Why we love bad writing

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Why we love bad writing

Postby steve » 15 Dec 2010, 21:41

Why we love bad writing by Laura Miller

Why do people like bad books? Some of them probably don't read enough to know the difference. But all the same, I suspect that they wouldn't be equally content with Martin Amis' "The Pregnant Widow" should the bookstore clerk have mistakenly slipped that into their shopping bag instead of "The Lost Symbol." Chances are, Amis' strenuously inventive prose would strike them as too much work. The popular species of bad writing (for there are many, many kinds of awful prose) abounds in clichés, stock characters and conventional plot twists, and, as Amis indicated in the title of a collection of his literary criticism, he is a general in the War Against Cliché.


With the advent of Amazon reader reviews, such readers have finally found a voice, and a vocabulary with which to express their taste. Speed is the operative metaphor. Novels are praised for being a "fast read" and above all for having writing that "flows." "Flow" is an especially fascinating term because it's one that literary critics have never used, and it perfectly captures the way that clichéd prose can be gobbled up in chunks at a breakneck pace. "The Da Vinci Code" is over 400 pages long, but you can race through it in about three hours. Combine the large population of casual readers who limit themselves to such books with the hardcore bibliophiles who like an occasional dip into something easy, and you have enough buyers to create a hit.
Read one of the best stories by Borges.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby daisiem » 18 Dec 2010, 11:47

I think sometimes it has to do with the mood you are in. Some days I want to read something that makes me seriously think. I want something dark, melancholic, with characters that are complex and real. Then there are the days when life really gets to me. I don't want to deal with stress, I don't want to think hard, and I don't want to read about anyone who is having a harder time at life than I am. That is when I turn to pure escape literature. I want something cheesy and light. Something similar to one of those silly Doris Day movies from the 60's. I want to be entertained without taxing my mind in any way.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby steve » 18 Dec 2010, 17:22

Before reading the article, I never considered Amazon's reviews influence on publishing. It makes a lot of sense now, and it's kind of sad. The average fawning Amazon review is hardly good criticism, and the typical negative rants are soaked in jealousy.

Funny that she mentioned DISGRACE in relation to Larrson and Brown; if there ever were a great modern novel that depicts fear and fright a thousand times better than any genre crap, it's DISGRACE.

Plus, it flows, and you can race through it!
Read one of the best stories by Borges.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Mira » 21 Dec 2010, 15:15

I thought the Da Vinci Code was fantastic.

Why must we organize writing into bad and good? Can't we stick with commercial and literary?

And for the record, I thought the Lost Symbol was terrible - so it's not that I don't know bad writing, I just like well-written commercial fiction.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby A La Vanille » 22 Dec 2010, 00:48

Wow. Well, I suppose I agree with this. Humanity is acquiring more indolence every generation. My classmates despise literary merit books, and they hate analyzing the skillfully woven symbolism, metaphors, and social commentary along with them. They prefer reads in simplistic, straightforward language, and they absolutely despise excessive description.
This is depressing. Whatever happened to "good writing"?
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Margo » 22 Dec 2010, 09:41

Mira wrote:Why must we organize writing into bad and good? Can't we stick with commercial and literary?


Fist-bump. Yeah!

A La Vanille wrote:Whatever happened to "good writing"?


First problem: who gets to define 'good writing'? Frankly, if a story does what it aimed to do, it's good writing.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Guardian » 22 Dec 2010, 09:50

A La Vanille wrote:Whatever happened to "good writing"?

Died few years ago after some self-appointed blogger and critique is telling to people what is good and what is bad, based on their "never existed" taste. Bloggers believe they're writers, because they write day by day on a lousy webpage. Self-appointed critiques believe they're some sort of almighty as they have the chance to judge the hard work of other people (Without any true background and knowledge.). And of course there is the mainstream audience who is acting as a sheep and nodding to these people, because if they would say the opposite, that wouldn't be trendy and they would be hated because they have a different opinion. And when you ask these people, these critiques to write a better one, if you know this better, they're immediately deflecting... geez, but you're the writer. These people can't appreciate the work of others, just blame writers for their very own incompetence. So since that time, if something is a bit more complex than a straight nail, or a bit more colorful, than black and white, not filled with clichés, it's not good, because it's not mainstream.

they hate analyzing the skillfully woven symbolism, metaphors, and social commentary along with them.

