Awful Writing

Why is awful writing tolerated?

It seems we overlook the obvious--most people do not read for writing or love of words but for story.  As abysmal as Dan Brown's prose is, his stories are pretty clever.  Same with J. K. Rowling.  Bad writing is tolerated for reasonably good or comfortable story telling--so it has always been and is likely always to be.  Tell me that Thomas Peckett Prest is a master prose artist.

Story will always triumph over prose unless the writing falls below the level of comprehensible.

What I find harder to understand is why people tolerate beautiful polished prose that leads nowhere--neither beauty nor interest nor value.  We build edifices around these prose artists justifying their transgressions based on their handling of the language.  No--I'd rather have the poor prose artists who tell a satisfying story and don't transgress.


  1. "beautiful polished prose that leads nowhere--neither beauty nor interest nor value."

    Like who, for instance?

  2. Also, there is a legitimate interest in reading for the love of excellent language skills. One admires a virtuoso performance. When I go to the symphony, I don't want to hear fiddle tunes and dance a jig. I want to be blown away by technique and imagination and high-flown ideas. I want the composer and performers to set difficult problems for themselves and then overcome those problems with artful, elegant solutions. A lot of what's really cool about the best art has to do with the level of craft used by the artist. I like that in my fiction, too. And there are writers who give us both amazing wordcraft and amazing storycraft. Lovers of language are asked to overcome resistance to merely workmanlike (or worse) prose, but if you ask a lover of escapist fiction to overcome their reluctance to work for their pleasure, you get called an elitist. WTF?

  3. Dear Mr. Bailey,

    But there are practitioners who give us great wordcraft and really mediocre to poor story telling. For example Thomas Pynchon--whose experiments make any discernable story in his works rather hard to make out. I read Pynchon for what he is doing, but I often don't find it particularly great in the realm of story.

    But the point here is why do most put up with bad writing--and the simple answer is because the stories are clear, well-told, and accessible. The prose may be execrable--but the reason bad writing is tolerated is because the people reading it couldn't give a hoot about writing, but care deeply about being engaged as readers.

    As to your first question--I've made my opinions well enough known on that in previous posts that I don't care to antagonize by naming names.




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