Monday, July 9, 2012

What Makes Bad Writing?

From The Wall Street Journal:
I'm tempted to say that the only universally acknowledged characteristic of bad writing is that you can't understand it, but even that's not true. In the late 1990s, the journal Philosophy and Literature sponsored a contest to identify the worst sentences in published academic prose. I cite this third-place winner only because it has the rare virtue of being short: "The lure of imaginary totality is momentarily frozen before the dialectic of desire hastens on within symbolic chains."

William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White in "The Elements of Style" would respond to what seems like intentional obscurity—both in academia and fiction—by saying, "Be obscure clearly! Be wild of tongue in a way we can understand!" "The Elements of Style" remains the single best primer on writing English with "cleanliness, accuracy and brevity," and if writers take only one piece of advice from it, let it be "Omit needless words!" (Read entire post.)


julygirl said...

It is like writing from a dictionary instead of from the heart.

Unknown said...

"It is like writing from a dictionary instead of from the heart."

Or, in the case of the famously bad short story "The Eye of Argon", making liberal use of a thesaurus and never actually consulting a dictionary to learn the real meaning of any of the strange words one is using.

"Grignr's emerald green orbs glared lustfully at the wallowing soldier struggling before his chestnut swirled mount... "

"...her stringy orchid twines of
hair swaying gracefully over the lithe opaque nose..."