The general problem is, most people don't even understand these at all. That's why they hate them.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Margo » 22 Dec 2010, 09:59

More to the point, why does anyone think complaining about the reading habits of the public and insulting their intelligence is going to convince them to read what we think they should read?

If you wish to change something that has been popularly embraced, you do not openly ridicule it. You first seek to understand it. Then you are in a position to subvert it.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Margo » 22 Dec 2010, 10:09

Guardian wrote:
A La Vanille wrote:Whatever happened to "good writing"?

Died few years ago after some self-appointed blogger and critique is telling to people what is good and what is bad, based on their "never existed" taste.


I have to admit I'm ambivalent about this one, Guardian. There are many book bloggers out there who do a lot of work promoting the work of debut and up-and-coming writers. I've noticed quite a few who specify in their review policies that they will NOT review a book they don't like but will instead pass the book on to another blogger they think might like it. In an industry where word of mouth (even electronic) can be that magic ingredient to a break out success, book bloggers can be valuable allies.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Guardian » 22 Dec 2010, 10:17

Good bloggers are good allies, bad bloggers are bad allies. I've seen and know both. The first one is...
I've noticed quite a few who specify in their review policies that they will NOT review a book they don't like but will instead pass the book on to another blogger they think might like it.

Yep. They can be considered as good ones and good allies (Regardless I love if someone is pointing out my mistakes.). I know few and used to read their blogs too, because they're fair and balanced.

And there are the bad ones whose can't be neutral as a good critique should be, but they're rather ridicule anything and anyone, just to express their inferiority complex, the hate what lies in them, or they're just writing something bad, because they feel themselves so important if they can kill the work of someone without any true reason. Now these are the bad ones. Unfortunately the last ones are in greater numbers.

The general problem is, most self-appointed critiques want to force their view on others. If they don't like something, you must hate that too. If they like something what is an ultimate crap, you must like it too or you're not welcomed. But if these people should tell something face to face, they would just say some false, lame excuses for their critiques.

There are professional, well respected critiques, who have the background to do this job (As being a critique is a job, which requires talent and knowledge.). But nowadays, if someone read a novel, that one already believe he can write a better one (Some people already declares themselves as writers, because they're writing few lines in a blog.). If someone is watching a movie, that one already believes he knows how to create a better movie. So nowadays everyone believes they know everything, while they know nothing in the reality. That's the problem.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby J. T. SHEA » 22 Dec 2010, 11:39

I've bought several books by Martin Amis, but only read one, called INVASION OF THE SPACE INVADERS.

Daisiem, just wait until the French intellectuals get their hands on those Doris Day movies. Look what they did to Jerry Lewis!
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby F.S. » 22 Dec 2010, 11:51

Margo wrote:More to the point, why does anyone think complaining about the reading habits of the public and insulting their intelligence is going to convince them to read what we think they should read?

If you wish to change something that has been popularly embraced, you do not openly ridicule it. You first seek to understand it. Then you are in a position to subvert it.


I don't think it even requires subversion. The blockbuster bestsellers that are "badly written" aren't connecting to a gargantuan readership because of the writing. I think they're satisfying on an emotional level, tapping into a need or a desire or some kind of collective subconscious gestalt.

Also,

A La Vanille wrote:They prefer reads in simplistic, straightforward language, and they absolutely despise excessive description.
This is depressing. Whatever happened to "good writing"?

