Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is There Such a Thing as "Bad"?

From the Department of Uncomfortable Questions:

Is there such a thing as bad writing?

Let's assume we're not talking about misspellings galore, egregious grammar gaffes, and other such technical things that make it about as comprehensible as the typings of Pika the kitten. Let's say we're talking only about manuscripts that have been through the world's best spelling and grammar checks.

Then, is there such a thing as "bad"? When discussing things like voice, style, plotting, character, and all that makes fiction worth reading, is there a minimal level of competence? Some magic line below which is an auto-reject and above which is a "well, it depends"?

Do we do ourselves damage when we assume it's all just subjectivity, rather than making the effort to improve our craft?

Do we do ourselves damage when we assume our writing is crap, rather than acknowledging our strengths and the fact that we can't please everyone?

If there is a line, even a murky one, how do we find it? Our gut? Honest critique partners? I'm guessing "murky" is a key word there. Really excellent writing seems easy enough to identify, whether it's our thing or not. I know I've had the experience of reading something and thinking, "Wow, this is so well-written. I'm just not into (insert genre here)." Likewise, writing that's super-far off the mark is easy to spot.

But that pesky gray area in the middle ... what about that?

Lots of questions and no real answers this time around. What are your thoughts?


Mike Lewis said...

Yes, I believe that even when all the technical requirements have been met, there are still compositions that qualify as bad writing.

Cari and I saw an example of this last night on our sole cable movie channel, called "Airspeed" (I wonder if this was trying to imitate the Sandra Bullock "Speed" series...)

It's about a teenage girl who flies out on her father's private jet (727, so private airliner is more appropriate) to meet up with her parents in another city. The problem is that they get caught in a storm, lightning strikes the plane which knocks everyone out except her (she had her oxygen mask on) and slices a hole in the side. Oh, and it turned the autopilot on, but scrambled the navigation information. So the plane is flying, but in such a way that it will crash at the airport instead of land at the airport.

With me so far?

As if the plot weren't already stretched just a bit, the part where I decided the really bad writing was with the dialoge, specifically the lines spoken by the mother-of-the-girl character. I seriously expected in the ending credits something like:

Nicole (Girl) played by Elisha Cuthbert
Father played by Joe Mantegna
Quivering-Blubbering-Mass-of-over-the-top-Emotion (a.k.a. "Mother") played by Lynne Adams

Once again, it was an example of good actors following a bad script.

I should note that the IMDB critics review links to something called "Bad Movie Night".

Anonymous said...

I do think even with the technical things perfected, sometimes things are just bad. I just hope I'm moving on from the bad writing, but even if that's the case, I know I still have a lot to learn. At least *most* days it brings happiness.