"Why we love bad writing" -- Follow up on the recent Docx article

http://www.salon.com/books/laura_miller/2010/12/14/docx

 

Thought this was interesting. I think the article is on the right track, but doesn't explore the issue enough.

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Nice to hear from you again John D.

Also a nice article, though I don't buy the title altogether.  She doesn't really group herself with those who love bad writing. She is right about style, but many so-called literary novels aren't particularly good at style either. She is right about cliches.  Cliches are a sort of shorthand to get on with it.  "His blood ran cold" gets the business of fear out of the way in four words. Analyzing precisely what constitutes extreme fear would take considerably longer.  Genre writing rarely ever uses a novel metaphor or simile (or hesitates to explore emotions), though some of its most praised authors make serious attempts in that direction.  Most genre novels do get on with the plot and pay the greatest attention to page-turning cliff hangers and to plot twists designed to amaze and to grand finales that are meant to stupefy.  They have a lot in common with box-office successes in the movie world.

 

Yes, a fast read is satisfying and takes little effort.  But like the flowing water (perhaps "gushing" is a better word) it washes past and is gone.

Thanks. I've been checking in from time to time.

 

I wish more genre writers would experiment with style. Some of the more popular writers actually do, such as Ken Bruen and Lee Child. Two distinct voices there. I happen to not like either style, but I respect them for telling their story different. The generic writing so common in this genre is my biggest turn off.

. Most people who read a lot also read to satisfy a wide spectrum of moods and hankerings, and sometimes trash (provided it's sufficiently engaging) is just the ticket.

The above is a quote from that article, and I agree.  I haven't read the Da Vinci Code, but I have read all 3 Larsson novels. It was the plot and the resolution that kept me going. The writing was adequate ---but it was, after all a translation. Still, it wasn't so bad that I could stop. (I think someone once said that about second-rate chocolate). :)  I actually don't "love" bad writing OR bad chocolate--but I can forgive an occasional cliche when I'm reading for "entertainment."

Long time, no see, John. Welcome back.

 

Thanks for the link to Miller's article. I think she's pretty well hit it on the head, though Idiffer with her definition of "flow." As a recovering musician, I think theparallels between music and literature are too often overlooked. Contemporary "literary" writers run the risk of succumbing to the same situation as their musical brethren have for the past hundred years: writing solely for their peers. As a trained musician, I love listening to Stravinsky, Bartok, Mahler, and Ives, but they rarely sell out a concert hall, as their music too foten makes too many demands on the listener. I lament the move of even major orchestras to an increasing level of "pops" concerts, but that's how it is. I'm among the outliers here.

 

Same thing with literary fiction. When I on rare occasion wander to the literary field, I can often ap[preciate the writing without liking it, or caring to read more of it, and I'm someone who reads much more for style and voice than plot. No writer or musician is owed an audience. If literary writers want to be read more, they should stop writing for only their enlightened peers. If they want to be taken as "serious" artists in the novel form, then they should stop complaining about sales, or worrying who gets read more than they do.

 

John McFetridge has chimed in on this discussion in a couple of venues; he thinks it's an "art vs. Entertainment" discussion, which is, to some extent, apples and oranges. Art can be entertaining, and entertainment can rise to the level of art. When that happens, great. But if it doesn't , the creator should be be content to have met his original goal, whichever it was.

Yes.  I'm thinking of John Banfield.  I don't really like his novels, but by God, he makes the language sing. Or if you prefer a comparison to visual arts: he makes it shine.

Thanks for the welcome.

 

Your last paragraph is how I feel about it too. I like reading all kinds of stuff. Just finished Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy and now I'm starting The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson. Just like a like to watch a lot of different kinds of movies.

Yes, welcome back. As Dana said, I've been seeing this more of an 'art or entertainment' issue lately and I think the difference between those two can be most easily seen as insight. Art - literary or sci fi or fantasy or western or mystery or whatever (even my most hated of genres, the 'college professor mid-life crisis') - has at its core insight into the characters, often the kind of honest insight that can be uncomfortable (and I might add that those characters are most often of the everyday and non-extraordinary type).

 

Entertainment - and again it can be any genre, including literary - doesn't have much insight into the characters - they act in ways that mostly serve the plot (sometimes because honest, uncomfortable insight is feared to be offensive to some people and could potentially hurt sales). And characters in entertainment are often of the extraordinary type, rare characters - serial killers, conjoined twins - that kind of thing (the rare character has been showing up a lot lately in 'literary' fiction, too).

 

Yes, that seems true to me also, though we are at extreme ends of the spectrum.  I would, for example, call Bruen's Jack Taylor series insightful, and it features an ordinary guy.  So there are crossovers.  There are probably crossovers from the literary to the mass market type also.  I just read one of those, listed for the Booker prize but with the sort of scurrilous plot that belongs in a thriller.

Art -... - has at its core insight into the characters, often the kind of honest insight that can be uncomfortable...

John, I'd also agree with this. I'd also say that  what  true "art" of any kind  has  is depth. Insight into character is surely one aspect of depth,particularly in fiction. (But we could be talking about painting,  or music or the visual arts just as well. ) The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon are all examples of "popular" musicians who were/are also true artists--they had ideas. They helped us define ourselves, even when it made us uncomfortable.  On some level art SHOULD be unsettling.

But back to writing: beauty and/or economy or precision  of language is  another. An imaginative or  original  "vision" of life and the world, another. Some "genre" works possess depth---in varying degrees to be sure---and  some rather highly acclaimed works aspiring to the literary level don't make it because they get bogged down in the effort of seeming "artful."    Anyone can call anything art these days. Praise comes easy.

 

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