In my absence, I've been contemplating the importance of bad writing. Yeah, there's nothing more important when it comes to bad writing is to avoid it like the plague, but alas both still exist and exposure is a learning experience... at least bad writing isn't a death sentence.
Bad writing you teaches you what not to do, and what mistakes you can easily fall into while in the writing zone.
Constantly repeating the same scenes or dialog or details is quite possibly one of the most aggravating things I've seen. If I can turn the number of times a dialog occurs or a detail is repeated into a drinking game that will give me blood alcohol poisoning before Chapter 10, that means you're doing it wrong.
2) Lack of clarity:
Someone pointed out that some of my transitions made her have to read the sentences over to figure out what's going on. I totally hate reading a story that I have to read the same few sentences and still scratch my head going 'What the fuck is going on here?' So I've put that on my list of patch-ups, ironic since it's a pet peeve of mine. (EDIT 6/5/2010: I am not bad with transitions after all! I used to use underscores to break up the sections, and I've just discovered that FF.net has now removed the underscores for all of the stories I have posted! Huh, so it wasn't me... But now I have to fix those chapters :P)
3) Lack of character:
Sure you have characters, but I have a saying -- Characters are people, not props
. Characters that lack agency, proper motivations, or just seem like dei ex machina (I looked up the plural of deus ex machina) are not meant to be main characters. I've lost count of the number of characters I've read that don't seem to think and the story seems to happen to them. Also, on a side note, please stop with the short heroines with fiery red-hair and fiesty personalities, it's like a damn little orphan Annie convention. Cardboard cut-out characters and villains are also signs of poor writing.4) Nothing happens:
Ever open a story that sounds great on the back cover, the dialog is interesting and the characters have potential, then to all of a sudden find yourself periodically wondering when something will actually happen, only to find yourself reading in circles? The story hasn't really progressed anywhere, the characters haven't done anything worth noting. This situation ends in one of two ways: a) the end is pretty much null or b) the author seems to remember that there was a plot and crams it into the last three or four chapters, out of like twenty-seven. Either way, it was a crap reading.5) Contrived plot:
Everyone knows a story has a plot. But it doesn't have to be something that blatantly points to there being a plot. Writers are supposed to be weaving an illusion. Overly contrived plot lines are like pulling back the curtains on a stage play to expose the crew members heaving harnesses and pulling trapdoor leavers.6) Dry writing:
So the writer has a plot, slick characters, and the execution is flawless except for one thing... the narration is rather dry. The sentences and dialog don't grab you, it's a struggle to keep from skimming and praying for some oasis in the desert. This is one of the saddest examples of bad writing, because you can see the potential for greatness if the writer's style wasn't holding it back.
7) Writing men wrong:
Too many female writers mess up when writing men, and make them sound more like women. I'm odd and can spot this like there's no tomorrow (after a couple of pages I figured out that writer Rob Thurman was a woman before looking it up online). It's quite annoying because it's such a blatantly feminine thought process, guys don't think the way women do. Their system is a bit more direct than ours, they don't tend to think themselves into as many circles because they're usually looking to act or react. (Please see The Ladder Theory
.) Another thing is the token gay best friend that gets written so cliche, as if he's some magical fairy godmother there to help the heroine with no personality other than his obvious attraction to men. I have a gay best friend and we talk about more than guys, that's why we're friends. Not because he's gay. 8) Writing what you don't know:
The old adage to "Write what you know..." is often misinterpreted. It's not that you can't write about something you don't know about, it's using what you know to write well. I write DA fanfic, I don't live in Seattle or 2019. What do I know though? I know there's Max, Alec, and the gang. I know they live in Seattle. I know their likes, dislikes, tones, trials and tribulations. If you asked someone who never saw the show, they'd have no idea what to write, would they? The point of "writing what you know" is simply focusing on what you know has to sync up to something else. Just like if you're writing a Victorian novel, you're not going to have your characters hopping on a plane to Cancun. You know there weren't planes during that period. Focus on what you know rather than troubleshooting details that you don't have and can easily slip into a trip-up.
