If writing were a person, it would be ambidextrous. Not only is it able to be unique and wonderfully crafted, it also has the ability to fall . . . and fall hard. Finding good writing is like flipping a coin. There’s a Yin and Yang, a right and a left, a Janus just waiting right around the corner. And while anyone’s writing is never ultimately terrible and unsalvageable, here are the recurring qualities on the Yin side of the spectrum that have certainly made me cringe.
The overly sexualized gang-bang trip
It’s sex just for the means of writing about sex. There doesn’t seem to be a point, or maybe the sex is the entire point (which, unless you’re writing the next 50 Shades of Grey, it shouldn’t ever be. But even E.L. James threw in some story arcs). Either way, reading all of the intense details makes you uncomfortable and like you accidentally stumbled upon some really bad, unsolicited erotica. When it comes to the critique session, it seems like everyone is walking on eggshells as they try to find scenes to discuss where all the characters still have their pants on.
The format fiasco
It’s like the person who wrote this manuscript has never taken a grammar course in their life. Along with no indention, there’s sometimes punctuation and every now and then some quotation marks but, whatever it is, it’s never consistent. Random words are capitalized. Why are there ellipsis at the start of every paragraph? Maybe their work isn’t that bad, but there’s no way you can take it seriously when it looks like it was copied and pasted directly out of the FanFiction.net browser. You spend more time thinking about how to offer tutoring lessons without sounding like a total jerk more than you do about their story.
The pro-everything rant
This manuscript has everything controversial not because the story called for it, but rather because the writer wanted to make a point. Maybe the protagonist is bi, her best friend a lesbian, and their other friend is overtly gay. The quirky art girl who hangs out alone in the hallway is pan and the masculine football player is struggling with the terms of being trans. This is when the manuscript starts to veer towards also being the overly sexualized gang-bang trip, as the storyline begins to focus on their exploits and how they only use sex to discover themselves.
Here’s the problem: a person’s sexuality makes them part of who they are, but it’s not the only redeeming feature about them. Make your characters who you want them to be, but there’s a difference in writing from yourself rather than writing what you think people need to read. However, that’s not saying you can never do both.
The all too real allusion to very real life
It’s one thing to write about what you know, but it’s another to not even try to change a single detail. Writers like to think that they’re smart and can drop secret hints in their work that only characters like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes will pick up on. But no, the rest of us see them too. We know who you’re talking about, whether it’s yourself or someone else in class. I’ve read work about unrequited love and even extreme hate to the point of bodily harm. Needless to say, we didn’t end up critiquing the hateful one together in workshop.
Sometimes it can go from flattering to creepy real quick. And that’s just awkward for everyone present.
The musings of a misogynist
You’ve read too many pages and, by the end of it, you realize that every single female character has been sexualized in one way or another. Maybe it’s the “barmaid” with the gigantic rack or a tiny supernatural sprite that shows up in only her birthday suit. While you probably won’t have to read any sex scenes, sometimes the innuendos can be worse. Women are treated like objects that are always set aside, unless the main (and only male) characters are feeling horny when they’re finally done saving the world. So you bring it up to the class and the author just huffs. It’s 2017, dude. Learn to keep your sensitive masculinity in your pants.