WHAT MAKES BAD WRITING BAD

virginia-woolf

 

Virginia Woolf: “The psychic risk of a novel such as Woolf’s The Waves is vast – particularly for someone for whom psychic risk was so potentially debilitating.”  This article is Written by Toby Litt who is a London-based writer. Hospital, his latest novel, is published by Hamish Hamilton. ( A reblog from 2015)

Bad writing is mainly boring writing. It can be boring because it is too confused or too logical, or boring because it is hysterical or lethargic, or boring because nothing really happens. If I give you a 400 page manuscript of an unpublished novel – something that I consider to be badly written – you may read it to the end, but you will suffer as you do.

It’s possible that you’ve never had to read 80,000 words of bad writing. The friend of a friend’s novel. I have. On numerous occasions. If you ask around, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a really bad novel easily enough. I mean a novel by someone who has spent isolated years writing a book they are convinced is a great work of literature. And when you’re reading it you’ll know it’s bad, and you’ll know what bad truly is.

The friend of a friend’s novel may have some redeeming features – the odd nicely shaped sentence, the stray brilliant image. But it is still an agony to force oneself to keep going. It is still telling you nothing you didn’t already know.

Bad writers continue to write badly because they have many reasons – in their view very good reasons – for writing in the way they do. Writers are bad because they cleave to the causes of writing badly.

Bad writing is almost always a love poem addressed by the self to the self. The person who will admire it first and last and most is the writer herself.

When Updike began writing Rabbit, Run it was either going to be a great technical feat or a humiliating misjudgment

While bad writers may read a great many diverse works of fiction, they are unable or unwilling to perceive the things these works do which their own writing fails to do. So the most dangerous kind of writers for bad writers to read are what I call excuse writers – writers of the sort who seem to grant permission to others to borrow or imitate their failings.

I’ll give you some examples: Jack Kerouac, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou. Bad writers bulwark themselves against a confrontation of their own badness by references to other writers with whom they feel they share certain defense of worthy characteristics. They write defensive admirations: “If Updike can get away with these kind of half-page descriptions of women’s breasts, I can too” or “If Virginia Woolf is a bit woozy on spatiality, on putting things down concretely, I’ll just let things float free”. If another writer’s work survives on charm, you will never be able to steal it, only imitate it in an embarrassingly obvious way.

 

Bad writing is writing defensively; good writing is a way of making the self as vulnerable as possible. The psychic risk of a novel such as Woolf’s The Waves is vast – particularly for someone for whom psychic risk was so potentially debilitating. When Updike began writing Rabbit, Run all in the present tense, it was either going to be a great technical feat or a humiliating aesthetic misjudgment. (Excuse writers aren’t, in themselves, bad writers; not at all.)

Often, the bad writer will feel that they have a particular story they want to tell. It may be a story passed on to them by their grandmother or it may be something that happened to them when they were younger. Until they’ve told this particular story, they feel they can’t move on. But because the material is so close to them they can’t mess around with it enough to learn how writing works. And, ultimately, they lack the will to betray the material sufficiently to make it true.

Bad writers often want to rewrite a book by another writer that is written in a different time period, under completely different social conditions. Because it’s a good book, they see no reason why they can’t simply do the same kind of thing again. They don’t understand that even historical novels or science fiction novels are a response to a particular moment. And pretending that the world isn’t as it is – or that the world should still be as it once was – is disastrous for any serious fiction.

Any attempt to write fiction in order to make the world a better, fairer place is almost certain to fail

Conversely, bad writers often write in order to forward a cause or enlarge other people’s understanding of a contemporary social issue. Any attempt to write fiction in order to make the world a better, fairer place is almost certain to fail. Holding any value as more important than learning to be a good writer is dangerous. Put very simply, your characters must be alive before they seek justice.

Bad writers often believe they have very little left to learn, and that it is the literary world’s fault that they have not yet been recognised, published, lauded and laurelled. It is a very destructive thing to believe that you are very close to being a good writer, and that all you need to do is keep going as you are rather than completely reinvent what you are doing. Bad writers think: “I want to write this.” Good writers think: “This is being written.”

To go from being a competent writer to being a great writer, I think you have to risk being – or risk being seen as – a bad writer. Competence is deadly because it prevents the writer risking the humiliation that they will need to risk before they pass beyond competence. To write competently is to do a few magic tricks for friends and family; to write well is to run away to join the circus.

Your friends and family will love your tricks, because they love you. But try busking those tricks on the street. Try busking them alongside a magician who has been doing it for 10 years, earning their living. When they are watching a magician, people don’t want to say, “Well done.” They want to say, “Wow.”

At worst, on a creative writing course, the tutor will be able to show you how to do some magic tricks; at best, they will teach you how to be a good magician; beyond that, though, is doing magic – and that you will have to learn for yourself. For what a tutor can’t show you is how to do things you shouldn’t be able to do.

Toby Litt is a London-based writer. Hospital, his latest novel, is published by Hamish Hamilton.

