jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 13, 2011 - 8:46am

What is it?  What actually constitutes bad writing?  Is it just poor grammar and structure?  Is it the result of laziness or stupidity?  Is it overusing unappetizing tropes?  What do you think?

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 13, 2011 - 8:59am

-cliches

-mundane descriptions

-predictable plotlines

-telling vs. showing

-coat-tailing trends (teen vampire fiction)

Dr. Gonzo's picture
Dr. Gonzo from Manchester, UK is reading Blood Meridian October 13, 2011 - 8:59am

Purple flowers.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 9:20am

Bad writing is the kind of writing all the girls love. It smokes, drinks and messes you around, but you keep coming back for more. Bad writing doesn't care what you think. Because it's bad. It's bad. It's really, really bad.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 13, 2011 - 10:43am

writing for yourself and thinking you're writing for others.

fantasy fulfilment or fan fiction

trite

desperate lack of conflict. there really can't be enough. never enough. add some more. then turn up the heat. rinse. repeat.

Stuart Gibbel's picture
Stuart Gibbel from California is reading Angel Falls by Michael Paul Gonzalez October 13, 2011 - 11:49am

It was a dark and stormy night or anything that starts with a weather report. 

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 13, 2011 - 11:51am

see also: twilight

Sarah Metts's picture
Sarah Metts from Rock Hill, SC is reading A Game of Thrones October 13, 2011 - 11:55am

desperate lack of conflict. there really can't be enough. never enough. add some more. then turn up the heat. rinse. repeat.

 

Agree...if nothing is happening within or to the character that will create change, I don't care to read any further. The story can be placed on the wood pile and wait for cold weather to roll around.

Actually, I agree with everything above. I would add that it is frustrating when bits and pieces of story seem to have been left in from a prior draft that don't have any purpose in the final draft. This could be details about a scene or item that has no relevance. It interferes with intent and can be misleading.

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 13, 2011 - 11:59am

@Stuart

There was this one piece I read that started with "It was raining shit," and for the life of me, I can't remember where on the Internet this was, but that was the one time the weather was an interesting lead-off.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. October 13, 2011 - 12:14pm

Have any of you seen this movie?  It's got a bunch of interviews with authors about what is bad writing.  Shit, it's even called "Bad Writing".

 

http://badwritingthemovie.com/bw/Home.html

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 13, 2011 - 12:22pm

I hate fan fiction with the fiery passion of one thousand suns.

Anyway, I've noticed bad writing is usually someone trying to mimic a voice instead of bothering to find their own. They imitate "good writing" and end up with tons of flowery description, a concept but no plot, and awful, cliched dialogue.

 

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 12:27pm

I don't have a particular gripe with Harry Potter, The Da Vinci Code, Twilight or anything like that. Sure, it's not very good, but it's also not very important.

My problem is with writing that pretends to be more interesting than it is. Once upon a time I'd have summoned up Kiss Me Judas as an example, but nowadays the novel I like to pick on is Cain by Jose Saramago.

Now, I usually love Saramago. He's Portuguese, and I'm Portuguese, so I'm proud that he won the Nobel Prize, but even if he hadn't, he wrote some of my favorite novels. He was superb in so many ways. But Cain is just a turd, and that's why it's more interesting to me than something like Kiss Me Judas.

Cain is bad because it's preachy, incoherent, inconsistent and rushed. It bullies you into submission. It employs narrative devices that just don't work for me. It namecalls instead of satirizing. When I wrote my review of it for the Cult, I already didn't like the book, but having since reread some bits of it, I hate it even more. Unlike the Twilight books, it pretends to be something it simply isn't. It tries to be provocative but it's an impotent effort. And yet it carries on screaming at you.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading A truckload of books October 13, 2011 - 2:55pm

Hey, I am Portuguese, too! Don't see many of us floating around.

Anyway, I don't know if there is much I can add. Bad writing is writing that doesn't move you, or is so poorly written that it can't. 

Also, bad writing is writing that substitutes the "truth" with what the author thinks the reader wants. Nothing irritates me more than fiction that is "dishonest". I know it is a really vague thing to say, but I find that most fiction writers "get" what I mean when I talk about telling the truth in fiction.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 2:58pm

Hello, fellow compatriot!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 13, 2011 - 3:45pm

Bad writing is when there are words, sentences, scenes etc. that don't need to be there. It is when the writer slips up and you can notice him out of the corner of your eye and you see how cheap all the tricks are. It is when the writer doesn't take it where the story needs to go. Bad writing is when the writer is not self-aware of their own faults.

iBronco's picture
iBronco from New Jersey is reading White Noise October 13, 2011 - 3:48pm

Enlighten me on how Kiss Me, Judas is considered bad writing. I'm interested on your opinion.

