Tag Archives: bad writing

People of the Internet: Please stop writing in clichés

Shove your cliché in there and see what happens.

Shove your cliché in there and see what happens.

Communicating in clichés is nothing to be proud of. It means you are thinking on autopilot, lack creativity, or are not articulate enough to express yourself with originality.

If you pay attention to what you type on message boards and in comment threads, and you pay attention to what other people say on message boards and in comment threads, you should be able to identify when a phrase starts becoming rote. And when everyone has that same cluster of words playing on an endless loop in their brains and can no longer not use it, it has become a cliché.

For those who are unsure: Clichés suck donkey sausage.

Alas, a new cliché has taken over the internet. I hate it more than I hate the 1998 American Godzilla movie with Matthew Broderick. It is typically expressed when the commenter is exposed to something he dislikes, and it is now being “shoved down my throat” about 50 times a day.

As in, “Why is gay marriage always being shoved down my throat?”

Or, “Why are people always shoving their religious beliefs down my throat?”

Or, “Stop shoving your political views down my throat.”

Or, “Whenever I get an endoscopy, the doctor shoves a black hose down my throat.”

Not your fault dude.

Not your fault dude.

Well, maybe the last one is okay. But otherwise, for the sake of the language, and for the impression you give of yourself to the world, and for my sanity, please stop freaking saying things are being shoved down your throat.  You sound like a moron. If you are angry about other’s beliefs (and if you are like almost everyone on the internet, you are damn angry about something), don’t be a cliché. Find another way to say it.