A Review: Wicca Girl, The Flowering

 

 

 

 

 

This story is a heartfelt journey of the present and past world of wise women, often referred to is Wicca Healers that were mercilessly hunted, tortured and executed for witchcraft. Califia Montalvo, the author, weaves a story rich with complex characters, mystery and suspense. The protagonist is Simi, a young girl who is mystified at the supernatural events that occur and appear to be connected to her. As she matures into womanhood she learns to harness this ability to create forces that can change people’s lives. She eventually learns of a surprising explanation of why hers is a life always at the forefront of what appears to be mysterious paranormal events.

There are journeys in this engaging story that relate to the present, in times past, throughout history, that enfold into the story regarding the treatment of women healers during the time of the witch trial executions that lasted over a hundred years, where tens of thousands of women healers were burned at the stake. This historical matter adds to the complexity of the story in a well-thought out manner.

Montalvo’s story is a plethora of fascinating details regarding the women that were persecuted for their intelligence, their communion with nature, and what others saw as inexplicable knowledge deemed mysterious, even evil, as they used their ability heal others. I found this novel to be well-written with interesting details that made me glad I did not live in an early time when any woman could be charged with witchcraft. I highly recommend The Wicca Girl, the Flowering.

 

A Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd is the first of Hardy’s novels to gain him widespread popularity. What can one say about the incredible writing of Thomas Hardy. This story is lavish and romantic with characters that are unforgettable. The historical details are rich in nuance and fascinating for the period. Hardy’s use of the English language is exquisite. When readers discover Thomas Hardy they always comment, “I fell in love with 19th Century English literature because of Thomas Hardy.” And, so did I.

The Story is set against the backdrop of the beautiful landscape in Wessex, England. The overall theme of the story questions rural values and is striking for its singular sensibility. The story revolves around Bathsheba Everdene and her suitors, as well as the Bathsheba’s difficulties managing a large farm.  One of her suitors, Gabriel Oak is attracted to the very modern sensibility of the independent and spirited Bathsheba. She is also charming, beautiful and vain. However, he must compete with the roguish and dashing soldier, Sergeant Troy, and the wealthy, respectable, middle-aged Farmer Boldwood. While their fates depend upon the choice Bathsheba makes, she must learn the consequences of vain flirtations with all three.

 

IF I GO – A new novel by K. D. Dowdall August 2017

 

 

 

 

“A death in the family finds 32 years-old anthropologist, Lilly Allaire, returning to her hometown to solve a deadly mystery that has haunted her since childhood.”

Lilly Allaire returns to her hometown after the unexplained death of her cousin, Dax. Both suffered a traumatic psychogenic event as teens that left them with no memory of the event. Lilly is determined to solve the mystery with her childhood friend, Noah. She falls in love with him, but she is suspicious of his past. Was he somehow evolved and is her life at risk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of Paul Handover’s, Learning from Dogs

 

 

 

 

 

Visit Paul Handover at https://learningfromdogs.com



If you have ever read a book that made you cried because the story was so beautiful and heartfelt, well, this is one of those memorable stories that touches your heart. The love between a dog and his/her human being is one that is unique in the animal kingdom. Paul Handover writes of the special connection humankind has had over thousands of years, how it came to be, what it means for us, and what dogs have taught us. The author explores the nature of dogs, their innate abilities that perhaps have made humans better because of our connection with dogs. The author’s story teaches and tells us the incredible ways that dogs have made Homo Sapiens more human, more civilized. This book is about learning from dogs and as the author writes, “There is a cycle of love and death that shapes the lives of those who choose to travel in the company of dogs”. It is a breath-taking journey and I highly recommend, Paul Handover’s, Learning from Dogs!

A few insights from Paul Handover’s about dogs,  https://learningfromdogs.com/dogs-and-integrity/


Dogs And Integrity

Anyone who has owned a dog or got to know a dog well will have realised something fundamental.  The relationship that a dog has with humans is very special.  Just visit this article published on the 6th January, 2011 to get a taste of this relationship.

Old Drum – 1870

Anyway, I was speaking of how special is the relationship between dogs and humans.  Special in the sense that no other animal that commonly lives close to man creates such an intimate bond, although I expect horses come a close second.  Special in the sense that this bond goes back for tens of thousands of years, well into the mysteries of time.

Dogs are part of the Canidae, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.  See an interesting article by Dr. George Johnson.

Because of this closeness between dogs and man, we (as in man!) have the ability to observe the way they live.  Now I’m sure that scientists would cringe with the idea that the way that a dog lives his life sets an example for us humans, well cringe in the scientific sense.  But man seems to be at one of those defining stages in mankind’s evolution where the forces bearing down on the species homo sapiens have the potential to cause very great harm.  If the example of dogs can provide a beacon of hope, an incentive to change at a deep cultural level, then the quicker we ‘get the message’, the better it will be.

 

Emotion vs. Feeling: How to Evoke More from Readers

By: Writer’s Digest, David Corbett, Award Winning Author and Guest Columnist, Author of The Art of Character

The difference between writing emotion and writing feeling is more one of degree than kind. Feeling is emotion that has been habituated and refined; it is understood and can be used deliberately. I know how I feel about this person and treat her accordingly. Emotion is more raw, unconsidered. It comes to us unbidden, regardless of how familiar it might be. Rage is an emotion. Contempt is a feeling.

