Writing That’s So Bad It’s Good
There’s a healthy market for bad books.
Game of Thrones fans were so upset by the final series of the epic show that they started trolling the two scriptwriters. When you Googled ‘bad writers’ that month, the first thing that came up was a photograph of the pair. Viewers were upset that their invested time had not been rewarded. Yet readers who slog through long, disappointing novels would never do such a thing.
Looking back through old posts I found a controversy five years ago that arose after I criticised a hilariously bad writer (who shall this time remain nameless). I followed that article with another, and thought it might be fun to combine parts of both into a single post. Here are a few of our nameless author’s one-liners. The sentences are not technically wrong, but…you’ll see.
‘Here you go, a package from your dead cousin.” The bespectacled letter carrier leered at Susan as he talked to her breasts.
With a knot in her stomach, Susan deleted the spam. She inhaled deeply while plopping down in a chair at the table.
Here one character tries to work out the date. “Let’s see now…Melody disappeared on the fourth of July, so it must have been on the eighth that I started calling you. She went out to pick up some Chinese food and never came back.’
“Thank you. What’s the occasion?” As soon as she’d asked the question, she realized it was two years ago today that they’d found Brandon’s remains in the smoldering rubble of Tower One. “Oh, that’s right. Last Thanksgiving was much easier. It was good being around the other volunteers. But I never want to see another yam ever again.”
Elderly body builder Bicep Betty, of yellow polka dot bikini fame, reposed directly across from me snapping her black bubble gum. Every book she wrote was full of kink and husband homicide. No wonder she was an old maid and had a cult following.
It’s very hard to write badly and get it right. You must give equal weight to everything, a death, a sandwich, a hairstyle, a chair, and preferably combine them all in one sentence. Don’t research, use the thesaurus on your laptop. Anyone can write; you just put down a bunch of words. After all, why shouldn’t they write for their own pleasure? Just don’t share it. If a carpenter built you shelves that collapsed when you stood books on them, you’d accuse them of being a bad carpenter, but bad writers don’t get called out that way. There’s a healthy market for bad books.
I believe that good writing can be taught, but that the ability to comprehend and explain with concision is innate. My schooling included regular ‘comprehension essays’ that nurtured the ability to be clear and succinct. Bad writing has a long and illustrious history. The archetypal rubbish poet is of course William Topaz McGonagall, whose epic doggerel ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’ offers a masterclass in crap writing:
‘Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!/Alas! I am very sorry to say/That ninety lives have been taken away/ On the last Sabbath day of 1879/ Which will be remember’d for a very long time.’
There’s something about those who brush up against a genius and assume they can do it too. Lord Alfred Douglas, the anti-Semite who brought a new meaning to the term Oscar bait, couldn’t even tackle the story of his own life. ‘Oscar Wilde and Myself’ had to be ghost-written, but in such cases the name makes the sale. Here’s a poem from him.
‘I wish you may have better luck/ Than to be bitten by the Duck/ And though he looks so small and weak/ He has a very powerful beak.’
Not all of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was eloquence personified, either. He wasn’t averse to churning out the odd bit of Mills & Boon: ‘Her bosom heaved – she stepped aside/ As conscious of my look she stepped/ Then suddenly, with timorous eye/ She fled to me and wept.’
When considering duff prose let’s not leave out the master, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the Victorian baron who wrote incredibly popular bestsellers, who influenced Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’, popularised the Hollow Earth theory and died rich, to be buried in Westminster Abbey. Much of his prose stinks. His name is given to the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants have to write a single opening sentence of such awfulness that it would be impossible to go on reading.
Two other bad writers are worth mentioning. Georgina Weldon, a sort of reverse muse whose incoherent and self-deluding volumes of memoirs inspired Brian Thompson to pen a hilarious biography called ‘A Monkey Among Crocodiles’, and Amanda McKittrick Ros, who was born in Ireland in 1860, and is regarded by many critics to be the worst writer of all time – she’s unreadable, but not unenjoyable.
About Ros, the Oxford Companion to Irish Literature described her as ‘Uniquely dreadful’, and Aldous Huxley wrote; In Mrs. Ros we see, as we see in the Elizabethan novelists, the result of the discovery of art by an unsophisticated mind and of its first conscious attempt to produce the artistic. This is how she tells us that (her heroine) Delina earned money by doing needlework: “She tried hard to keep herself a stranger to her poor old father’s slight income by the use of the finest production of steel, whose blunt edge eyed the reely covering with marked greed, and offered its sharp dart to faultless fabrics of flaxen fineness.’