Bad Writing - a Thog-a-like thread for dreadful prose.

'She crouched on a three-legged stool as if warming herself before the fire, but Will knew her chill would take more melting than that. He knelt down before her. The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the other that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.'
(Elizabeth Bear, Ink and Steel, 2008)
 
I found this opening statement, from "The Gay Old Dog" (1918) by Edna Ferber, to be odd.

"Those of you who have dwelt -- or even lingered -- in Chicago, Illinois (this is not a humorous story), are familiar with the region known as the Loop."

What the heck is that parenthetical statement doing there?
 
'She crouched on a three-legged stool as if warming herself before the fire, but Will knew her chill would take more melting than that. He knelt down before her. The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the other that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.'
(Elizabeth Bear, Ink and Steel, 2008)

That IS a bit pants. If nothing else because the selfish sod is now between her and the fire she is trying to warm herself with. People normally 'warm themselves by the fire' by facing it, and getting as close as they can. So for him to to kneel 'before her' he has to be either kneeling with his heels smoking in the fireplace and his trousers in danger of bursting into flame - or she was sat sideways to the fire, or a long way from it. Neither of which are typical "warming herself before the fire" poses.

I found this opening statement, from "The Gay Old Dog" (1918) by Edna Ferber, to be odd.

"Those of you who have dwelt -- or even lingered -- in Chicago, Illinois (this is not a humorous story), are familiar with the region known as the Loop."

What the heck is that parenthetical statement doing there?


Maybe there was a concurrent stock bar-room joke stereotype. Which used the idea that people from Chicago were silly, naive, or thick or something?
"This guy from Chicago walks into a bar..." etc.
 
The stool wobbled under her when he took her hands, the one leg shorter than the other that his father hadn't mended in fifteen years gone past.
My head knows it's the stool that has the shorter leg, but my heart wants to believe she's the one with the shorter leg. This segues nicely into a love story with an android. (She's an android his father made, with a bum leg and a heart that needs warming etc. etc.)
 
My head knows it's the stool that has the shorter leg, but my heart wants to believe she's the one with the shorter leg.

It has to be her leg: the stool has three legs and yet the text states,
the one leg shorter than the other
i.e. other not others. Out of the woman (or female child) and the stool, only one of them has one short(er) leg and one other leg... and it isn't the stool.


How her father was meant to have mended her leg -- and/or why he had not done so in 15 years -- I'm less clear about.
 
It has to be her leg: the stool has three legs and yet the text states,

i.e. other not others. Out of the woman (or female child) and the stool, only one of them has one short(er) leg and one other leg... and it isn't the stool.


How her father was meant to have mended her leg -- and/or why he had not done so in 15 years -- I'm less clear about.
It is quite clear her father must have been a surgeon. How else could he have considered mending her leg? And JunkMonkey is correct; the male in the story is obviously a masochist who enjoys sticking his arse in the fireplace. Also, he likely has a fetish for women with irregularly sized legs.

You know, at first I thought this was a very poor piece of writing. But so much exposition in a few short words! Pure genius. It is a good thing Elizabeth Bear does not enter the monthly 75-worder, or the rest of us wouldn't get a look in!

I think there is one additional error that we must point out, though. A three legged stool wont wobble, even if one leg is shorter than the others. A four legged chair is another matter. Unless the author is setting up an alternative universe setting; one in which three legged stools do indeed wobble if their legs are not the same length. This is obviously a writer at the top of her game!
 
'"Peters, we are over a million years old!" he announced quietly. "When we were caught up in that double-sun explosion, we must have been carried along in its giddy orbit for over a million years! We were kept alive simply because we were in an air-locked compartment and did not do anything but sleep for most of the time, thus conserving our energy and our bodies to allow us to behave now as if we were normal men."'

(Terence Haile, Galaxies Ahead, 1963, quoted in Ansible 166)
 
What was the reader meant to understand from Haile's putting together of the exclamation mark, the "announced" and the "quietly" in that short first sentence (other than that he was likely to be as confused about it as they were)?
 