Read some pulp paperbacks from the 50's, the sci-fi authors. Yikes...

Or any modern Horror from a free E-Book.

 

amazingrobots's picture
amazingrobots from Savannah, GA is reading When You Are Engulfed In Flames October 13, 2011 - 4:01pm

Most episodes of Lost.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 13, 2011 - 4:06pm

What about opening a scene with weather is considered bad writing?

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 4:17pm

Kiss Me Judas isn't considered bad by most people, I don't think. I consider it terrible, but I am aware that I'm in the minority. And a lot of people I respect seem to like it, so I'm prepared to admit I could be wrong. The fact remains, though, that I think the book is terrible.

I don't have a copy near me, so I have to go on my memory. I have read sci-fi pulp fiction. It wasn't great. But nobody pretends it's great. Kiss Me Judas, on the other hand, is apparently a beautifully written masterpiece. Which to me suggests that I am incapable of recognizing good prose when I see it.

I just googled some Baer quotes. I found this.

And my life went to pieces, like a love letter in the rain.

I've seen that quoted by people before. And all I can think is: Seriously? This is pretty? This isn't hackneyed and adolescent? Do we really say something as boring as "life went to pieces" and then, because that's not enough, add something about a love letter in the rain, because that tugs at the hearstrings and has an immediate emotional effect even if it's trite?

I'm cold, religiously cold.

This means less than it pretends to. It suggests a lot, sure — the same old thing spiel about religion being an unfelt ceremony, maybe, or something along those lines. Okay. Fabulous.

Her body is like a knife.

So is every femme fatale's body, ever. This kind of descriptive language is like a knife through my cock.

The prose is consistently unremarkable, but it doesn't want to be. It wants to be gorgeous. And that irritates me. But what irritates me more is the way the novel loses itself towards the end and suddenly they are flying a jet or something? And then... there's a vaguely homoerotic climax that actually has nothing to do with the rest of the book except as an allusion to the kiss that Judas gives Jesus? Oh, but Jude is called Jude! Like Judas! Because she is an ambiguous traitor. I see.

I realize I'm being a bitch, but I just don't get it. What's the appeal?

Edit: I just downloaded the novel onto my Kindle and searched for passages containing the word "gun".

It's a sexy little gun, a killer's gun.

... holding the brush out like a gun.

The gun is an extension of my arm.

The best woman is like a gun.

And I knew I wouldn't need my gun.

An itty bitty gun, like a toy. 

I have a gun under the blankets.

He takes out a giant gun...

I'm pretty sure the quality of the writing speaks for itself.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 13, 2011 - 4:12pm

@Rae It's boring and doesn't really have anything to do with plot. Unless your main character is a cloud.

Jack's picture
Jack from England is reading texts of rejection from pretty ladies October 13, 2011 - 4:12pm

The only way I can put my opinion on this succinctly is that bad writing is false.

There's a Kurosawa quote: "To be an artist means to never avert one's eyes." (I think)

I'm still unconsciously formulating a working theory of what art should and shouldn't be, but that's usually the criterion I go by. If I hate something intensely it's generally because I didn't believe it. 

That's the best I can do. I'm going to have to think of a more clarified view to elucidate that further. I'm so sorry everyone. That's the best I can do.

iBronco's picture
iBronco from New Jersey is reading White Noise October 13, 2011 - 4:42pm

Phil, awesome. Speaking of bad lines, there's this one in Twilight that went something like: 'I was as excited as a kid going to Disney Land.' Oooouf. 

I remember for every 5 bad Baer quotes, there was 1 or 2 I liked. Personally, I still have a couple chapters to finish Judas. Put it down a while ago and havent looked back.

wickedvoodoo's picture
wickedvoodoo from Mansfield, England is reading stuff. October 13, 2011 - 4:57pm

I like Will Baer, but I had to smile at that rant. Not many forumers bring that kind of evidence. Phil, you must be a formidable opponent in pub debates.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 13, 2011 - 5:02pm

Haha. I'm stirring shit up, I admit, but it's nothing personal against anyone. I do like pub debates.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 13, 2011 - 5:15pm

@Renfield - Hmm, I see your point.  What if a certian aspect of weather is used as a motif?  Would it be acceptable then?

