The Storyteller - the wit and wisdom of Frank Coughlin
 
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People often ask me:  "How do you tell what is bad writing ?" (Okay almost all of these people are my students or were my students - because they would be the only people who thought I could answer that question).
My reply is simple - bad writing is writing that baffles most readers (as in what is the writer trying to say ?). Now I realize that this blog might belong in that category but I take that risk.
When you write something - say a short story or a poem - you want to say something - you want somebody to understand what you are saying.
Bad writing is different from academic writing for one reason - somebody or most people in academia understands academic writing. Bad writing baffles everyone.

I sense you fogging up and falling asleep so I will put in my example right now. I knew a person who wrote an eight hundred page novel - and gave it to me with these instructions - read it and tell her what was right and what was wrong.
I failed. I couldn't read twenty pages of her novel without my brain threatening me suicide - you will be a vegetable if you read anymore of this. The problem was _ I could not understand what she was trying to say in her novel - hell I couldn't even figure out who the heroine was.
This is my summary of the twenty Pages I did read. A girl Debbie is doing laundry at the laundromat - Bill walks in, says hello, he is not doing laundry. Bill asks where Sheila is. Debbie flashes back to the days when Bill and her did laundry together - they kiss - then Clark walks in (I never did figure out if he walked into the flashback or the present day rinse cycle) Clark kisses Debbie and leaves with her to find some action. Bill puts a new red sweater in with the whites and doesn't use a fabric softener. Mr. McGuff who happened to be walking by tells Clark who somehow came back without Debbie that Sheila is out back fighting with her sister who turns out to be Debbie. Another flashback occurs to childhood days when Debbie and Sheila were locked in the basement with loads of stinky laundry - their mother sits on the stairs holding the key and telling them never to use cold water on whites. Another flashforward occurs where Sheila and her mom are laughing at Debbie - she'll never get a man - she doesn't even know how to pre-soak. HAHAHA    Suddenly, we back in the laundromat with two police officers who are looking for Mr. McGuff - someone complained about him showing off his new underwear. Steve walks in with a roll of quarters, telling everyone to get out of the way because he has a roll of quarters and he knows how to use them. A motorcycle gang pulls up and Debbie rides off in to sunset with them. Sheila and Mr. McGuff go get coffee and nobody takes the clothes out of the dryer which somehow never stops and all the clothes are shrunk. The cops start laughing and that is the end of chapter one. Chapter two starts twenty two years later with Debbie and her mom in a nursing home wondering whatever happened to Sheila. A girl knocks on the door - she says she is Regina from the future and they have to come with her or ELSE everyone will know their dirty laundry.  I never got any further than that (and it took me hours to get that much sense from it). Some of it I added on to make more sense - she the original writer did not like it - said I had ruined her story. It does not make any sense anymore were her exact words.
So the moral of the story is: Never ask me for help - and that is as clear as I can make it so that is good writing or is it ?
Well keep writing - you just have to - to get better.

 


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