Suddenly the idea of a fantasy about a hard-boiled private eye is starting to look pretty good to me. I’ll betcha Anthony Boucher or Henry Kuttner could’ve done it standing on his head. “The dame came through my office door in a rustle of that fancy crinoline stuff like you see in the movies. Real class. But she didn’t open the door to come on…”
I mean, as long as we’re going to be writing bad fiction, it might as well be funny!
It’s not everyone who can produce a really rotten novel. Indeed, it’s a gift. But if you’re shooting for sheer unreadability, these few pointers will surely get you started. And it’s no use complaining that certain individuals have gotten rich and famous by writing pure dreck.
Now I wonder–who could we say is (or was) the Cervantes of the truly rotten novel? Any suggestions?
I have to go to the nursing home today, and I’m running late–not that anyone will notice–but first this. It may provoke a chuckle or two. I mean, really, I can’t believe what this guy did when it was time to name the villains in his story…
Again, yet again, I plead with my fellow fantasy novelists: enough already with the rotten writing! Please don’t do it anymore. Please!
Do what? Please lay off the following:
Don’t try to write your book as if it were a graphic novel–that is, a flaming comic book. Just for once try to write as if you thought grownups might read it.
Don’t make all your characters talk like you think teenagers talk. Come on, now–a lot of teens are nowhere near as dumb as all that, and the ones who are, are not going to read anything anyway. Do try to lift your dialogue some distance above the level of a text message.
Don’t resort to the bleeding obvious. I mean, don’t call the bad guys “bad” or “diabolical” or “reprehensible,” etc. Don’t editorialize about your characters. “And then the nefarious villain, Maalox the Dwarf, snickered evilly, distorting his tremendously ugly face, and spoke with unpardonable disrespect to the beautiful princess with nice knockers and incredibly lovely blond hair that was like something indescribably beautiful, ‘Hah! You’re all tied up, now you can’t do your jumpin’, spinnin’ kicks…” If I never again read anything like this, it’ll be too soon.
Try to avoid, in your narrative passages, such contemporary slang terms as “taking them out” or “being there for her” or “got a problem with that,” and all the rest, too depressingly numerous to mention.
Please don’t write like this anymore. It gives fiction a bad name, and contributes to the non-development of the reader’s brain. It might even actually kill off brain cells–we’re waiting for the research to be published.
And, as Edgar Rice Burroughs observed, to be out on a limb and behind the 8-ball at the same time is very bad business.
I’m facing a dilemma, and in order to tell you about it–who says readers can’t give you good advice?–I feel the need to disguise some of the particulars.
I am to read and review a series of novels by a certain author whom I have long respected and whose non-fiction writing I’ve enjoyed for years. As far as I know, these books are his first fiction. Let us call him, oh, Abner Doubleday.
I don’t know how to review this guy’s books. If I say what I really think, he ain’t gonna like it. But if I don’t, then why review them at all?
In his novels, Doubleday has re-imagined some of the most tantalizing bits of the Book of Genesis and, backed up by lots of solid research, tried to elucidate their meaning for us. His non-fiction essays on these subjects–exactly who or what, for instance, were those “giants in the earth”?–are compelling, very well argued, and endlessly thought-provoking. I have learned much by reading them.
But the novels are written in a prose style reminiscent of… well, a comic book. Or, even worse, one of those awful movies based on a comic book. I find it painful to read them. He stops just short of having angels call each other “dude” and writing “ya” for “you.”
Elsewhere, Mr. Doubleday has written most persuasively on the need for Christian art–be it novels or movies or music–not only to measure up to the world’s art in quality, but to be of even better quality. Why? Because we’re competing with the world, and we want to win ground for Christ’s Kingdom.
But this… Abner, Abner, what have you done? You have turned the Bible into a comic book! I keep expecting to turn the page and find ads for X-ray glasses and Sea Monkeys.
So how will I review these novels? The way I see it, I have three options: A) Chicken out, invent some excuse, and just not do it. B) Write a totally honest review and make a lot of people mad at me. They might even think I’m an idiot: these books have lots of 5-star reviews on amazon.com. C) Go with the flow, just join in with all these other reviewers in praising the gorgeous clothes of this naked emperor, and establish myself as a reviewer whose word can’t be trusted.
Maybe somehow I can do (B) gracefully. But it’ll be a mighty fine trick if I can pull it off.
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.