Warning: If you leave a comment below making a joke that I shoved this post down your throat, I will shake my head with bitter disappointment at your predictability. It will be a withering headshake you won’t soon forget!

  ~~~~~~~~

In other news, and the real reason I created this post, is to report that I beat my August 31 deadline for completing draft # 2 of my novel. You have the option of reacting in one of more the following ways:

  1. With resentment and envy because you haven’t touched your WiP in months.
  2. By feeling inspired to set and meet your own deadlines, thus bringing you closer to your goal of writing a literary classic or, if not that, a bit of commercial tripe that nevertheless becomes a blockbuster and gets turned into a movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Shaquille O’Neal.
  3. With indifference because you lack empathy for the dreams of a humble man who only wants to make people happy.
  4. With derisive laughter because you finish a novel draft every two days.
  5. All of the above (in which case you might need to see a specialist).
  6. Any combination of the above.
  7. Other.

 


When Bad Books Get Published

book of the dead

There are two realities: The one we insist upon and the one that actually is.

For writers, the insisted reality is that nothing less than perfection will get us a sniff at publication. Agents, publishers, editors, other writers, and bloggers don’t mind telling us everything we’re doing wrong in our quest, either.  Taken in toto, their advice demands that our stories have intriguing, likeable, and flawed (but not too flawed) characters who interact via engaging, authentic dialog and whose arcs roll out in perfect synchronization with an expertly paced, surprising (but not too surprising) plot, within which we have woven the perfect balance of descriptive details and crisp verbs while employing a narrative style that utilizes all five senses, avoids adverbs like bubonic plague, layers in foreshadowing that is not too obvious yet not too obscure, and speaks to the human condition in an original, innovative, and commercially viable way.

The actual reality is that most books fail to meet these demands yet are published all the time. Go to any bookstore, and within 5 minutes you should be able to find at least one novel that is a derivative, bland, and cliché-ridden exercise in tedium, the sole purpose of which seems to be: I dare you to finish this. Within a half hour, you can probably find a dozen more like it.

book of the dead2I say this because I am currently reading a debut novel that is, at its very best, mechanically competent on a sentence level. I’m reading it because it’s set during the early Italian Renaissance, a period that intrigues me, and because someone lent it to me.

None of the characters offers anything close to a personality or motivation, tedious exposition stands in place of a plot, and tension is nonexistent. I’ve invented the following dialog exchange for your amusement, yet I feel it captures the character interplay quite accurately:

“It’s not fair that you are sending me to the monastery. You know that all I long to do is paint and to become a great artists like my father!” said Luigi with a wince.

“You know what is not fair?” replied Super Mario. “It is not fair that you stole that apple from the street vendor, forcing me to give 3 florins to the jailer to secure your release! It is not fair that your mother died of consumption those five years ago and left you in my care, for, prior to that, I had no worries in the world. Oh, what else can I do with you, Luigi? It’s a monk’s life for you, I’m afraid.”

This followed by a three pages of exposition detailing the hitching of the cart, the ride into town, the condition of the roads, the oppressive atmosphere at the monastery, and so on.

To end up in a bookstore, this manuscript had to interest an agent then be pitched and sold to a publisher, edited, printed, and distributed, despite the writing being objectively poor.

As would-be professional novelists (presuming no best-selling authors currently read this blog), we show good form by not whining in public about our struggles to find success, not trashing our contemporaries by name, and taking our lumps from experts with humility. But you know as well as I do that lots of awful books get published and sometimes—admit it—you think, “Geez. I would have written that so much better.”

Which leads me to this question: When you browse a novel that forces you to stifle your gag reflex over its dreadfulness, do you end up feeling bitter or motivated?

monty python book


As if the world needs another post about Adverbs.

horse

Standing in a circle, we face each other, panting and glazed with sweat. Blood-smeared clubs dangle from our hands, heavy now from all the blows. On the ground before us lies a mass of pulverized meat, guts, bone, and hair.

It’s the Adverbs Suck horse, and we have killed him across all the known universes of the cosmic alliance. He is ready for the glue factory, little in the way of processing needed.

Then Baker says, “Can I just make one more comment about adverbs?”

The rest of us groan.

*****************

Never Use Adverbs 98% of the Time

So I happened upon a dude’s blog the other day in which he discussed the “ly” thing. I got the feeling he didn’t think they were the worst thing ever, but also that they weren’t great and should generally be avoided.

Generally.

Yeah, I used an adverb.

I’ve long maintained here that writing rules aren’t rules but firm guidelines. When you begin to view rules as absolute, you lose sight of the story. Would you wreck a sentence that works to ensure it conforms to rules?

I agree that adverbs can be indicators of lazy writing and that they tell instead of showing, the main knocks against them. I don’t agree that they are absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances.  See, I just used another one, absolutely. It works for the sentence. It lends dramatic emphasis to “unacceptable.” I could find another way to write that sentence, but the sentence would be equal, not better, and it might even be longer.

Adverbs can make a point in an economical manner. Or, they can do it “economically,” which is more economical. Ready for some blasphemy? Sometimes telling is OK, like when it’s necessary to connect the interesting bits of the story with a line of exposition so quick you won’t even notice it’s exposition. Every writer uses exposition, and everyone who freaks out over one line of it is too worried about rules and not enough about enjoying the story. Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” what some may argue is (AKA arguably) the most famous line in all of fiction, is exposition.

I’ve digressed. Adverbs are 98% bad for the reasons often cited. Here are my guidelines for when not to use them:

horse21. When integrated into the action. This is the lazy part people mention.

He struck the horse angrily, as if somehow killing something already dead would make people realize that JJ Abrams ruined Star Trek, despite the movies being pretty good, winning acclaim, and being successful.

A better choice: He struck the horse until his palm stung…

2. When integrated into a dialog tag. This is the telling part people mention.

“I’m going to keep hitting this dead horse until you admit I’m right,” Pinky said passionately yet frustratedly.

A better choice: Pinky’s face knotted and he challenged Mina with a glare. “I’m going to keep hitting this horse until you admit I’m right.”

3. When it makes you cringe.

You know, this is a pretty good guideline for any component of writing. If it sounds awkward, it is.

The moral of the story: Adverbs are not great, but neither is unbending compliance to and enforcement of any single writing “rule.”

Thoughts? Comments? Abuse?

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Bonus content!

