Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why What I Think is Bad Might Not Jive With What You Think is Bad

LAST WEEK I GAVE MY ALL in an effort to win a much coveted award for worst novel opening. A quick tally of votes  looked something like this:

It’s Awesome:                       10
It Sucks:                                 2
No comment on quality:           1

I couldn’t get that sort of agreement on anything, ever. I would be thrilled except it was supposed to suck. What happened?

Well, first off, I did round, so if someone said it wasn’t too bad, I counted that as awesome. If someone said it wasn’t their favorite, then I put that down as a suck. It might sound like a stupid scoring system, but it helps me clarify things. I’m all about making nuanced opinions seem like a black or white issue.

Regardless, I got some quizzical sort of responses in the comments, people asking if I even understood the challenge. I figured I’d take a whole post to explain myself, since I clearly failed in what I was trying to convey.

Anyone see that episode of the Simpsons when the director of a soap opera wanted an ugly actor? When they brought in local bartender, Mo, for the part, the director screamed, “I wanted Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island ugly, not ugly ugly.”

That was my Mary Ann ugly, not my ugly ugly. Ugly ugly have been like:

There was this guy that was going to the bathroom except that he forgot his keys and then remembered that he didn’t need them and so he went and he felt better. Also, he was rich and could dunk a basketball. He was awesome. And Cats! Ninjas were there because the only time he can’t protect himself from assassination is when he was using the bathroom, because that’s his only weakness – bathroom breaks. One time, there was a bug that got stuck in the sink at my house, I ended up killing it though. Bugs are gross!!! Go Vols! Lol!!! J

Granted, there might be some poor soul out there in the interwebs that thinks that the above is quality writing, but I doubt they would be the majority. At the same time, there is very little challenge in that, I think. The challenge is in making something that a person can recognize as bad, but still enjoy.

That was my thought process at least. And in my defense, it was much worse when it was 450 words long. I kept cutting and cutting until I could get it down to 300. Every word had to be carefully debated. I cut out tons of adverbs, extra-lame description, I regretted that I shorted the first paragraph down like I did… originally it had the phrase “Sahara summer reverse-oven-broil cold”.

But I cut it out in favor of a more concise sentence. Had to get it down to 300. What was left probably worked a bit better than I meant for it to. In fact, I went back and reread it preparing for this post and thought, I would totally read that.

But readable or not, that was what I was thinking.


Brinda said...


That passage was pretty amazingly sucky. :)

I'm sorry that your attempt to be only MaryAnne ugly (last week) was kinda cute.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sorry your crappy writing wasn't crappy enough. (Now that's something I never thought I would say.) But when you're good, you're good.

Deborah Walker said...

I would have read the challenge like that. Something so gloriously bad that it transcends into fabulousness.

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Maybe those people were just being polite. But if it makes you feel better I thought that what you wrote really sucked.

Andrew Leon said...

Mary Ann ugly... didn't everyone decide that she was the hot one?

mshatch said...

Andrew, I think everyone decided Maryanne was the hot one after she got the concussion and thought she was Ginger. because if I remember correctly, when she got all dressed up in Ginger's sparkly dress she was smokin'! That's when you knew there was a lot more to Maryanne than you thought.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Well what can you say to that? Maybe Rusty, in my book, you can do no wrong.

Maryanne lives only a few miles from where my parents live. I guess that actress took up teaching other people how to act and is now firmly ensconced in the Jackson Hole area.

M Pax said...

I'd love to find out my crappy writing isn't really all that crappy. To be MaryAnn ugly isn't ugly at all.

Trisha said...

You would have had a much better chance of winning with the ugly ugly excerpt up there. :)

Tonja said...

I kind of didn't get the concept of trying to write badly, but the new passage here is really bad but hilarious, which makes it not bad at all, right?

Rusty Webb said...

@Brinda - Well, I think I've decided that it's okay, I'm afraid that I'd take to writing really badly so easily that I get stuck writing that way all the time. *shudders*

@Alex - I wish. I'm good at being okay.

@Deborah - Why thank you. I'm not crazy.

@PT - Well, you were the person I counted as not commenting on the quality. That would have made it 10 -3. Still lopsided.

@Andrew - I don't know. I don't know of a single male that ever thought she was anything less that gorgeous. I think it's more a comment on how Hollywood types think of beauty.

@MS - Um, agreed.

@Michael - She lives out there near you? Awesome.

@MPax - you're right. Mary Ann ugly means pretty.

@Trisha - Well, too late for that now.

@Tonja - Yeah, I think the only bad writing is boring writing, really. At least in fiction.

celeste holloway said...

Ha! That passage was terribly awful, but pee-my-pants-funny! Between the cats and ninja and...well, all of it was a hilarious mess. On another note, I totes get what you're saying, and it made me think of Danielle Steele novels because to me, they reek, but to others, she's the most brilliant author in the universe, yes, the universe. Anywho, her craptastic writing has turned her into, I don't know, a kazillionaire. Well, you get the point. Good post. I enjoyed it. :)