Jack's picture
Jack from England is reading texts of rejection from pretty ladies October 13, 2011 - 5:19pm

Hail and drizzle are acceptable.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 13, 2011 - 5:23pm

I think it could be used to your discretion. I'm sure there's a couple times where it totally works in novels. It's trite, basically, but describing a scene in a deluge of rain isn't entirely bad or things like that.

I’ve also grown weary of reading about clouds in a book. Doesn’t this piss you off? You’re reading a nice story, and suddenly the writer has to stop and describe the clouds. Who cares?.......I’m not interested. Skip the clouds and get to the fucking. The only story I know of where clouds are important was  Noah’s Ark!

- George Carlin

EricWojo's picture
EricWojo from Livonia, Michigan is reading The Brothers Karamazov October 13, 2011 - 5:48pm

Bad Writing is subjective.  Surely we can agree on that.  While some hate fan fiction, others love it.  While some hate romance novels, some love it.  While some hate this or that, someone else will love it.

Ask two, three or four or more literary agents or publishers and they'll give you a different answer.  Ask an established author about adverbs and they'll say don't use them.  Then you'll read one of their novels and the adverbs are there.  You'll read a how-to book and follow the directions.  Then, you'll read a second one and find yourself changing your story again.

I say, write the story you want to and how you want to.  Throw it out to a group of readers and see what they think.  And when I say "readers" I mean, people in your writer's group.  Or friends. 

The goal should never be to make $1,000.000.00.  The goal should be to finish something, read it and edit it and read it and edit it again until you like it.

I can't recall where but I listened to an interview with Chuck Palahniuk who was asked if it wasn't for his success, if he'd still be writing.  If memory serves me well, he answered affirmative and said that he'd still be sharing good stories with his group and friends.  (Excuse me if I am incorrect here but I agree with the reasoning).

Chorlie's picture
Chorlie from Philadelphia, PA is reading The Rules of the Tunnel October 13, 2011 - 6:14pm

Read a lot and write when you can. Bring a notebook. A pen you like. It becomes your pen. 

Doodle.

Make jokes.

Realize what you have at the time and what you can make of it.

Don't write to intimidate your audience.

Realize who your audience is.

And read a lot.

 

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 13, 2011 - 6:30pm

Empathetic weather is an overused trope. 

.'s picture
. October 13, 2011 - 6:38pm

Is weather a cliche now haha.

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged October 13, 2011 - 7:34pm

Bad Writing is subjective.  Surely we can agree on that.

Most certainly not. Would you say the same thing about morals?

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read October 13, 2011 - 7:43pm

@Phil -Okay, I'll play -I'll speak to the Baer issue from a personal or reader's perspective, because you genuinely seem to want to know what others get from Kiss Me Judas.

For me, first and foremost, it's truly Story and Characters. The mystery behind this bitch taking this guy's kidney? Is he going to find her? Kill her? Forgive her? Will they kill each other? Fall in love? What's in the ice chest for real? What's she really up to? Well did he murder his murder his wife or not? He seems to be dangerous when hard-pressed -is he really who he tells himself he is or someone worse?

There are just soo many questions thrown out for the reader to chew on -and despite the "noir" tag, it's also an Adventure -he starts out in a bar like the rest of us regular guys, ends up in that fucking blood bath -literally -chases a woman, chases his past, gets himself up mixed up with bizarre and crazy characters who send him to even odder places, including a murder mystery that puts him on the run, and then he's on a train where other shit goes down, ends up in another country...

It's just fun. Plus no one can be trusted -Everyone's shady and it's just as fun for the reader as it is for Phineas. (And he is having fun, despite his attitude problem which shines through because the writing).

The whole book reads like a tough, tough time, when really, it's the time of this guy's life. 

And back to the actual writing, the Tone and the Flow -it just Works. It Clicks. Aside from single sentences that anyone can pull out and rip apart after overanalyzing. There's a Consistent Voice from beginning to end that never strays or lets go -Granted, it's not the only book like that and the book's not for everyone, but then again no book is...

I'm only telling you the attraction from my perspective. It reads to me like an Adult Adventure.

It's also timing. It came out at a time when every asshole who could sharpen a pencil was trying to sound like Chuck Palahinuk. And if you notice with Kiss Me Judas, it basically says "fuck submerging the "I"" along with a lot of other "rules." It was just different back then.

