Bad writing is an oxymoron...

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Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Hillsy » 03 Dec 2012, 08:31

Me: Bad writing is an oxymoron...
You: Wha-? You mean all writing is good?
Me: Yes. Bad writing - literally - does not exist.
You: You've read 50 shades, right?
Me: No, actually. I've heard it's awful for anyone not female and/or slightly snobbish about writing.
You: See! Bad writing....
Me: That's not what I said -
You: You did! You said it's awful - you know, bad characters, poor plot, weak grammer, overuse of the phrase "inner goddess", cliche'd and out of touch...You know. Bad!
Me: Ah right! Yeah, you're not talking about writing -
You: Well I'm certainly not talking about baseball...
Me: - You're talking about editing.
[Pause]
You: So....what's writing then?
Me: Starting with the first word, placing words on the page (figurative or literal) until you reach the end of the story. So if you write badly....?
You: Ernest Hemmingway appears and gives you an atomic wedgie?
Me: Don't be sarcastic
You: Ok, ok. So a bad writer doesn't write anything down...therefore, nothing's written.
Me: Bingo
You: Whether it reads well or not is down to editing, right?
Me: 2 for 2
You: So Bad writing is just writing that doesn't exist....?
Me: Congratulations! You've just won a feeling of smug self-satisfaction.
You: I guess that makes some sense. Pedantic, but logical. Now, why are we in a Jacuzzi again?
Me: Cos I'm writing this. My choice...

OK – so it’s not a new concept. But I hoped that, by writing it out, I might convince myself of its truth. All that crap I’ve learned about craft - character arcs, foreshadowing, exposition, starts, ends, dialogue tags, showing not telling, POV, ‘That’ and ‘was’, passive voice, plot twists, semi-colons – all of it has NOTHING TO DO WITH WRITING (disclaimer: This isn’t strictly true, but I’ll address that later)

Producing a piece of fiction is like cooking dinner. It took me a while to find the best simile and, at the moment, the cooking metaphor is the best I’ve got so far. Why? Ok here goes.

Cooking a great meal comes in 3 parts. 1: A recipe. 2: Buying the ingredients. 3: Cooking them. Map those processes over, here’s what we’ve got. 1: Plotting. 2: Writing. 3: Editing. When you think about it this way – there’s actually very little in the way of transferable skills between cooking and buying. The sole job of going out to the supermarket and coming back with a bag of ingredients is to give you something to cook with. What should you be buying? Check the recipe! How do you fricassee a bunch of beets? Cook it! What happens when it goes wrong? Adjust recipe, go out and buy some more beets, fricassee better.

All of those writing skills you’ve learned only work in the kitchen, when you have a pile of words to prep and cook. And sometimes Mint doesn’t go with Duck. So you have to go buy some oranges, throw away the mint, then reduce and….yeah, you get the gist (I could map a ton of cooking phrases over to writing). No one’s ever stopped in the middle of doing the vegetable aisle, set up a stove, and just checked to see if chervil and fennel work in a butter sauce. They decide it will (through gut instinct, or research, or stealing off another recipe), then they BUY what they need. When you get home and cook it – then you’ll know. Can any of your cookery skills make it work? No? You worry about your ability and your recipe during the meal planning phase, or while you’re cooking. Not WHILE you’re buying the stuff.

That’s not to say you can’t improve. Shopping can be arduous at times, but you can get better at it – remembering the layout of the aisles, packing bags properly, looking for deals and bargains, squeezing vegetables, being able to fly on a trolley to quickly bypass the soup and get to the tinned sweetcorn at the end without crashing, checking different shops. You get some feedback from the cooking process and guidance from the recipe, knowing that one brand of tinned tomatoes is better than another, or if dried sage actually works better that fresh. But at the end of it all, you go to the shop with a list and come out with bags of food. That’s it. Nothing else involved.

I need to keep this in mind constantly. I trip into paralysis now because I’ve got a cartload of knowledge and skills, but I’m trying to use them while I’m WRITING! Writing isn’t about art; it’s about effort. It’s about getting from the start to the end and that’s it. Getting from start to finish in style? Yeah that’s editing. Writing isn’t about coming first or last, it’s just about getting the badge that says “finished” and that is all.

