Critique Group

Bad Writing

In L.L. McKinney, Leatrice McKinney on August 21, 2013 at 9:30 am

Everyone has their own personal definition of what equates to “bad writing”, though there are several things that most people would consider key signs.

  • Purple prose, where description for description’s sake bogs down the narrative.
  • Sort of ties in with the first one, an abundance of adverbs and adjectives. The striking beauty of the melodious words elegantly scrawled, blah blah blah, shoot me.
  • Filler words like just, nearly, almost, seemed, started to, felt, heard, saw, etc. (There are numerous lists out there)
  • Telling instead of showing: He was tired instead of sleep pulled at him like lead in his blood.
  • Cliches. I hope I don’t need to explain that one…

I could continue till three days past forever, but for the sake of time–and sanity–that’ll do. These marks of bad writing are more than just pitfalls for beginners, Dawn’s going to cover that topic next week. They are the result of impatience, rushing to get something done and out on submission, or of laziness, not bothering to go through the necessary number of drafts. Sometimes they’re the result of hubris, where a writer knows that s/he knows that s/he knows their stuff came out perfect, and like my grandma says there’s no need to shine new silver.

You can practically TASTE the country in that line…

Anyway, for whatever reason(s) someone may be plagued by bad writing, the only cure, in my opinion, is a combination of time and humility. Know that the first draft is going to suck, and suck hard. Accept the hideousness of it. If you go into revisions, and can’t see anything wrong with the story, find someone who can. Then get your eyes checked. Take the time to learn the craft, read books on writing or books in the genre you want to write. And be patient, with yourself, your mistakes, and the process in general.

And hang in there. We all get through this the same way, one word at a time.

LeatriceMcKinneySig

What are some bad writing habits you notice or have bested in your journey?

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  1. We all have signature words that we repeat. It’s imperative that our CPs catch those if we don’t. The repetition bogs down the narrative and usually there are stronger alternatives out there. This particular issue is not a result of conscious laziness. It’s the result of our brains taking the easy route. It simply seeks words most accessed and uses them. It’s our job to kick that brain on revision to – as Leatrice says – “Do better!”

  2. Great article. I FB’d and tweeted it to share with my writer friends.

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