Showing posts with label bad writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bad writing. Show all posts

Mar 15, 2020

Writing, My Precious

Image result for cartoon person readingWe sometimes hear writing described as precious, which, according to one definition I found, is some combination of
1. self-absorbed – the author inserting his own personality too much in the narration.
2. autobiographical – the story is about something that changed the author’s life, turned into fiction.
3. trying too hard to make the text sound nice/pretty
4. trying too hard to effect a style

Last night I dumped a book after about 20 pages for reasons I can't pinpoint except to call the writing precious. I felt like the author was standing at my shoulder, asking, "Didn't I describe that character completely? Isn't she stunningly beautiful?" Every character was described in great detail before he/she ever said a word. In addition, they might just as well have worn signs that said, "LIKE ME" or "DON'T LIKE ME." The "good" characters were perfectly beautiful or incredibly handsome, and the "bad" characters had beady eyes or a bald spot. Again I "heard" the author asking, "Don't I do this description thing well?" After only twenty pages, I didn't care enough to keep reading.


I've got another book going that is precious for a different reason. I'll probably finish reading it, though I have to make myself keep going. It's historical, and the author is trying (I think) to copy the style of Victorian writers, which, as anyone who's read Dickens knows, is rather long-winded and roundabout. I like Dickens, but adopting that style for a novel of today falls into the precious category. The author is trying too hard, and as a reader I want to say to him, "Just tell the story!"

As an author I admit that it's hard to walk the line. Writers aren't supposed to insert themselves into a story, but we're also told that one can't write well unless she digs deep into her emotions and reveals herself in some way. Readers expect lovely language, but too much is "flowery" and gets you nominated for the Bulwer-Lytton Award for horrible writing. We're expected to understand style and develop one of our own, but if the writer's hand shows, we're being precious. Even big-name writers reveal their prejudices at times, though it's best to be even handed. (I love the fact that people still argue about what Shakespeare did or didn't believe about race, sex, religion, etc. He was very good at offering both sides and letting the reader decide who was right.)

A writer's job is to write, hopefully so well that the reader forgets there was a writer. When we stop our reading and think, "Oh, there's the author," that's a failure on her part. That's when writing is precious. 


Jul 2, 2018

Picky, Picky, Picky!

As a kid I was known as a picky eater. Basically, if my mother didn't make it, I was suspicious, and my aunts learned to keep a jar of peanut butter around. That I'd always eat.
Today, I'm less picky about food, but as a consumer of entertainment, I'm still picky. I know that sometimes that comes off as sour grapes or the I-could-do-it-better attitude. That might be true.

I need some sort of logic in my comedy. Anything billed as "zany" or "madcap" is liable to go unread/watched. There are ways to do zany well--Mel Brooks comes to mind--but most of the time I get tired of silliness portrayed as comedic genius. I don't like those people. They need to grow up.

I need plot authenticity in my dramas too. A few nights ago we watched a movie (It was too hot to do anything else!) and though I kept my comments to myself, here are a few logical flaws I noticed.
*The millionaire bad guy had dozens of minions willing to obey his every command. So...he calls in a retired crook who doesn't want the job.
*In order to make the retired crook (let's call him RC) cooperate, MBG arranges his financial ruin if he doesn't take the job. Again, thousands of people in the world who'd gladly help him out, but...
*RC then goes out and gets a bunch of other retired crooks to help him, though it turned out the job only required two guys. None of them wanted the job either, but there's money.
*During the job one of the gang, a complete nut case who shouldn't have been trusted to cross the street by himself, goes berserk and kills the guy they were supposed to "warn" to leave a certain woman alone. The other guy, who should have known better, kills the woman, sorta by mistake.
Remember, these are the good guys in this film. We're supposed to feel sorry for them.

*This leads BRG to put out contracts on all of them. RC tells RBG he should only kill him, not the others, but of course they die horribly, one by one.
*In the meantime there's a girl RC really, really likes, so naturally he tells the RBG, "Please don't hurt her." Yeah, that's gonna work.
*There's also a hooker who doesn't seem to have a purpose except that RC goes to bat for her when a john beats her up and beats the crap out of him...by trespassing onto a corporate property and in front of a dozen expensively-clad witnesses. I guess that shows us how honorable he is...?
At that point I went to another room and read a book.
Now I know this was a testosterone flick, concocted to make a certain type of man happy with lots of  blood and the F word sprinkled like salt on French fries. But is it too much to ask that there be a cogent reason for the way anybody in the film acted at any point in time?

So yes, I'm picky. When I watch, when I read, I need to feel that the characters are acting from some point of logic, no matter how screwed up it might be. Others can dismiss bad writing as "just for entertainment." I want better entertainment than that.