Gender stereotypes are silly, and few are more silly to me than the notion that a woman carries a purse and a man does not.  I’ve got a wallet, a big wad of car keys with two remotes and a bunch of store cards, a Samsung Galaxy phone, lip balm, nail clippers, minty sugarless gum, and sometimes a CD or two to carry around. You think all that junk is going to fit in the pocket of my jeans?

So here it is, as requested by my blogging buddy Janna Noelle, a picture of me with my brand new man purse. No, it’s not a “messenger bag.” It’s a purse. I grew a beard and scowled just to accentuate my manliness. That is, if this Chuck Norris-like bucket of testosterone can carry a purse, so can you, fellas.

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?


Time’s Up for This Cliché

8 years and counting...

8 years and counting…

Andy Warhol made many unique contributions to popular culture. I wish he would have made one fewer.

When the pop-art guru said, in 1968, that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, I don’t think he intended his words to become the de rigueur insult in response to every single last stinkin’ internet article about a current celebrity.

I happen upon this hackneyed cliché at least a dozen times per week, and it always irritates. But, like Joan Crawford discovering a wire hanger in her daughter’s closet, I finally snapped this Tuesday. The online article that sent my synapses into electric fury appeared on a popular entertainment site discussing an alleged feud between early ‘90s pop singer Sinead O’Connor and current pop singer Miley Cyrus over the usual nonsense from which celebrity feuds are contrived.

The feud is irrelevant. The reader responses, however, made me very grumpy (pointlessly so to the people around me, it turns out. Their reactions were rather less passionate than mine). Not only did at least 412 people write, “Your 15 minutes of fame are up, Miley,” another 275 wrote, “Weren’t Sinead O’Connor’s 15 minutes of fame up 20 years ago?”

Dear people who write things on the internet: Please, for the love of Zeus, stop using “15 minutes of fame” in reference to people who are actually famous. I don’t think that’s what Andy Warhol meant.

You see, Miley Cyrus is actually famous. She’s a multimillionaire, has sold millions of records, has performed before hundreds and thousands of fans and many millions more on TV, and has been a widely recognized public figure since March of 2006 when Hannah Montana debuted to huge ratings.

Lindsay Lohan, Kanye West, Kristen Stewart, Ben Affleck, and other reviled celebs who draw similar comments are actually famous too, and many have been for a long time. Way longer than 15 minutes.

Being a commenter on entertainment web pages who comments that famous people aren’t worth commenting about because they are almost not famous anymore… well, that’s like me, a blogger with a web footprint the size of a post-it note (the small kind) saying no one uses Facebook anymore.

My relative obscurity won’t stop me from offering this bit of advice, though: I implore you, internet commenter, to stop using the expression “15 minutes of fame.” It is a cliché. Clichés equal bad writing. When you use clichés, it means you are unable to express your own thoughts. Or, more likely, that you don’t have your own thoughts. And there’s really no reason to leave a comment about Miley Cyrus on the internet if you have nothing to say, is there?

15 minutes of fame… Your 15 minutes is up.


Worst 100-Word Story… My Version

So apparently there’s this newfangled concept I just found out about called “being ethical.” Basically it means I cannot enter a Worst Story contest I am judging because I will be “biased.” Can you believe that malarkey? Think of the time and effort I’d save by winning a prize that’s already in my possession!

Anyway, now that my worst story contest is over and the winner announced, I might as well show you what I would have submitted (title not included in the word count). I hope you think it sucks:

Brock and Gwendolyne

Love Reflected is Love Unaccepted

By Eric J Baker

“Gwendolyne!” Brock proffered feelingly.

“Don’t,” Gwendolyne chirped in response, feelingly. She turned away.

“But… I don’t love you,” he announced, somewhat less feelingly.

She turned. “What?” She was surprised.

“I am in love with Robotman,” he declared with finality. He turned. “It’s true.”

She turned. “But I love Robotman. What shall we do?”

“I don’t know.” They turned.

From a distance, Robotman watched with unnecessarily luminous eyes, unbothered by the sunlight glinting off his chrome. He did not love either of them. He lacked human feeling. He wasn’t even sad about it. Then he activated “Giant Mode” and flew away.

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It’s not too late to enter my Worst Short Story contest!

Frankenstein Meets the Space MonsterI’ve gotten some good, I mean bad submissions so far, but I hope to see even more drek before this whole thing is done. Make the judging really painful for me!

You have until 11:59:59.999999 p.m. on September 30th to enter. The rules, prize, and other details are here, but the basics are: I’m looking for the worst short story you can write in 100 words or fewer. This is real Blaze of Glory stuff. Make your family proud.


Enter My “Worst Short Story” Contest!

dog typing

Why pay money to some jerk to submit your writing when you can enter my contest for free? Especially when the winner of my contest gets a real honest-to-goodness prize?*

That’s right; I am sponsoring my very first ever Worst Short Story Contest.  I’m looking for the absolute worst piece of flash fiction you can come up with. I want clichés, cringe-inducing dialog, hideous metaphors, and whatever else you can squeeze into 100 words.

The rules:

1. Your story must be 100 words or shorter. I’ve haven’t got all day!

2. It must be something unpublished that you wrote.

3. It must follow qualify as a work of fiction with at least one character and some sort of conflict.

4. You are not permitted to cry if you win. There’s no crying in fiction.

Sign here if you agree to these terms _________________________ (go ahead and write on the monitor. It’s fine)

*Anyone can enter, but I’m only shipping the prize within the continental U.S. I love you, but my love is worth $2.50 in first-class shipping, not some crazy airmail amount. More details below.

If I get swamped with entries, I will have to come back to this post and update it as “closed.” If I don’t get any entries, I will be embarrassed, so make sure you submit something. I am the judge, jury, and executioner, and I will announce the winner at the end of September (21 days from now, which is plenty of time for you to come up with something dreadful). I will run the winning entry in October, along with three runners up, if I get enough submissions.

Want to know what you are playing for?

Only a brand-spankin’ used copy of William Shatner’s The Transformed Man, featuring such classics as “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Sweet!

shatner 001

Estimated prize value:  Negative $3

HOW TO ENTER: Go to my contact tab above and e-mail your story (pasted into the e-mail only… no attachments, please) with the subject line: Worst Story Submission.

Disclaimers: As I wrote above, I’m only mailing this CD within the continental U.S. first class via the USPS, because overseas shipping is insane. Trust me, you don’t actually want this “music.” If the winner comes from outside the lower 48, I will instead donate $5 to a an established national or international charity of her choice, provided it is not in any way religious, anti-gay, racist, or political, and I reserve the right to ask for a second choice if I am morally opposed to the first one. Oh yeah, I’m asking for one-time rights to publish the winning entry and those of up to 3 runners up (if I get enough submissions), mostly because it sounds cool, like I’m a publisher or something. One entry per person, please.

Good luck! I think?