On Reading Bad Writing

On the worth of published poorly written fiction.


There’s something incredibly inspiring about reading a poorly written book.

Yesterday I spent $25 dollars on  a book (I’m a student; $25 on a book is a lot of money) that turned out to be absolutely horrendous. It was one of those ones where the prologue was written really wonderfully, but what followed was a predictable, stereotype filled cliche with zero characterization or style. The protagonist also turned out to be a writer. Yawn.

One of my biggest pet peeves is fiction writers who write their stories about writers. I mean, could you be any more lazy with your characterization? I feel that every novice fiction writer at some point has written their protagonist with this career out of a sheer lack of inspiration. “I can’t think of anything to write about, so I’ll write what I’m doing right now! I’m a genius!” the novice writer cries with glee in their head, “no one has ever thought of this before!” But the thing is, almost all of us have. And it’s lazy.

There are only a few authors who I feel are exempt from this rule. Stephen King is one of them because his characters are actually that–characters. They have details, quirks, and drives. The idea for the writer protagonist may have initially started off as laziness, but by the time his books are published, the character has bloomed into well-rounded person that feels alive.

The book that I bought yesterday most certainly fell into the you’re-not-Stephen-King-how-dare-you-try category. I was utterly disappointed. Out of respect for the author, I won’t name the book. But the point is: it was bad.

However, I read the whole thing because as I mentioned, I was inspired by it. Every time I came across a horrible cliche, poor dialogue, or a plot hole, I was filled with a sort of glee because if something with this many issues can get published, then maybe my manuscript could be too!

I know the author likely had connections which helped them send their unpolished novel out into the world, but still. It gave me hope, and hope shouldn’t be taken for granted.

This book also made me think that perhaps I’m being to harsh on my own manuscript, and maybe it’s time to start seriously querying some agents. Up until now I’ve sent out an email here and there, but I’m thinking I should try to set aside an hour per day to research agents, send queries, and polish my novel.

Today I also submitted my story about an old man and some toilet paper to an international magazine a friend of mine was published in (sending your work to places your friends have been published is a strategy I haven’t been able to use until now because this is the first friend I’ve made who’s also been published). We’ll see how it pans out!

In summary, it seems that to writers, even bad literature can be good literature.

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