"...if Tolkien were writing the script of football, he would most certainly have introduced oases of stability amid the mayhem – places such as Rivendell, Lothlorien and the Grey Havens – domains where people are (as much as this is possible in football) at peace with each other. Jurgen Klopp is, in this sense, the Elrond of Merseyside, one of the custodians of the three elven rings ..."
(Matthew Syed, The Times, 3 November)

:rolleyes:
 
Matthew Syed
There may be a strange sort of nominative determinism going on here, with many of Mr Syed's readers sighing at the preposterousness of his (bumping along the ground) flights of fancy.
 
"...if Tolkien were writing the script of football, he would most certainly have introduced oases of stability amid the mayhem – places such as Rivendell, Lothlorien and the Grey Havens – domains where people are (as much as this is possible in football) at peace with each other. Jurgen Klopp is, in this sense, the Elrond of Merseyside, one of the custodians of the three elven rings ..."
(Matthew Syed, The Times, 3 November)

"Good evening and welcome to the semi-final here in the League of the Premiere. Those of you just tuning in on your palantirs will see that Sauron has chosen to field a nine-man (well, thing) team with a strong emphasis on attack. How do you see that playing out, Smeagol?"
"They takes the cup, precious! They takes it back to Mount Doom Road! We can feels it! It's coming home, precious!"
 
Hissing, hackles lifting, the chicken’s head rose. Kahlan pulled back. Its claws digging into stiff dead flesh, the chicken slowly turned to face her. It cocked its head, making its comb flop, its wattles sway. “Shoo,” Kahlan heard herself whisper. There wasn’t enough light, and besides, the side of its beak was covered with gore, so she couldn’t tell if it had the dark spot, But she didn’t need to see it. “Dear spirits, help me,” she prayed under her breath. The bird let out a slow chicken cackle. It sounded like a chicken, but in her heart she knew it wasn’t. In that instant, she completely understood the concept of a chicken that was not a chicken. This looked like a chicken, like most of the Mud People’s chickens. But this was no chicken. This was evil manifest.

- Terry Goodkind, Writer of important human themes.
 
We were kept alive simply because we were in an air-locked compartment and did not do anything but sleep for most of the time, thus conserving our energy and our bodies to allow us to behave now as if we were normal men
I didn't find the English particularly bad, but I could never abide such terrible science.
 
And a more Thog-like one:

'Lancinations of unendurable ecstasy ravened through his consciousness, starbursts of warring sensory impulses that slipped once more to coherent phenomena, an instant before his mind shattered to follow into final chaos.'
(Karl Edward Wagner, 'The Dark Muse', 1975)
 
It's deliberate parody, but this passage from National Lampoon's Doon makes me smile. It's a good exaggeration of the less readable bits of Frank Herbert:


This realization focused within him in a sudden sparkflash computation, and in the clear brilliance of that illumination, the boy Pall understood a profoundness. His life, hitherto a child's plaything, devoid of direction–seemingly! Or had there in fact always been a plan–a plan within a plan within a plan (whatever that meant (whatever that meant (whatever that meant)))?–was now encompassed by a terrible purpose. He knew the meaning of the word terrible, and he knew the meaning of the word purpose. And therefore he understood deeply the meaning of "terrible purpose". Unless he, in the solitude of his deeply brain-filled mind, misunderstood this revelation, and was in fact confronted with a "terrible papoose."

What could that mean?
 
'"Peters, we are over a million years old!" he announced quietly. "When we were caught up in that double-sun explosion, we must have been carried along in its giddy orbit for over a million years! We were kept alive simply because we were in an air-locked compartment and did not do anything but sleep for most of the time, thus conserving our energy and our bodies to allow us to behave now as if we were normal men."'

(Terence Haile, Galaxies Ahead, 1963, quoted in Ansible 166)

To be fair, this sounds like any Doctor Who series. They all have the same basic storyline. For the majority of the narrative a planet is in mortal danger from aliens or nasty creatures (this part of the show is usually done quite well). And then, towards the end of the last episode, The Doctor shouts out some ridiculous science-like mumbo jumbo, makes some adjustments to The Tardis and - Bob's you uncle! - everything is ok.
 

Back
Top