I don't think simple, straightforward language sans excess description is synonymous with bad writing. I think Elmore Leonard is a literary badass, and that describes his style to a tee.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby Margo » 22 Dec 2010, 14:25

F.S. wrote:I don't think it even requires subversion. The blockbuster bestsellers that are "badly written" aren't connecting to a gargantuan readership because of the writing. I think they're satisfying on an emotional level, tapping into a need or a desire or some kind of collective subconscious gestalt.


It wasn't my intention to suggest it does. Unlike some people, I appreciate any writing that taps that "collective subconscious gestalt". Sometimes I can't like a book because of the style or voice or whatever, but I respect any book that can connect to people like this.

The comment about subversion was for the people who so desperately hate a certain kind of writing that they can't stand other people reading it or liking it. My response to them is that if they want to change anything, they must first understand it and should consider working to change it from within. I don't personally feel the need to change 'bad fiction' to 'good fiction' or literary fiction to commercial fiction or Twilight to Freedom. I enjoy reading different kinds of books for different reasons and occasionally sampling something outside my normal tastes.

F.S. wrote:I don't think simple, straightforward language sans excess description is synonymous with bad writing. I think Elmore Leonard is a literary badass, and that describes his style to a tee.


Much props to Elmore.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby lmjackson » 22 Dec 2010, 15:58

For me reading is a relaxing experience, and its not every day that I want to curl up with the great american/english/whatever novel. I like romance novels, which if we're going to ding writing styles, I'm sure romance novels would be first in the line of fire. I don't even read Nora Roberts or (God forbid) Nicolas Sparks. Nope, with a few exceptions for authors I like, I read those little monthly novellas that come out from Harlequin and Silouette.

I've always gravitated toward the genre, but being an English major has really killed my desire to read anything else in my free time. I've had my fill of Dickens, I just want something simple and emotionally enjoyable! In middle school and high school I would read Orwell and Dickens of my own volition, but yeah no energy for that now lol.

Do romance novels count as "bad writing"? No, of course not. Are they intellectually stimulating? Not quite. But I don't think they intend to be. Believe it or not, some authors just want to write books people enjoy and don't give a squat about making literary history.
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Re: Why we love bad writing

Postby A La Vanille » 23 Dec 2010, 13:12

To those that have replied to me:

Ah, well. We all have different opinions of "good writing". Some of us prefer a story well executed, and others prefer a simple writing style. I personally prefer to read a story with not just good characters or good plot, but also with a wonderful writing style. For instance, whenever I read Bram Stoker or Ray Bradbury, I melt a bit with delight inside from reading such great sentence construction and diction. To me, good writing is almost like a good painting, or a good song. A good painting (and this is all IMO, for we also all have different definitions of a "good painting") will not just be, say, a girl smiling. There will always be something in the background, something that you must look closer for to truly understand that this girl is not just smiling because she is "happy". I can't say much about paintings these days, but unfortunately, much like good writing, good songs have been going down the drain. Nowadays, either the story will be lost, bad characterization, or just a rather plain writing style. This, I suppose is comparable to autotune in music. Writing used to be an art form (maybe still is to some), something carefully constructed in order to send a message to humanity. Now, it's all for quick entertainment, which I find quite sad. Note, I'm generalizing here. Not to say all books you find in the "New Release" section are like this. You could tell me that writing back then was used for entertainment too. Yes, but it is certainly a comparable entertainment to the ones now.
I understand what you mean by a simple writing style, I know sometimes I need a break from such flowery language. But when I said "simplistic language", I meant to imply that the language of books has dumbed down and no doubt this is a reflection of the change in society from "classic literature", of which I have been reading a lot of lately, and today's literature, which I've had my share deal of also. There is a difference between that and a simple writing style, which is simple, yes, but still well executed with metaphors, social commentary, or any other good stuff like that.
I suppose my opinions have stemmed from reading some of the classics, and realizing that I wanted a meaning to stories. Strolling through the teen section of libraries and book stores lately, I've been picking up books and reading the summaries, then promptly returning them to the shelf and running back to the classic literature section. Maybe my ideas will change later, but as for now that is what I believe as "good writing".
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