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Bad Writing? How does it Work??

Originally posted on RolePlayGateway.com as “Bad Writing? How does it Work??”, by madscirat:


The moonlight shone down on the place, unhindered. The gnarled parapets jagged upwards, like a bony hand of icy indifference. In the background there was a pigeon. Who knew how long the place had stood there? 40 years? 50 years? Tempus immemoria, i.e. always? But it was a bad place, that much was certain. A very bad place indeed.
-Garth Merenghi

One of the things that irritates me in forum based RP is the prevalence of bad writing. So I have decided that instead of critiquing a player’s post and suffering the inevitable negative reaction I am going to channel my rage into this thread.

What is bad writing? Its suprisingly hard to answer that question. In fact, I might go so far as to offer that there is no single understanding that covers all the errors which together we classify as bad writing. So instead I will try to deal with all the types separately.

1) The Linking Verb Bore

Example: Hera was mad at Zeus.
Corrected: Zeus enraged his wife Hera or Hera fumed at her husband

Using a linking verb in a sentence is like using a nail in carpentry. Sure sometimes they are necessary but the work looks a lot smoother and more natural when joined with pegs and wood.

2) Vocabulary Much?

Example: The car raced across the finish line. The other cars raced in seconds behind.
Corrected: The car raced across the finish. The other cars sped in seconds behind.

English is the Borg of languages, we have assimilated so many different languages that we have more similes for the word hallway than some languages have words. Use this power of English and vary your diction. That is unless you are using the same word for emphasis and DO NOT sound like this…..

Mike stared in disbelief as his hands fell off. From them rose millions of tiny maggots. Maggots!? Maggots. Maggots. Maggots. Maggots…Maggots. All over the floor of the post office, in Leytonstone.
-Garth Merenghi

3) Your….Cliches…..killing….meeee…

Example: Alvin drew and shot the gunmen. Paul fell to his knees and then flat to his face. Then a tumbleweed rolled by.
Corrected: Alvin drew and shot the gunmen. Paul fell to his knees and then flat to his face.

Cliches are distracting. They jolt the reader out of the story because the reader recognizes the cliche’. Also they are just dumb, unless of course you are crafting a parody.

4) Show Do Not Tell

Example: Rod was a desperado, the kind of guy no one messes with, a real loner.
Corrected: Rod leaned in the deepest shadow of the dark bar. When the waitress came by with his drink he left the bill but didn’t so much as glance at her comely face. He drank it in solitude beneath the tilted brim of his wide fedora.

The most common and, for me, irritating of writing errors. When we tell rather than show we are actually bypassing the entire point OF WRITING! If God wrote like this then we would have a omniscient voice in our heads that sounded a bit like Morgan Freemen telling us the exact truth behind every person or object we saw. In such a world there would be no scams, no illusion, no surprise, no tramps, no players and no low-income Republicans. In other words it wouldn’t be that interesting.

5) Purple Prose

Example: Thundering like a herd of elephants the massive granite stone came rolling slowly but decisively down the jagged mountainside a rough reminder of the inevitability of gravity.
Correction: Thundering like a herd of elephants the stone crashed down the mountainside.

Sometimes less is more. Don’t be like Garth and load your sentences down with more description and metaphor than they can handle. Of course sometimes you have writers like Tom Robbins who can defy this rule with mad genius and sheer talent, but, as with Mountain Dew commercials, just because he can doesn’t mean you can or should.


Conclusion…sort of

I will add more examples when I think of them or encounter them and I encourage you to add those that annoy you in particular. Until I return I will leave you with one last taste of Garth Merenghi, this time from the master himself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcFWSExNJVk

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