Granted, it doesn't have the same impact today that it did 10 years ago, especially now that the market's oversaturated with "noir," "transgressive noir" "neo-noir" "fuck me noir" "suck my balls noir" and whatever else that only God knows about, and I don't believe that Will Baer's next two books have the same magic as the first one, but for me it's that simple -it just "works" as a good story and it's told in a fun fashion with a fresh voice.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 13, 2011 - 7:47pm

@Eric Wojo: there is taste, and then there is craft.

I have my share of guilty pleasures - stories that are poorly written, but yet I get some enjoyment out of them. There are stories that are well written that I have no interest in. I don't buy into the notion that it's all subjective (at the same time as I don't buy into the universality of objectivity).

I think that bad writing shows a poor execution of the craft.

And not all fan fiction is poorly written, but you do tend to get stories written by people who put themselves into the fictional milieu, instead of a character, and there you get fantasy and wish fulfilment. I've read more than my share of them, and it's astounding how many protagonists have no flaws, and can overcome every conflict with the least bit of effort. Nothing makes me want a character to die a horrific, miserable death while taking the author with them more...

except misplaced hyperbole.

Chester Pane's picture
Chester Pane from Portland, Oregon is reading The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz October 13, 2011 - 9:16pm

Bad weather makes for the best writing. 

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 13, 2011 - 10:30pm

I know it's encouraging and it works for a lot of people, but I kind of resent that whole "an audience of yourself is all you need" idiom. Why even try? It just seems like a self-defeating philosophy.

 

I kind of hate that people take "Noir" these days to mean a first person narrative in present tense with some all too clever similes and a careless approach to violence. Not that I dislike any of those things by any means, but it does not constitute Noir in my eyes.

Charles's picture
Charles from Portland is reading Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones October 13, 2011 - 11:04pm

bad writing, in my opinion is when you sit down and you fart out the most glorious sixty words of your career, you poor yourself some whiskey and you go to bed without ever touching it again.

Fylh's picture
Fylh from from from is reading is from is reading is reading is reading reading is reading October 14, 2011 - 12:21am

@Nathan

See, I have no problem with people enjoying it, and especially if they enjoy it the way you seem to: because it works for them. I know people enjoy that book, and in the end, that can only be a good thing, for the author and for the reader. That probably means that somewhere along the line, things worked out.

But I find it genuinely and even discomfitingly surprising that the story does work for people. I accept that it does, sure, but it's beyond my abilities to reconcile that view with mine. It serves as a grotesque reminder of how tastes vary without any apparent logic.

I love Hubert Selby Jr, and it's amazing to me that he was willing to provide a blurb for Kiss Me Judas. What did one of my favorite authors see in it that I don't?

I'm not interested in deciding what people read or write; I do, however, find it important to discover why people read or write certain things.

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 October 14, 2011 - 1:35am

@Charles: Agreed.

*Points out the irony of writers writing in a forum called "bad writing" which in turn could probably be perceived as "bad writing" when we could be doing something productive. Like good writing or opening a terrorist cell.

.'s picture
. October 14, 2011 - 1:41am

@Laurance

Like good writing or opening a terrorist cell.

 

What, you don't like water boarding?  

Laramore Black's picture
Laramore Black from Joplin, Missouri is reading Mario Kart 8 October 14, 2011 - 1:42am

It's my favorite pass time actually!
I just root for the underdog.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 14, 2011 - 7:46am

@ the CIA - I am not associated with these people.  I am not recruiting anybody.  Please do not hit me with a cruise missile.

Kate Winters's picture
Kate Winters from Toronto is reading James Rollins' Sigma Force series October 14, 2011 - 1:31pm

I want to know: would you rather read a story that is badly written (as in grammar, use of words, flow) that has an interesting and well established plot, or a story that has perfect writing but has plot holes everywhere and the characters make no sense? (I know bad writing and bad story tend to go hand in hand, but... for argument's sake?)

I think the question I'm asking is: how do you define the quality of writing? Is it about the style, the words on the page, the plot, the storytelling, the character--what exactly does it mean when you say "the writing is good?"

For me, I can only take so much bad flow and misuse of words, regardless of how interesting the plot is. At the same time, there is just no chance for me to sit through an uninteresting story, regardless of how perfect the language is. I firmly believe that this is different for everyone, which is why there are droves of people out there who loved The Da Vinci code while I think it's only passable.