9) It feels like something's missing:
Writers know their stories inside out. We know what happens, when it happens, and why it happens. We also know birthdays, what color socks they wear and what their favorite sex position is. The problem is that the audience doesn't. An effective writer conveys all the information needed at the proper pace to keep the audience in the know. Too many times there have been details left out that would explain a character's actions or behaviors, either completely or dropped in at a moment that makes that information moot.10) Logic FAIL:
There are certain things that make me lose respect for a story, and one of which is spotting failure in common sense on behalf of the writer. I was reading a book where the characters met at a "post-wedding engagement party." That's right, they met at a wedding "reception" but the author just couldn't call it that... Heck, I'm Indian and we don't even have a something called a "post-wedding engagement party." In the same book, a main character's friend reassures her that a strange guy hanging out in her apartment all weekend until she gets home to have sex with him is perfectly harmless. Okay, in what world wouldn't a woman call the police on that?11) Background FAIL:
Next on our list is background fail. This is what I refer to when reading a light fantasy/sci-fi that doesn't establish what kind of world the story takes place in. Is it known that vampires exist by the general public? Are they born or made? Can they be in sunlight? Sometimes one and not the other, but you don't find out until you spend the whole novel piecing it together yourself and it's all around confusing while reading. It's back to the whole Writing 101 for you. (See #9.) Another form of background fail is when there's too much insulation with the two main characters that it seems like nothing else is going on outside of them.
12) Not enough layers:
Every novel has a main plot, but to fill the rest of the story there needs to be subplots. How the heck an author writes a single layer novel is beyond my comprehension, and falls deep below expectations. A truly amazing story is the sum of all its parts working in cohesion, and without layers and fine tuning it looks like a home ec project gone wrong.13) Bad characterization:
Characters are like our own children. We're bound to parental praise, but watching other characters crooning the merits of the lead characters is just too much. "No one is more suited," "he's the perfect man," and "no other woman could ever compare to her" are just a sampling of this insipidness. Your characters are cool. According to you, not what they do... Another thing I've picked up on and find more disturbing is when describing characters is correlating evil to black hair and dark eyes, and the characters having to prove that people with black hair aren't sinister, which is a recurring theme I've found in romance novels where a "sweet and humble white" girl has to fight an "evil and conniving [insert non-white ethnicity here]" girl. What kind of Mormon commune does the author live on that black hair and dark eyes are so rare to be considered "exotic" and "sinister" while redheads are always fiery with hearts of gold? Last time I checked, the most dominant genes were for dark hair and brown eyes, and red hair defines nothing about personality.14) Poor intonation:
Maybe the word isn't "poor" but it's the only adjective coming to mind right now. The moment I start reading a story, I can hear the writer/narrator's voice in my head. Sometimes I like it and sometimes it's like nails on a chalkboard, but it's very personal and isn't necessarily indicative of the quality of writing. I don't know if anyone else can pick up on it, but I can spot right away if a writer was frustrated while writing a piece or if her head wasn't all there, and it comes off in the tone of the story and I get frustrated while reading. A lot of times people neglect that the voice of the story is just as important as the other parts. Some narrator/author's voices are more versatile than others, it's kind of what separates Michael Jackson from a lounge singer in Atlantic City.
15) The name game:
Naming a character is one of the hardest things for me to do. I don't know if anyone else keeps paper lists and Excel files full of names, origins, what languages they're used in, affiliations or whatever I use to catalog for that particular list. For a character, the name has to sound right. I also make it a point to never repeat main characters names in other stories, but that's to keep things straight in my head. Over the years I've discovered a few things about good names: a) don't use anything too long or too strange sounding because the reader can end up tripping over the name too much and it looks unappealing; b) don't use a name you can't pronounce in real life, it might look nice on paper but your eyes and ears might disagree; c) make sure the name is appropriate for the story genre, frou frou strange names are great for sci-fi or fantasy not for a coming of age story, and not using names that don't fit the atmosphere (e.g. naming an ancient Oriental princess Gwenevere). There are certain names that are pretty common and now come often feel like default characters, like Bella/Isabella/Isabel/Belle/Isabelle (clumsy waif) or Logan (spoiled rich white guy) or Kane/Cain (the cliche bad boy whose soul the author seems to connect with). The minute I see these names I feel like I've got them figured out.16) Too Much Information aka TMI:
It's nice to share as much of the story as possible with the reader, but plenty of times there are things that should just be left out. I can't stand when a writer goes on for pages and pages with information that doesn't give a new depth to the characters or push some part of the main or subplots forward. Sometimes you earn a pass if it's a sort of thing to be savored, like a love scene or just a witty exchange that makes the experience feel fun. Bogging the story down with extra information should have a reward of some sort. Something I really REALLY hate is when a writer uses racial barriers as a selling point for a plot description, yet the story has nothing to do with overcoming cultural differences. A person's race is often a menial detail, and can be addressed in the text but never in the summary unless the story is about specifically about race relations.