Tasteless Dept.


Some of you might remember that scene in Sideways where Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Hayden Church) are sampling some wine from a vineyard named "Frass Valley" (ha!).

Miles, the oenophile, is repulsed: "Tastes like the back of a f-in' L.A. school bus.  They probably didn't de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine b.s. F-in' Raid."

Jack's amiable reply is "Tastes pretty good to me," and he downs the rest of his glass without complaint.

I know more than a few people who are like this when it comes to, say, bad fantasy or sci-fi. I come back to them with my complaints about whatever I've been reading lately, about how the writing is just awful, and they reply with some variation of Jack's shrug-and-frown "Tastes pretty good to me."

When you're just pretentious enough to call yourself a creator, it takes a lot of discipline to not reflexively hate people for liking stuff you know in your gut is junk. There's a lot of stuff I can't stand for a whole farrago of reasons, but the biggest reason is, plain and simple, bad writing. Windy pileups of clauses; adjectival spice; description instead of observation; and so on.

That said, I don't write about most of the bad stuff here because I can think of better ways to spend my time — like, for instance, pointing people at stuff that is worth reading, in my opinion, instead of clobbering on an already dead and decaying horse.

I've also noticed that because everyone's definition of "bad writing" is private, so is their list of things they are willing to make excuses for. I forgave Hideyuki Kikuchi his bad habits more readily than I probably ought to have, in part because he was offering me something (in whatever form) that I was genuinely curious about and intrigued by. It was all that other crap by all those other crap authors which was, well, crap.

I don't think there's a person alive who doesn't do this.

I also suspect it's doubly important for a writer to face this as early on as they can. It will help them get over one of the biggest obstacles any writer faces: the sense that they are owed something, because they are Better Than All That. I labored under that delusion for far too long, and I think only recently (like, in the last couple of years) was I able to really step out from under it. If people read that crappy book instead of your own obviously excellent book, that has less to do with you and more to do with people looking for things that you may simply not be giving them.

Most people who read don't approach reading with the same kind of sophistication as many writers, in the same way that most people who listen to music aren't deeply concerned with the two different mixes of the Stooges' Raw Power. And most people who go to the movies aren't burdened by the implications of auteur theory, nor do they always see the significance behind the fact that this movie and that movie share a director and a screenwriter.

My point is that these are not bad things. They are not the death of movies or books or music, because all of those things and more have survived far worse Philistinism in their time. They're just part of the picture, the same scene that every creator has to deal with in some form, and the sooner you stop torturing yourself about them the better. This isn't to say that you shouldn't commit yourself to doing the work you know is worthwhile — only that you should pick your battles wisely, and not hate your very audience for being unwilling to rise to your level of sophistication.

If I'm going to get upset about the lousy quality of any given book, the writing itself is something that I may only object to in the company of fellow writers. But I'm more willing to argue that much more broadly about an incompetently-constructed story, or a story that lacks an awareness on the part of the author as to what kind of story he's actually telling. (Is our main character someone whom the author calls a hero, but whose behavior is manifestly unheroic?)

And again, I have to remind myself that not everyone gets too wound up about such things. Some people just want to have a good time. But I'll be dipped in marmalade and licked to death by bears before I give them a good time at the expense of a good story.


Tags: writing




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This page contains a single entry by Serdar in the category Uncategorized / General, published on November 27, 2011 3:39 PM.

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