What is it that makes bad writing “bad”?

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What is it that makes bad writing bad? Well, that is a rather subjective judgement call. According to the writer of this WSJ article, “[i]t’s impossible to define bad writing because no one would agree on a definition.” This is true. Bad writing for me is likely to not be the same as bad writing for you.

To be completely honest, I am somewhat of a book snob. I have been known to turn up my nose, sniff and repeatedly utter “My word!” in a very Miss Marple-esque way when I encounter what I deem to be bad writing; such as stilted dialogue, descriptions that don’t quite flow, run-on sentences, overly flowery metaphors, or metaphors that are not quite believable. None of that is enough for me to I absolutely refuse to read a book, I usually continue reading if the story is good enough.

As far as I am concerned, a lack of understanding or experience in expertly wielding language as a tool (or a weapon) does not preclude being heard (or read). What it does is speak to the lack of writing experience in writing which is easily fixed with more writing, more critiquing, and more exposure. That is not to say that there aren’t some especially gifted writers out there, fortunately blessed with certain talent at birth.

If there is one piece of advice to writers that I keep seeing over and over, it is “Keep writing”. Advice I am only now beginning to understand. As a fledgling writer, it is demotivating to write your heart out only to learn upon re-reading that the piece you just lovingly coaxed out of your fingers is as dreadful as it comes. The trick is to keep at it until it’s not so dreadful anymore. And then to keep at it until it’s good. And keep at it until it’s perfect (assuming it ever can be perfect).

It is the very essence of practice makes perfect and a concept I am desperately trying to retrain myself with in my writing. It is also a concept that I take into consideration when I am reading. One series of books that I found got better as the instalments were released were the Snookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. The first two or so of that series struck me as absolutely unpolished; but those improved over time and with experience; and practice. So writers? Don’t despair; it gets better with practice. Keep writing.

As a reader, what do you think makes writing “bad” or “good”? Does “bad” writing make you stop and throw the book out or can you stomach it enough to finish the story?

  • Morris Kenyon

    I’ve read a lot of self-published fiction recently. Much of it has a raw power that you don’t always get with published books. However, it is essential that any author at least reads through their own work and spell checks it before submitting their work. An easy thing to do.

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      “raw power” – Morris, that term intrigues me and I would love to hear more about what you mean by that. Would you care to elaborate?

  • Yasmin

    Why didn’t the editor mention about having a wide knowledge in vocabulary?? Isn’t it also important? Bc the problem with me is weak vocabulary=P

    • http://fyrfli.net Camille

      It is certainly important to have a wide knowledge of vocabulary but having a smaller vocabulary does not make writing bad. Sometimes simple is better when you are trying to grab an audience because if you tend to use too many complex words to express yourself, it is likely that readers will be turned off of having to read with a dictionary beside them.

      Extended vocabulary comes with time, practice, and plenty of reading experience. It’s one of those things that improve with age.

      Thanks for the perspective.

  • Trevor

    Crossword puzzles with Dictionary and Thesaurus at hand to learn new words helps too.

    It surprises me that re-reading your writing in a different format helps to see it anew i.e. print it out rather than read it on the screen and suddenly spelling, grammar and continuity get clearer. It’s an odd thing but useful.a

  • Alison

    If writing is too simple, it’s childish and boring. But if writing is too complex, then it’s purple and pretentious. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the perfect sentence. If only I could work out exactly where.

  • AutumnRain

    I am trying to write a memo of my life I just having a h like ever and time over sharing I had a horrific life but don’t want those who read to end up suicial if they relate to me so Id like to add positive parts in like today I live the most wonderful.
    Blessings to all whom have come this way and had that special someone help them Blessed Be Donna {AutumnRain}

  • H

    An example of bad writing is the first of the Twilight series however the plot kept me in. The transformation by the third book is testimony to your urging of ‘write, write and keep on writing!’