Writing Exercise: Salvaging Doggerel

“Her azure orbs sparkled in the moonlight.”

“I took this as a bad sign. Battle sapphires only sparkle when they’re about to be thrown, and I was too close to be the target—who else was out there? Were we under attack?”

–a response to deliberately dubious description.

Not all bad writing is irretrievable; in fact, not even all bad sentences are irretrievable. Particularly not if what you’re looking for is humor. And what better gift for a writer in a hurry than being able to improvise of whatever holds still long enough?

This exercise—more of a game, really—is based on a simple principle: a lot of bad sentences are such because they just don’t work with what they’re trying to describe. Take the above azure orbs (where people started referring to eyes as orbs I hesitate to guess, but now they’re rolling around everywhere and you trip over them every time you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom—darn kids not picking up their toys): when you’re using them as eyes it looks silly, but you can get a bit of expectation humor out of trying to create a rest-of-the-paragraph that justifies the first sentence.

Having a partner is recommended; it varies up the source material, and this stuff is a lot funnier when shared!

And feel free to take a stab at the meta-question: is the truly awful writing the stuff that you can’t come up with a justification for?

(Author news note: The next few days are going to be a bit unusual by this blog’s standards. Why? I’m going to Comic-Con! That being said—tomorrow, unless something exceptional happens, there will be no post, and regardless of circumstances there will be no Generic Villain this week. Instead, on Sat/Sun/Mon (Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights), I will be posting filler sketches. Have a good weekend, and enjoy the show!)


  1. Michael says:

    Nah, the *truly* awful writing is writing that spoils what would otherwise have been a great scene. In that case it doesn’t matter if you can justify it — that’s like trying to explain a joke after it’s fallen flat. My favourite example is one of the deaths in Deathly Hallows — what with the movie being out now, I won’t name names, but the death is right at the end of a chapter and you’d better put the book down at that point and walk away and release the tears, because the prose that immediately follows is some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a published work, and needless to say spoils the mood completely.

    Have fun at Comic-Con, and I can’t wait to see the sketches!

  2. KreenWarrior says:

    The Bulwer-Lyton winners for 2011 got announced here: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/2011.htm. Lots of good fodder in there.

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