And I, for one, am a TV fan fiction junky--I read that stuff like it's crack. That stems from the fact that I watch WAY too much TV and I see subtext everywhere. Speculating about what goes on inside the characters' heads in a scene when I watch TV helps me as a creative exercise. It helps me delve into my own characters deeper; it forces me to examine my own scenes and ask myself: what the hell is A thinking when B says *this*. Now, there are plenty of crap out there (and I do mean a LOT), but I've known pro-writers who writes fan fic for fun, and their fan works are just as good as their pro works. I think it's wrong to categorically say fan fiction = bad writing.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like October 14, 2011 - 1:58pm

@ Kate -- If a story sucks to read, I won't make it far enough to gauge (spell-check indicates this is not how you spell gauge) the plot's intricacies and/or depth.  On the other hand, if it's nice to read yet bores me, I'll eventually put it down.  I guess style is of a more immediate importance whereas content is more fundamentally important, but the two aren't really dichotomous (and some people would probably see it vice versa.)  People might read something just to swim around in the style, regardless of the story (some of Joyce's stuff comes to mind.)  I think good writers can write bad/uninteresting stories, but a good story won't really matter if no one can stand to read it.

Kate Winters's picture
Kate Winters from Toronto is reading James Rollins' Sigma Force series October 14, 2011 - 2:12pm

@JY: Shows you how good "spell-check" really is, doesn't it? *turns off sarcasm ;)* I can see where you're coming from. I see this very clearly in academia. It's horrifying sometimes to read papers and essays from even the academics. The rare typos or questionable use of words, or even the occasional awkward sentences don't normally bother me, but if they are all over the place, I'd have a hard time to even read past the abstract, let alone understanding the subject matter. Boring subject matters on the other hand are like cures for insomnia.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words October 14, 2011 - 2:54pm

@Kate Winters: I amended my original over-generalization of fan fiction - I meant more the wish-fulfilment as story type of writing where the virile and wealthy hero overcomes every conflict without breaking a sweat to rescue the nubiles from the clutches of Mr high-school bully.

missesdash's picture
missesdash from Paris is reading The Informers October 14, 2011 - 5:17pm

@Kate I find fan-fiction inherently flawed because I expect writers to be able to build their own stories and characters. So even if it's "well written" it's still entirely based on someone else's creation and so I do think that cheapens it.

And really, most of it is wish fulfillment. Concepts like pairing your favorite characters or continuing dead plotlines, those are all based in wish fulfillment.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 14, 2011 - 5:23pm

@Missesdash - I see your point about fan-fiction not being creative enough, but what about historical fiction.  On the 'i'll show you mine if you show me yours' thread, the excerpt I posted is from a story based on the Rōnin 47, which is a historical event in Japan.  All the characters are real, and the plot points in the story are taken from the event as well.  Would you consider this flawed as well since it's not from my imagination?

Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter October 14, 2011 - 5:45pm

@Raelyn - I'm going to jump in because this discussion is pretty interesting.  I don't really see historical fiction as flawed because it's taking an actual event and putting a bit of a spin on it.  Whether it's true to historcial events or not, I still find that there's a bit of an artistry to it; it's speculative, looking into a time that we didn't experience.  Inglorious Basterds is a good example of this; it's playing with history, tweaking it, creating a different story from a real piece of time.  HBO's Boardwalk Empire is mostly fiction but it's based on history and has a nice mix of fictionalized history and real history.  I think there's a bit of an artistry to historical fiction.  It's hard to do well, but when it's done well, it's damn good.

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read October 14, 2011 - 6:28pm

@Phil -That's cool. Well I hope I was able to help as far as explaining what I see in KMJ.

@Kate and JY -for me, story and characters come first, no matter what vs. swimming around in style as you put it. But then again, if the story and the characters are coming to life, then I say it is good writing. Well almost -it has to keep me interested. If a book keeps me engaged, turning the page, and I don't want to put it down... I mean I love language and flow and new ways to say things as much as the next writer (I think), but if it's 200 pages regarded as literary "genius" because of how well it's wrtten, when in reality shit's not happening or moving within the story, then it's probably not for me.

@Missesdash and Rebecca –Right on about Boardwalk Empire and Inglorious Basterds. The Untouchables is another great example. Yeah I don’t know how it can be considered flawed either, or any less creative if you’re taking real events or real people, and using that framework to tell a story that no one else can.

razorsharp's picture
razorsharp from Ohio is reading Atlas Shrugged October 14, 2011 - 6:39pm

Inglorious Basterds, Boardwalk Empire, and The Untouchables are all great examples, but I think you guys overlooked the obvious: Shakespeare.