Writing today sucks (for lack of a better descriptor)

June 1, 2009

Back in the day, people used to write each other with what we might have called words and sentences, language was rich and people knew how to spell. Today, we have text messaging, books like twilight and harry potter selling millions of copies despite its lack of literary value and usage of net speak in everyday speech (of which I am guilty of myself). What has happened to the English language? I don’t proclaim to be a literary expert but I have read and written my share and know good writing when I read it.

Recently I have laid my eyes on a copy of “Twilight” and asked my friend to share with me its contents just for a quick skim. Honest to God, while I was reading, my brain must have fallen asleep due to boredom because I could not remember a single thing from skimming a full page. The book is full of what appears to be description but none of it evokes any emotion or imagery in my mind; it is as though the author just decided to insert lists inside his sentences. Here is an example:

I could see in the distance, two intersections down, streetlamps, cars, and more pedestrians, but they were all too far away.

What the hell is that? How does that sentence even make sense? The persona can see into the distance which was by his own admission too far away. Sense it makes none! Not only is this so called description non-descriptive, it also does not make logical sense. The book is full of phrases like this and I fail to see how writing so bland could go on to sell so well as to have a motion picture dedicated to it (which was also absolutely shithouse might I add). Allow me to rewrite the above sentence so that it becomes more interesting:

“The street was lined with streetlamps and cars; it teemed with pedestrians bustling to and fro for two intersections down, until they escaped my range of vision.”

Granted my version is by no means a literary masterpiece but you would have to agree that it sounds less list-like and more like proper narrative. Admittedly “Twilight” was not written as an adult novel, but if this is the type of material that we feed school children then I fear that the English language is headed towards dark days indeed. Whatever happened to the Roald Dahls and Enid Blytons that filled me with awe and wonder whenever I read as a child? I have read free e-books which were much more entertaining than Twilight!

I used to think that a good novel was based on unique storylines, engaging dialogue, or even interesting imagery. Now all it looks like all that constitutes a good book is how well it is marketed.

My thoughts exactly

My thoughts exactly

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10 Responses to “Writing today sucks (for lack of a better descriptor)”

  1. kaefka said

    ya, its good marketing, but i think its a good storyline too, the people who generally don’t read anything at all will pick it up because of the hype from people who read trash. But at the end of the day, its a good formula that works regardless of the sub-standard unliterary writing i.e. Disaffected girl falls in love with handsome boy and yadda yadda love conquers etc. etc. ad nausea.

    Fact is, most of the population cannot read high literature, because a) its too difficult and b) if everybody is into it it ceases to be high literature and merely kitsch. This goes for almost everything… The masses are anathema.

    • sto67 said

      I agree with what you have said, but what I fail to understand is that an editor read that and felt that it was both entertaining and profitable. I could understand the latter but I have a harder time coming to terms with the former.
      What Twilight has done is lowered the standards of a professional writer, sending out the message that even with a vocabulary and writing talent of a young child one can be a “pro”.
      My point is that with novels like this, people will believe that their decaying written language skills is good enough. It is a never ending circle of literary decay starting from the bottom up.
      Eventually, people won’t know what you are talking about simply because you are trying to use a surgeon’s knife to hammer in a fence post.

  2. kaefka said

    But isn’t it young adult? Theres lots of trash out there but also good writing, just look at the winners of the Nobel and sometimes the Pulitzer and Booker prizes. There are still people who appreciate fine writing and people who write it even though its not mainstream.

    Doesn’t Stephanie Meyer say it like it is though?

    • kaefka said

      Just had a thought – when we don’t quite know what authors are talking about… is the doubt of consciousness, unsureness of self… thats modernism/post-modernism and it takes skill Steph Meyer ain’t got. See James Joyce or Virginia Woolf or Gertrude Stein!

    • sto67 said

      I know that the book targets young people and that is what I am trying to get at. To put it bluntly, if kids think that Twilight is good reading, then in the future we will have to work with and be surrounded by people who have lower and lower levels of writing skills…

  3. thephilologist said

    A few points:
    English is a dynamic language, and that is what makes it so amazing and so relevant today. And while I do agree that internet-talk is being used in more and more forms, I don’t think there is much chance of it replacing normal English. And is it such a bad thing if it does? After all, language is there to communicate ideas – anything after that is embellishment. Anyways, internet-talk is a very small subset of the English language. I have yet to see an internet-talk version of words such as “modest”, “envelope”, and “antidisestablishmentarianism”. Also, many words are only ever used in novels, and not part of everyday speech, which is what internet-talk (with IM) is imitating.

    Secondly, the author of Twilight is a she, not a he. As is the protagonist. 😀

    Thirdly, your quote that you nitpicked from the book:

    “The street was lined on both sides by blank, doorless, windowless walls. I could see in
    the distance, two intersections down, streetlamps, cars, and more pedestrians, but they
    were all too far away. Because lounging against the western building, midway down the
    street, were the other two men from the group, both watching with excited smiles as I
    froze dead on the sidewalk. I realized then that I wasn’t being followed.
    I was being herded.”

    I think from the paragraph as a whole it is clear that she means that the pedestrians were too far away to help her (as she was being “herded” by a group of men with not-so-nice designs on her), not that they were too far away to be seen.

    It would be like saying: “As I climbed up the face of the cliff, straining every muscle and tendon in my body, I turned to my right and saw a promising ledge, but it was too far away.”

    But saying this, I do agree that Meyer’s writing is far from amazing. (We wouldn’t be sending it out in a spaceship as an example of human achievement anytime soon.) I think you just picked a bad example of it. :p

    As bad as I think her writing is, though, I still finished the book, and enjoyed it. You can be the best writer in the world word-wise, but if you can’t tell a good story then you won’t get very far. But tell a good story… (just look at The Da Vinci Code).

    Good Writing + Bad Story = Bad Book.
    Bad Writing + Bad Story = Bad Book.
    Bad Writing + Good Story = Good Book.
    Good Writing + Good Story = Excellent Book.

  4. kaefka said

    Thats enough from you Mr. loqua-bose.

    • thephilologist said

      *crawls back into hole*

      But I can touch-type. If I only wrote small posts it would feel like I was wasting my talent!

      Maybe I’ll leave a five page comment on your blog just to spite you. Muahaha.

  5. Sin said

    Honestly,

    I believe that Meyer was writing from the standpoint of Romance Novels–with all the dazzling and sparking descriptions–it was meant to make any (to be sexist) boy sucked into the storyline.

    It is really geared towards overly hormonal, emotional, insecure girls. The movie accents the over-acting of the characters by in turn being over-acted so OF COURSE IT SUCKS.

    American literature went down hill after realism/regionalism. I blame Pound. Bastard. (If you love him, you “epic fail” at life).

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