You can’t bake a cake if you come back from the supermarket without any food – You can’t edit without any words.
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Beethovenfan » 04 Dec 2012, 02:29

You know, I needed this bit of insight right now.
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby polymath » 04 Dec 2012, 14:17

Foodways analogies are powerful writing metaphors. I don't know about "Bad writing is an oxymoron." Oxymorons are paradoxes, and like for paradoxes they put contradictory ideas together yet with an underlying truth back beat. Bad writing may be in the eye of the beholder, but not per se put contradictory ideas together. Much bad writing is out there and a fact of extremes, subjective in a sense, but potentially universally objective. I've read my share of bad writing that only a mother could love.

Let's see, a foodways writing metaphor that's an oxymoron? Maybe nutritious junk food? Yeah, that's an oxymoron. Opposite ideas put together expressing an underlying truth. Healthy food isn't junk. Junk food isn't healthy. Nutritious junk food expresses an idealized desire. In terms of writing, though, reading or writing an entertaining junk fiction piece is food for the soul, emotionally satisfying, thus nutritious.
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Beethovenfan » 04 Dec 2012, 18:06

polymath wrote:Foodways analogies are powerful writing metaphors. I don't know about "Bad writing is an oxymoron." Oxymorons are paradoxes, and like for paradoxes they put contradictory ideas together yet with an underlying truth back beat. Bad writing may be in the eye of the beholder, but not per se put contradictory ideas together. Much bad writing is out there and a fact of extremes, subjective in a sense, but potentially universally objective. I've read my share of bad writing that only a mother could love.


I interpreted Hilly's post a little differently, and correct me if I got it wrong, Hillsy. Of course bad writing exists. The post really isn't disputing that. But, you can look at it another way, that all writing is good in the sense that we writers need to be out there producing. Even if it's the worst drivel that ever driveled across a page. Words are words and we need to begin somewhere. So, if we don't call bad writing bad, then what is it that's bad? It's the editing. It's a crying shame to let bad writing continue to exist. In order to combat it, we must be engaged in fantastic editing, the place where drivel is turned into Pulitzer prize material.

So writers, let the "bad writing" commense, and the fantastic editing follow closely behind!
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
~ Ludwig van Beethoven
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Beethovenfan » 28 Dec 2012, 13:08

truman wrote:Such a view is incredibly simplistic. While it's true that visual learning is powerful, Humans are not robots- we are not doomed to repeat whatever we see. If this were so, all we would need to do to help someone is show them a video of the right way to react. Out of the millions and millions who watch and read works and shows with violence, only a couple hundred commit violence in real life. If you're looking for a direct correlation, that's some amazingly bad statistics.



Did this get put on the wrong thread?
"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby thewordsmith » 05 Feb 2013, 14:55

Hillsy: "So a bad writer doesn't write anything down...therefore, nothing's written."

Uhhh. Don't think that I can agree with your argument. There is a LOT of really, truly crappy writing out there - even more that you and I will, thankfully, never see. And, no matter how you want to twist it, it is badly written prose, hence, in common vernacular, 'bad writing'. No amount of rationalization can change that.
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Hillsy » 06 Feb 2013, 05:42

thewordsmith wrote:There is a LOT of really, truly crappy writing out there - even more that you and I will, thankfully, never see. And, no matter how you want to twist it, it is badly written prose, hence, in common vernacular, 'bad writing'. No amount of rationalization can change that.


Well, yeah I can counter that. Unless you're reading over someone's shoulder, you ain't reading their WRITING - You're reading their EDITING. Not editing, or editing poorly, is a failure of the editing process, not the writing one. It's the same as lobbing a pile of raw mince, an undiced onion, 4 unpeeled mushrooms, a pack of dried pasta and a Jar of Dolmio in front of you and spouting "Here's your bolognaise! Enjoy!". The problem isn't in the fact I've got something inedible - it's in the fact I've done nothing to make it edible. I've gone out and bought all the ingredients - that is a success!

The entire concept is a thought experiment. It's about divorcing the concept of "poor writing" from the actual act of putting down words on a page; it's about identifying when and where we need to apply the skills we've had smashed into us (Show don't tell, passive voice, adverbs, run on sentences, consistent POV). People scream "BAD WRITING" so hard and so often people get scared about WRITING BADLY - that's bullshit. You can't write badly, you can only not write.

