Tag Archives: bad writing

The Worst Christmas Story Ever Written

Happy Holidays! As my gift to you, I have composed The Worst Christmas Story Ever, full of stupid plot points, embarrassing constructions, impossible dialog, tonal inconsistency, and implausible characters. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to read. Dig in!

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SANTApocalypse

Chapter 1 – The Beginning

Deep within the bowels of The Ice Caves of Crendor, that most secret of places hidden deep within the larger bowels of Mount Kringle (the mightiest volcano of the North Pole), Santa’s retinas accepted light reflected from the naughty-or-nice list (and its accompanying gradations of color and shade) with not inconsiderable trepidation and alarm.

He called out to Clorex the Elf. “Clorex! Appear before me as I speak.”

hunky santa2Clorex arrived at Santa’s side in due course, the green color of his elf costume uniting with the red color of Santa’s red suit to stir Christmas passion in all those who observed, had anyone been observing. Had the pair not been inside but, rather, outside, where the likelihood of being observed was greater, they would have appeared as living holiday vignette that belied the true tension of the situation.

“Yes, Santa,” Clorex chimed.

“Clorex,” Santa repeated with some loudness. “What’s all this about flesh-eating?”

“Santa, I beg your pardon sir, but what flesh-eating?” Clorex inquired with a questioning air.

Santa held aloft the list. “Clorex, the flesh-eating on this naughty list,” he edified.

Clorex’s elfin gaze fell upon the still-held page. His pupils dilated ever so slightly so as to permit more light to fall upon his retinas. Only then was he able to see the words by the firelight being cast from that which burned inside the kerosene lamp, largely being wick.

“Ah, that,” Clorex offered. “Yes. I remember now, Santa. There has been a zombie apocalypse. Those children have become zombies.”

Santa pondered upon this most grave of news scenarios with a face of woeful seriousness and far-off wondering. “Zombies. Zombies,” he uttered in a repetitious manner. “Yes, that is very naughty. Very naughty indeed! Why hath you not spoken of this before, Clorex, my trusty elf supervisor and confidante?”

Clorex looked away sheepishly, though with more sheepishness than can be anthropomorphized by such a small ungulate, thus rendering his look-away rather more bisonish. “You seemed busy with all the toy making, my lord, so-”

Santa cut him off, interrupting him. “By the gods, Clorex! What to do with all these toys I’ve made!”

Clorex piped up with, “There are two named on the nice list.”

“By the gods, Clorex. You’re right! I know what to do!”

With that, Mrs. Claus burst into the room. “Don’t Kris, don’t go! I beg you!” she pleaded, throwing her arms around the legendary present maker and sleigh flyer. Her copious bosom smashed against his muscular, well-oiled chest.

“I have to, Greta!”

“No!”

“Yes.”

“No!” She held aloft her hand. “I won’t let you.”

He held aloft the list in one hand and held aloft his sword in the other as he gripped her by the arms and pontificated. “Gwen, all my life I’ve been searching, always searching for a purpose in life, aimless and adrift and lost for a reason to go forth in life and choose my path. But now I know what I must do. Nay, what I was born to do. I must stop the zombies!”

Her warm, limpid eyes filled with tears. “I know. By the gods, I know!” She pressed her full, throbbing lips to his, kissing him. “Will you be back?” she said worriedly.

He broke away from the kiss. “You’ll have to find out.”

Chapter 2 – The Middle

Circling overhead, Santa saw the zombie horde surrounding the house. “Son of a bitch.”

“Sir,” said Rudolph. “I think I can set us down on that roof. It won’t be easy, but-“

“Do it, soldier!” Santa ordered.

With his steely glare, the young pilot aimed for the shingles.

“You’re coming in too hot!” screamed Cupid.

The sleigh’s runners bounced twice as the nine reindeer fought to keep from plummeting into the throng of flesh eaters below. Rudolph ordered a hard turn, sending the sleigh spinning toward the edge. The deer dug their hooves down and held fast.

Once still, Rudolph glanced back toward Cupid, his steely eyes in close-up. “You were saying?”

Chapter 3 – The End

“You mean all the kids are zombies but you two?” Santa said to Terry and Terry, the Johnson twins. Santa had climbed down the chimney and down to the main floor and found five survivors holed up in the boarded up house, six upstairs and six downstairs, though they were all in the basement.

Their neighbor, Ira Feinstein, stepped forward to communicate his thoughts verbally. “It’s very mrs claussad, but it is true, there once were many Johnsons and now there’s only two.”

