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?