Tag Archives: literary criticism

A Cracked Criticism

Image result for images of agatha christie

Isn’t it just awful, when you try to say something smart and it comes out stupid?

Here’s a comment by novelist and literary critic A.N. Wilson, found on the back cover of an Agatha Christie book. Pay very close attention to it.

“Time and again Agatha Christie pulled off what many obviously greater writers labored for in vain, a work of art which is both perfectly crafted and morally satisfying.”

Uh… “obviously greater writers,” you say? Who “labored in vain” to do things that Christie could do? I don’t get how not being able to match her makes them greater. It certainly wouldn’t be obvious to me. It sounds like talking about “obviously greater jumpers” who can’t jump as high as the person they’re supposed to be greater jumpers than. Which is not the most elegant sentence I ever wrote, but never mind.

Ah, well. Mustn’t be too hard on Mr. Wilson. His books have come in for a healthy share of shredding.

Literary criticism has its uses. You can line your bird cage with it, or fold it into a paper hat.


How to Write a Really Rotten Novel

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.


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