“Bloody hell, man, what’s with the rhyming?” Santa interrogated.

Terry, a year older than the younger twin, verbalized, “Ever since Mr. Feinstein found out you’re real, he’s been rhyming. The doctors say there’s no cure.”

“With reindeer for fauna and holly for flora,” pronounced Mr. Feinstein, “I fear I no longer can use my menorah.”

“Bloody Hell, man!” Santa murmured. “Everything about me is borrowed from Norse pagan mythology. In other words, there’s room for everyone’s beliefs in this crazy world, as long as we can learn to tolerate our differences and welcome diversity!”

Sensing a story theme, rousing music welled around them. Feinstein smiled. “Damn it you’re right! I am going to fire up that menorah after all! And you, McGillicuddy, in the corner. I am going to celebrate Ramadan with you! And Mrs. Swanson, sitting at the kitchen table; I shall go to your Kwanza party! And Spagnetti, lying on the couch; I will cut off chicken heads and do a voodoo dance with you!”

Everyone smiled.

“Now,” Santa enunciated. “Let’s go kill some zombies! Right?”

Feinstein, McGillicuddy, Swanson, Spagnetti, and the Johnson twins said, in unison, “Right!”

They burst outside, swords held aloft, ready to do battle with the zombie hordes, when they were suddenly attacked by thousands of zombies. Elgard the Dwarf king fell to his knees, shouting, “Nooooooooooooooooooooo” in slow motion. When all hope was lost, Santa heard a familiar voice.

“Santa!”

The jolly, fat toy maker looked up to see his old friend Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer throwing down the sack of toys, which landed in the snow with a sack-thumping-on-the snowy-ground noise. Just as the zombies were .5 seconds away from biting them all, Rudolph dove across and tossed something to Santa. “Here!” he promised.

The activator button landed in Santa’s aloft hand. He knew just what to do: Press it.

The toy boxes burst open as the gifts inside transformed into robot warriors, who then cut down the zombies with their mighty swords of fire and laser guns, which they held aloft.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!”

“Not so fast,” said Satan as he leapt up and planted his feet on the ground, holding his pitchfork aloft. “Have you forgotten about me?”

Santa dropped his sword to his side, no longer holding it aloft. “Well, well, well. If it’s not my twin brother, Satan. I should have known you were behind this!”

Terry and Terry, the twins, said to each other and everyone else, with knowing smiles, “Twins? We know a little something about twins, don’t we?” Then they put on their magic rings, which, only when worn by twins, can create an evil-destroying shock wave that destroys all evil in the universe.

The ground split, Satan screaming loudly, and swallowed him back to Hell.

Santa ruminated, “Well kids, since you are the only survivors of the zombie apocalypse, I guess this robot army is yours.”

Simultaneously and in unison, both twins at the same time said, together, “Awesome!”

“Yes it is,” said a feminine voice. They all turned.

It was Mrs. Claus, smiling. Santa smiled too, and she ran into his arms, the top two buttons on her blouse popping off, unable to contain her ample bosom.  The pair embraced, the rippling muscles of Santa’s arms glistening in the moonlight.

“I shall never leave you again, Glenda,” he proffered feelingly.

Everyone cheered. “Yay!” The snow began to fall and, together, they sang secular holiday music.

The End.

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Every single sentence in that tale had something horrid about it. I quite enjoyed being awful.

But wait, there’s even more content today:

A few weeks ago I posted a humorous lament about missing Darlene Love’s performance at BB King’s in NYC. Well, I managed to catch her show in Newark this Saturday night. It was an amazing performance that included perhaps the most incredible and emotional moment I’ve ever witnessed at a live music event. You can read the full story and review here. It’s roughly the same length as my lovely masterwork above.

Cheers!


When Grammar and Political Correctness Collide

I see a lot of corporate documents every week, and the writing contained therein could keep me supplied with blog topics for the next year (assuming the chronic eye rolling doesn’t do me in first). Inflated language, random capitalization, buffer verbs, redundancy, awkward syntax, dangling modifiers, and parallel-construction problems abound, and each of those deserves a separate post.

Square Peg in a Round Hole_0565Today I shall discuss a truly cringe-inducing trend: Using nouns as verbs and adjectives. For example, let’s look at the word “partner.” We can all agree it’s a noun that refers to someone who takes an equal share of responsibility with someone else in an effort to accomplish a shared goal. Not all partners have the same significance in one’s life, but they are always nouns.

