Back when every word I wrote got rejected, it used to drive me plum crazy to see all the howlingly awful books that were being published. Even some of the best-sellers! Stories that made no sense. Prose that read like a six-year-old wrote it. Stuff that read like a space alien wrote it, after taking a two-hour course on how to imitate humans.
Those addled publicists out there just won’t stop pitching books to me that I wouldn’t read, let alone review, if you paid me extra for it.
As usual, I won’t divulge the authors’ names or the titles because I don’t want to give them any free publicity. I only mention them because it troubles me that there is so much dreck out there.
What we read for entertainment, what we watch on a TV or a movie screen, is more than just a way to pass the time. It’s one of the ways we educate ourselves. And all too often we educate ourselves into folly. Or worse.
One of these books is “a paranormal erotic thriller” which might be described as “James Bond meets 50 Shades of Grey,” only in this one James Bond is a woman super-spy who gets off on being dominated by her mysterious dark putz-head of a boss. If you’ve ever wondered why more and more people seem to be getting stupider and stupider, this may give you a clue.
The other is a lot of lesbian tommyrot intended to portray sinful and dysfunctional activities as praiseworthy, even heroic, and totally mainstream. What made that publicist think I would want to read it? But again, here is our entertainment media educating us into folly.
I do not like to try to imagine the mental landscape of anyone who reads books like these one after another and doesn’t see anything wrong with them.
But then I don’t have to imagine it, do I? Our current social and political landscape, which I can’t avoid seeing if I try, leaves nothing to the imagination.
In my years of reading, I have learned to recognize many techniques whose employment guarantees a truly impoverished work of fiction. In case you’re interested in writing one, I’m going to share them with you.
1. Make your main character an avatar of all your fantasies about yourself–unbelievably smart, strong, sexy, cool, etc. This works especially well if you are a pencil-necked geek or a big squishy puffball and you write yourself up as Bonzo the Barbarian or Mr. Cool the super-spy, or the drop-dead gorgeous female pirate captain, whatever.
2. All the other characters are only there to be put in the shade by your protagonist. If your hero is a male, all the women in the book must throw themselves at him. All the other men are constantly shown up by him. Please don’t bother to give these ancillary characters any depth or personality.
3. Make sure the villains in your story are impotent pygmies who can never get the better of your hero. Don’t be afraid to rely on extremely improbable coincidences to make your hero come out on top.
4. Above all, stock your story with absurd situations that make no sense at all. Two memorable examples will illustrate what I mean.
In one of the few truly awful mysteries I’ve read, the protagonist, a 55-year-old homicide detective, spends most of the hottest night of the year toiling over a particularly gruesome and disgusting murder scene. Then he goes home to his 17-year-old girlfriend and they go at it like rabbits for the next six hours.
In a horror novel, the heroine, a 40-plus-year-old, chain-smoking, desk-bound social worker clobbers the living daylights out of three hulking goons who try to murder her. To this day I don’t know how she did it. I hope the author, the editor, and the publisher donated their brains to science for careful study.
We have all encountered most of these in published novels, some of them best-sellers. There are, of course, many more; I don’t have space to discuss them all today. That these techniques are so widely used to produce so many awful novels is a deep mystery of the universe. If you’re interested, I can always list some others. But for the time being, these should surely be enough to get you started in producing fiction that will have your readers pleading for mercy–if it doesn’t make you rich and famous.