run.”

That’s probably enough of my opinions.  What’s yours?

orcsEven orcs are smart enough to run away


9 thoughts on “Really Bad Writing

  1. My Number 1 would be unrealistic dialog . . . “Look at that gorgeous meadow. I can’t wait to get out of the car and get to those trails.” Really?

    Following close behind would be your Numbers 4, 1, and 3, in that order.

  2. Really bad writing for me is about story content, typically. Though I have found that the authors who make me forget I’m editing, must be doing something damned well.

    Even writing that may seem bad in one genre could fit comfortably in another genre. I’d expect that short, subject, verb, object thing that you don’t care for could do well if its choppiness can drive the urgency of the scene forward.


  3. Okay, now that I am done laughing over the concept of me being “the kind one”…:)

    I agree completely with ALL of Rusty’s points. For what it’s worth, here’s my take:

    1) “Plausible if not possible.” Agreed. A little cheating here and there for the sake of the story is one thing (I’ve done that myself), but at least try and get 90% of it right. Liquid hydrogen instead of heat-resistant tiles? Even *I* know that one won’t fly. Make up something that at least sounds good like ‘an experimental type of plastic/ceramic hybrid designed to…” etc etc etc. It doesn’t have to BE right, but it sure as heck better SOUND right.

    2) The “Chuck Norris School of Fighting”! Never fails to make me laugh when six guys gang up on Chuck, he takes them out one at a time, with the other members standing around waiting for their chance. Think football tackles where the whole team piles onto one guy as more reality.

    3) The only writer that could properly weave political rhetoric into a plot and make it work was John D. MacDonald in his Travis McGee series. It worked because Florida itself was such a major character in the books, and Trav’s internal musings were sometimes crucial to the plot. (That’s also the big reason McGee has not translated well to film despite two attempts; McGee’s internal dialogue is so much a part of the story.)

    4) Anyone remember the Market Scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK? ‘Nuff said…:)

    Dialogue? That one can be tricky. Ray Bradbury could write an entire page of dialogue and make it lyrical and beautiful and absolutely plausible in the context. People never talk that way in real life, but Bradbury could make it work.

    There’s a lot of Bad Crap out there…. all we can do is work hard not to be part of it…:)

    • As I wrote the paragraph on bombast, that little voice in the back of my head said, “What about John D. MacDonald?” One of my favorite writers — my oldest son is named Travis after Travis McGee. And his skillful weaving his commentary on life is definitely not only part of the charm, but what makes him great. But I decided that one master of the soapbox didn’t negate the soapbox.

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