In college, you may have had a temporary partner in your “Japanese Superhero TV Shows Masquerading as American Productions 101” course. She created the Power Rangers charts and diagrams, while you researched and presented the various iterations (your thesis being that Dino Thunder was the best). Later, you might have a life partner who shares your bank account and helps you screw up the children you are raising together.

It has lately become acceptable to use “partner” as a verb, such as, “Jacob Marley partnered with Scrooge to form Bain Capital.” I’m not a big fan of this usage, but it comes in handy when I’m writing someone’s bio and already used “collaborated” and “worked with.”

It’s the adjective version that gets my cringe machine firing. “Our company seeks a partnering manager who is willing to work alongside and support the communications team in producing awful writing.”

That’s bad, but it’s nothing compared to this atrocity: Using “architect” as a verb.

That’s what I said. Architect is now being used as a verb in place of “design and implement.” For example, “The successful candidate will be called upon to architect a more efficient and streamlined production process.”

If you aren’t cringing by now, we can’t be friends.

The good news is that my job permits me to change these beastly little nuisances. Bless my employer for entrusting me to make those decisions many hundreds of times a day.

Ah, but the world always finds a new way to needle you, doesn’t it? It is no longer politically correct to use the adjective “female” when describing a human being. We must now use the word “woman” in its place, though the rules of English unequivocally state that the latter term is a noun.

Examples:

“There are not enough women directors in Hollywood.”

“Car-repair customers are more trusting of a woman mechanic.”

“We have not yet had a woman president, though we’ve had plenty of men presidents.”

Am I to understand that the biological descriptors use to differentiate between humans with two X chromosomes and humans with an X and a Y chromosome are degrading and oppressive? So much so that we mangle the language and wedge nouns in the place of adjectives?

Let’s take it to the extreme and see what we get:

“All embryos are inherently woman, but the release of testosterone at a certain stages induces the formation of man genitalia in some fetuses.”

“The woman alligator cares for her hatchlings while the man alligator has moved on to search for another mate.”

“To install your fiber optic cable, insert than man end into the corresponding woman receptacle on your surround-sound amplifier.”

How about it, folks? Am I an insensitive clod for caring more about grammar than about making sure crybabies don’t get offended by phantom insults?

Hmmm. I suppose that question wasn’t framed with the utmost neutrality, was it? Perhaps I’m just hopelessly operating from a male perspective. Er, a man perspective.

power rangers


Pretentious, inflated, indulgent writing is bad. Always.

I don’t like to speak in absolutes when it comes to writing, partly because I’m not a fan of rules. For every writing rule I hear, a successful rule-breaker comes to mind.

However, with absolute certainty, I can declare that wordy, pretentious writing is bad. If a sentence has 90 stuffy words when it only needs 25 short ones, it’s bad writing. If a writer is trying to impress us with his expensive-looking vocabulary instead of informing, entertaining, or touching our souls, it’s bad writing.

Wordy, pretentious writing is only acceptable as satire. Or when I use it as an example in a blog post, because everything I do is dripping with cool.

Elmore Leonard: an unpretentious writer who never wastes words.

Elmore Leonard: an unpretentious writer who never wastes words.

In practical terms, I majored in public relations (though that is not what my school called it). On the scale of popular perception, PR people are somewhere above politicians and serial killers, uncomfortably close to used-car salesmen, and looking directly up at the girl from Macy’s who sprays perfume on you without asking (Don’t worry, she’s wearing pants, not a skirt).

But PR people did teach me a lot about writing. If I can boil their writing instruction down to two words (which is exactly the kind of thing that would make them proud), it’s “write tight.”

Meanwhile, in more traditional areas of academic study, where the professors sport bushy beards (even the women) and have been wearing the same moth-eaten suit jackets for 37 years, the writing motto seems to be, “Obfuscate a conflation of explanation, implication, and interpretation through profligate verbosity and wanton clause abuse.”

I once ruffled a professor’s plumage by mocking a rambling, incoherent article we were forced to read. By “read,” I mean stare at the first 900-word paragraph (which also served as the opening sentence) until my eyes glazed over.

When Hitch said, "Always make the audience suffer as much as possible," he wasn't talking to writers.

When Hitch said, “Always make the audience suffer as much as possible,” he wasn’t talking to writers.

The professor said, “But this is college-level writing, you must understand.”

