When Good Writing Goes Bad

We are as individual about our reading choices as anything else.  As unique within our talent for writing as the strands of DNA that make up who each of us are.   What makes a story good?  What makes writing good?  Geez, I don’t know.  It’s totally subjective.  Sure, there are those who might share some of our tastes for certain books and/or writing styles, but, one thing I can say with some sense of certainty is this; when it comes to what’s classified as good writing, or not, will kick up heated discussions and fuel passionate positions.

This is what makes writing a bestseller such a huge deal.  I mean, you have a “load”  of people who liked the story, who liked the writing.  And all those people can’t be wrong – can they?  What makes a bestseller (to me) is when someone writes the sort of story I wouldn’t ever read, but I still find it good.

Here’s a good example of what I mean.  I read a chapter of a story recently that was SciFi (keeping in mind, I don’t read SciFi) but it was really good.  It was from an excerpt, online – some site where you could post a bit of your story and get feedback.  I recognized that the author hooked me right away, even though the story involved strange and bizarre terms about creatures who don’t exist, along with a lifestyle intended to be “alien,” and technical jargon for explaining how their rocket booster worked – or something.  I.  Didn’t.  Care.  It was good writing, a good story, and when that happens, no matter the genre, the author has certainly achieved a goal.

Then I read another story, and it too was an excerpt.  It would be classified as literary fiction, which I  love, yet…, I couldn’t love this one.  I couldn’t even like it.  It was a simple enough story, yet there were two areas where I cringed.  I cringed even though what was happening within the story was perfectly fine, but there was this unnecessary detail.  Like a beautiful face with a big scar in the middle of a forehead.  There seemed to be this obsessive sort of focus on a particular action.  It was a turn off because the writer could have easily chosen to structure the sentences in such a way as to get the point across without seeming like they were trying so hard.  It came out all wrong – at least to me.  It came out as good writing gone bad.

I’m not talking about the kind of writing that takes description to the “nth” degree.  I’m not talking about slips where someone might write she nodded her head.  Or, they were swimming in the water.  Or that he clapped his hands.  Not that sort of thing, although it was centered around the action of a character.  Something the writer chose to make them do twice, under different circumstances, as if the author was struck by this particular detail and decided to repeat it.  A “yes!  the story needs this to happen…, and everyone who reads this will say, wow, this author is in tune with the characters emotionally.”  Not me.  My reaction?  I was like GAH, don’t like it, don’t like it at all.  And the thing is…, the image that surfaced by choice of words was more than likely intended to be something completely different.

I got it, I did, except not in the way the author wanted.

Funny, because the story would have been fine without these strange, awkward details.  The story would have been better, actually.  I probably would have liked it.  I went back and read it again, at least twice, and had the same reaction.  It’s a shame, because sometimes, this is all that it takes for writers to be rejected.  A minute detail.  Readers are smart, while writers tend to get too close, try too hard, and when we do, it totally stands out.  Our works screams at us to back off, or more like back the f— up,  and re-write it.  Re-write it without any melodrama, without concerted effort. (well, we know there is real effort, just don’t make yourself look like a total slack ass)

Write it without throwing yourself on a sword, all for the sake of trying to stir up emotion.  There’s nothing that stands out more than writing loaded up with the effort of trying.  With my own writing, sometimes I can see it, sometimes I can’t

How do you know when you’re pushing too hard?






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