The "bad writing" in question is often the end of a process (a process often ended too soon), a process of which the WRITING element is only one part, and one of the rawest parts at that. And it's not the qualitative element, it's a quantative one. It requires different tools - a carpenter doesn't carve an ornate bedpost out of a living tree! He chops off the length he needs and heads back to the workshop to turn that raw material into something beautiful. Writing produces the quantity, editing provides the quality. One uses a chainsaw and a truck, the other a chisel and a rat-tail file. And it's the latter that defines how it looks at the end

To quote Michaelango about how he carved David: "It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn't look like David"
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby polymath » 06 Feb 2013, 08:10

"Bad" is a bad word to describe weak writing. It says nothing. Making a claim without supporting the claim is weak argumentation. Might as well say weak writing is chocolate milk. Means nothing. Objective criteria support a claim of strong or weak writing, say, using the first principle of writing: facilitate reading ease and comprehension. Not to mention audience appeal, which has objective and subjective criteria.

Writing critics, the ones who find fault, criticize from a presupposed platform notion of propriety, high-brow brow beating. A critic currently espousing a superior attitude toward literary fiction claims using mass culture language in high brow art is vulgar. Duh-huh. The denotative meaning of vulgar is everyday, common expression of the masses. The critic meant but didn't claim outright that literary fiction and vulgar language don't mix. Nonsense. Contrasts express emphasis and call artful attention to a motif or meaning. Without weak writing, open to sincere comparison, strong writing would not appeal.

A carpenter friend says of the trade: Measure with a micrometer; mark with a blunt crayon; cut with a dull axe. Entropy in action. The carpenter criticized the tendency toward tradecraft imprecision that results in buildings being out of plumb, unlevel, and not square. Writing entropy in action goes the other way: Measure with a broomstick; mark with a bloody finger; cut with a zirconium encrusted scapel. Chaos sets in as a creative work approaches completeness. Change one word and the whole house of meaning may crumble or, ideally, crystalize.

Mere editing for mechanical style can be done by anyone with a passing proficiency in grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills. Editing for mechanical style doesn't strengthen a work and may weaken a work. Instead, rewriting, revision, reworking for appeal, ease of reading and comprehension, expression, content and organization may, should, must strenghten a work. The ideal is to create a conversation, not preach an argument to a choir. A cooperative conversation, albeit monodirectional conversation.
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Brodon » 19 Jul 2013, 02:54

A carpenter friend says of the trade: Measure with a micrometer; mark with a blunt crayon; cut with a dull axe. Entropy in action. The carpenter criticized the tendency toward tradecraft imprecision that results in buildings being out of plumb, unlevel, and not square.
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Re: Bad writing is an oxymoron...

Postby Steppe » 23 Oct 2013, 01:48

I'm trying to find a way around this inertia conflict of substance verses style by writing scene by scene first in any order that I find inspiring with the intent of generating 2-5 times the text needed. Then shaping the outline based on what is written so far for each scene that I have a romantic attachment to as prose and imagery and going back to write the connecting scenes so there is definite balance between rhythms of exposition and back story and momentum through the main stages of start middle finish and unwind.

A map is essential but so is pouring out content.
Biggest thing for me now is finding my villain within my protagonist and my hero within my antagonist.
The old idea so many hammered home about knowing how the story ends and being a good reliable narrator-friend to the reader.

Once I have a vast amount of content and can develop a definite mapping of the story arc I do more writing of difficult transitions and then begin assembling the story more as an editor and continuity guardian.

I protect the final ending and use each smile milestone to give creative drive in the small ending of scenes for meetings, battles, and races toward a goal or new position.

Ultimately a person has to keep writing over the long haul while taking breaks to learn the mirrors and measures that are craft aspect of story telling. So I find a balance by thinking about craft when I am in assembly mode and let craft tell me where to build the rising tides of momentum towards the quests success and where to lay the sinking tides of manageable setbacks that must be overcome by new strategy, new meetings, forced or agreed to for mutual advantage and the inevitable battles that mark the race to the next position of sub-endings.

Haven't posted in a while but that's my strategy: generate, generate, generate, map, map, map, generate-edit-map-assemble.
Then begin reading and correcting for flow and ease of understanding.

I found that knowing the ending of the story helps to find your villain.
Once you find your villain knowing the ending is no longer a problem because the intricacy of the struggle
between hero and villain can become an exquisite (intuitively satisfying ecstasy ) form of the art of writing that is then polished by basic crafting rules or conscious decisions to ignore a rule or create an exception for a specific reason that would end up in the style bible.
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