And I said, “Indeed. It’s also bad writing. I have the intellectual firepower to understand the article, but I don’t have the patience to read something that is deliberately made obscure by someone more interested in waving her Ph.D. around than she is in conveying meaning.”

My point was not well received.

I bring this up because I just started reading a book on Alfred Hitchcock, the intent of which is to examine how his films reflect a British expatriate’s view of American culture. Now, I know going in that I’m going to get inflated, pretentious writing; film historians cannot help themselves. Still, what is the point of deliberately obscuring one’s point? Here is a quote from the introduction:

“Film offers not only, as critics since Benjamin have been reminding us, a radically new form of apprehension for a radically new kind of audience – one organized by the logic of the mass, in Benjamin’s influential terms – but also a new way of thinking about the powers of visual representation at the moment of modernity.”

Gah! Why is this sentence 55-words long? Why is it composed in such an awkward, impenetrable manner?

Why not say it this way?

“Critics since Benjamin have pointed out that film is the first medium with a mass audience and reflects the apprehension of the time in which it was created – the moment we became a modern society. This is why the power of visual representation is so ripe for analysis.”

I shaved seven words, broke it into two sentences, and, if I may be so bold, made it far easier to digest. Sure, we could all read and, after a couple of passes, understand the other version, but why make me trip over bloated, awkward sentences on my way to finding the meaning? I don’t care what your diploma says; bad syntax is bad syntax.

If you plan to write a scholarly tome on an academic subject, I have two bits of advice.

1. Leave the deconstruction to Picasso.

2. Write tight.

So what are your thoughts? Do you find wordy academic writing to be sentence shrapnel, like I do? Or am I just a simpleton with a low-wattage mind? Maybe you just enjoy free-form word art!

Do tell.

picasso


Ridiculously long sentence, anyone?

Like most writers, I strive to get better every day. I work on mechanics, voice, pacing, plotting. I read advice from other writers. I speak my dialog to make sure it’s real. I aim for tight, crisp prose.

So why do I have so much fun with really really bad writing? I enjoy creating outrageous character names, stilted conversations, and absurd events. And who doesn’t love appalling metaphors and cringe-inducing imagery?

Best of all are looooong sentences. The longer the better.

Here’s one I just made up:

Now that Anton Krakamolitov had finally, after 20 years of relentless, single-minded, but soul-consuming searching, found the underwater cave of Eiberhorn the Serpent, that dreadful thing of which women dare not speak and men only whisper and about which children shudder in fear while cowering in the darkest recesses of their medieval cabin-like domains – the very beast whose undulating, quivering surface of resplendent, sequin-esque, purple scales is impervious to even the finest forgings of weapons-grade iron into implements of destruction that shame even the mightiest superarrows of yore – he began to have second thoughts about what he was preparing to undertake, which caused him not inconsiderable anguish (given the aforementioned 20 years of his hard, bitter life he burned away to reach this moment), mostly because now, as he gazed down at the near lifeless body of Pedro Morganthish, whom he had brought as a sacrifice for Eiberhorn the Serpent (for who was Anton Krakamolitov but a pious devotee of the beast, since his all-consuming quest was, if one knows about worldly things, very like that of one who commences a ruinous religious pilgrimage?), he began to feel the pangs of a remorse that are often indistinguishable from food poisoning and are so often associated with making a human sacrifice of one who killed another’s grandfather, in Anton’s case being Braddox Hammer, the greatest warrior on all of Odinhood, because, though Anton loved his grandfather, he knew that Pedro – poor, dying Pedro – was only defending his recipe for mint pie, without which the Morganthish family would be worth less than the dirt between the treads on Anton’s boots (had Anton’s boots not rotted away years ago), making Anton, who was still looking down upon the gaunt, suffering Pedro, realize in his heart turned stony from all these wasted years of questing and not brushing his teeth that he could not, in good conscience, throw Pedro to the heinous devilfish called Eiberhorn the Serpent, the beast that Anton believed was hiding in its hell cave fathoms below the surface of the black, mirror-like, seaweed choked water, but that, in fact, was no longer down there at all, as it was just now breaking said water surface, with its ghastly maw gaping wide and lunging too quickly for Anton to do anything other than scream in horror as the massive, drooling demon chomped down, crushing Anton, Pedro, and the half-bullet shaped sailboat in one, singular, pointless-quest-ending bite.

405 words. Let’s see what you’ve got!

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