Both emotion and feeling are essential not only in fiction but in nonfiction. However, given their unique qualities, rendering them on the page requires different techniques.  Both emotion and feeling are essential not only in fiction but in nonfiction. However, given their unique qualities, rendering them on the page requires different techniques.

To accomplish this, the POV character should:

  • Dig deeper: As with emotion, surprise is a key element. You need a starting point that seems unexpected, because nothing shuts off the reader like belaboring the obvious. Instead, seek a second- or third-level feeling in the scene.
  • Objectify the feeling: Find a physical analogy for it (e.g. She felt as though her shame had created a sunburn from within).
  • Compare the feeling: Measure it against other occasions when it has arisen. Is it worse this time? How? Why?
  • Evaluate the feeling: Is it right or wrong to feel this way? Proper or shameful? What would a more refined, stronger, wiser person feel?
  • Justify the feeling: Explore why this feeling is the only honest response for the character.
  • Examine the impact on identity: What does this feeling say about the character or the state of her life? Has she grown or regressed? Does she recognize the feeling as universal, or does it render her painfully alone?

Eliciting Emotion

Emotion on the page is created through action and relies on surprise for its effect. That surprise is ultimately generated by having the character express or exhibit an emotion not immediately apparent in the scene.

  • To create genuine emotion when crafting a scene, identify the most likely or obvious response your character might have, then ask: What other emotion might she be experiencing? Then ask it again—reach a “third-level emotion.” Have the character express or exhibit that. Through this use of the unexpected, the reader will experience a greater range of emotion, making the scene more vivid.
  • Surprise can also be generated through unforeseen reveals and/or reversals. This technique requires misdirection: creating a credible expectation that something other than what occurs will happen instead.

Types of misdirection include:

  • Misdirection through ambiguity: Any of several results might occur.
  • Misdirection through fallacy: Something creates a mistaken belief regarding what is happening or what it means.
  • Misdirection through sympathy: Intense focus on one character lures the reader into overlooking what another might do.
  • To ground a surprise in emotion you must develop a belief that some other emotional outcome—ideally, the opposite of the one you hope to evoke—is not only possible, but likely.

Exploring Feeling

Feeling requires introspection, which thus necessitates identification with the character and empathy for what she faces.  The goal is not to get readers to feel what the characters feel, per se, but to use the characters as a device to get readers to feel something on their own.

This means allowing characters to think about what they’re feeling, which accomplishes two things:

  • It makes the feelings both more concrete and more personal.
  • It creates time and space for readers to process their own feelings. If empathy for the character has been forged, this allows readers to ask themselves: Do I feel the same way? Do I feel differently?

Within such scenes, the point-of-view character:

  • registers and analyzes the emotional impact of what has happened
  • thinks through the logical import or meaning of what has happened
  • makes a plan for how to proceed

Putting Them Together: Writing Emotion and Feeling

A character changes through the emotions she experiences, the refinement of those emotions into feelings, and the evolution in self-awareness that this process allows. This gradual metamorphosis creates the story’s internal arc, providing the character an opportunity to move step-by-step from being at the mercy of her emotions to mastering her feelings. And through the use of surprise and introspection, you provide a means for the reader to traverse an arc of her own, expanding her emotional self-awareness.

Deciphering Book Descriptions

Fresh Eggs

 

 

 

I am reblogging this post for good reason. I am reading books, lately, that don’t seem to have cogent descriptions and left me wondering: what’s it all about?

How interesting and telling are most book descriptions?  Most are not at all. Maybe there should be professional book description writers.  Reading a book description should not be a word puzzle to try and figure it out. It can be daunting to write your own book description, especially if one is so subjective, the premise can be lost entirely. It is  better to have a Beta Reader or a Reviewer with a successful blog write a book description, if the author is having problems pinning down a short description that actually describes.  On WordPress, there are many experienced and talented reviewers and beta readers.

Here is a book description that does not describe the content of said novel : Fresh Eggs – a novel by Rob Levandoski. 

“Calvin Cassowary is ready to do whatever it takes to keep Cassowary Farm in the family for one more generation. Hatching a scheme to specialize in chickens, soon he’s got a million hens laying eggs for Gallinipper Foods, b…ut he’s getting deeper and deeper into debt. To make matters worse, his chicken-loving daughter Rhea starts growing feathers. Filled with as many tears and chuckles, Rob Levandoski’s Fresh Eggs is a provocative father/daughter tale guaranteed to make you ponder the realities of modern farming and think twice the next time someone asks, “white or dark meat?”

What we know about this book:  All we know so far is that raising and selling chickens will get you into debt and chicken farm daughters tend to grow feathers.  So far, so what.  Who sheds tears and why is the owner chuckling? After all, I can’t think of anything worse things than to have a child grow feathers.  Pondering the realities of modern farming?