Oct 9, 2017

Wanna-be Writers: Here's the Scoop

Oooooh, So Serious!
The right way to get published? There isn't one!

That's really all you need to know, but of course I'm not done.

There are wrong ways, which include being in too much of a hurry and believing that your book is somehow different from the 3500 other books released each day. (Yup, I just read that figure, and while I didn't check it on Snopes, I'd say it's close with the current ease of publishing.)

Still, a lot of what's out there as advice for writers is just silly. Statistics about how many words you write per day don't mean diddly. We're all different, so we work differently. Articles that insist you must maintain a blog or dun your friends and acquaintances with emails each and every month are dumb. Ask yourself who's giving the advice: a company that wants to be your email provider? An author who thinks she's the only person who ever wrote a book? A company that wants to make money from your hopes and dreams? They all have an agenda, so take their advice with that proverbial grain of salt.

I'm going to do a workshop on getting published in Gaylord Nov. 18th, and I try not to have any agenda except sharing what I know. I will never tell you my way is best (in fact, I've changed methods over the last five years as publishing changed). In my workshops I share what I've learned in a decade-plus as a published author. A writer needs to do what works for him or her, and the best way to find that out is to ask yourself what you want from your writing. Enjoyment? Recognition? A career? The workshop starts with a quiz (that you don't have to share with anyone) to help you zero in on what you're aiming for. When you know what the target is, chances of hitting it are a lot better!


It's a long, unpaved road
Interested? The workshop, "Write, Edit, Publish," will happen at the Otsego County Library in Gaylord, MI, on November 18th from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I'm not sure if you need to reserve a spot, but as far as I know, it's free. (Phone them for more info: ((989) 732-5841

I look forward to talking to wanna-bes about their work, but please understand that I won't read your work and tell you if I think it's publishable. Here's why: My opinion has absolutely no bearing on whether you become rich and famous!


Jul 17, 2017

Here's What I Don't Get

I've been seeing ads on my Facebook feed lately that claim to help you generate plots for your novels. I guess my question would be "If you haven't got a plot, why do you want to write a novel?"

A novel needs a plot, a reason to exist. As a reader I get tired of  some "literary" novels that tell a lot about how a person feels and how he got that way without the person ever doing anything interesting. Many books that are hailed by critics as "stunning" and "evocative" fail to hold my attention because nothing happens.

Even a plot where things happen will disappoint me if those things are unbelievable or disappointing. A main character who kills had better have a reaaaaaalllly good reason for it. And both the murder and the resulting events must be logical.

Here are some examples that disappointed me, despite the author's skill with words. I fully admit I'm in the minority here, because all of these were successful books; some even got awards.

I recently read a book (well, I skipped to the end after a while) in which the murder of a woman was investigated by her husband (a cop) and her brother (an ex-cop). No person in authority in the police department had a problem with that. Yeah, right.

A book that got all kinds of praise from critics (because of that "evocative" writing) had as the murder scenario a situation where the killer could not have been certain his intended victim would be the one to approach the booby-trapped item. There were dozens of people present and any one of them was every bit as likely to be killed. Of course he was lucky and got the right person!

Another book touted as a "wonderful debut novel" had a plot that was great. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through--until the defeat of the villain depended on her decision, deep in the jungle and after days of chasing the protagonist and finally capturing her in a remote village, to put on some makeup. Almost as bad as the North Pole villain who, with the authorities closing in, decided to rape the protag on the open surface of a glacier at twenty degrees F, because "I've got you now, my pretty, and I intend to have my way with you!" (Can you say "Junior high boy's midnight fantasy"?)

Do these people have beta readers? Do the beta readers not say, "Um, you lost me when the guy hung his pants on the icicle"?

Conclusion: I'm pretty much against buying a plot, but then again, there are times when an author might be better off with a purchased plot than that crazy one he spun in his/her head.

Jul 18, 2016

Where Do You Stop Reading?

Last week I posted about the reader's delight: four great books I read all in a short time. Today I'd like to talk about the ones we don't finish.

My most recent "I'm not reading any more of this" book started on a weak note, but I stuck with it while the author rehashed the previous installment, figuring maybe I needed to know the stuff to get Book #2. Then the protagonist put himself in a situation where he was locked in without telling anyone or giving himself an emergency escape. I thought that was unwise, but as an author I know that we sometimes ignore what real people would do in order to make a story work. It's a story, after all.

The stopping point came in a scene that was clearly included only to shock the reader. The event had nothing to do with historical detail and didn't advance the plot an iota. It was simply degrading to the protagonist and uncomfortable for me to "watch." It was almost as if the author yelled from behind the page, "See how disgusting I can be? Now go tell your friends what a creative writer I am!"

Instead, I closed the book and put it in the discard pile.

Here's my question for you as readers? What does it take to make you close a book and decide you won't open it again?

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