Why You Shouldn’t Write Like a Harvard Prick

There are “Immature Writers” and there are “Incomprehensible Writers.”

I just got back from reading a chapter or so from The Dark Tower by Stephen King at McDonalds. I’ve decided to read a McDonalds today because the seats are comfy, the lighting is tolerant, and the windows hold up the ceiling. That, and the fact that it’s 20 or so steps away from my house and everywhere else is freezing.

This morning I had the choice between reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov or The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Out of the slim selection of books I found around my house, which included, Twilight, FightClub/read, The Perfect Mile, Paradise Lost, some poetry by T.S. Eliot, and Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks, I figured The Dark Tower and Lolita were the only books worth reading at the time. I weighed out the pros and cons with each, I didn’t want to read something close to horror simply because I’m writing something in that genre and I don’t want to unconsciously steal the creativity in that work and end up writing just like it. However, as good as Lolita and the luscious details of caressing children would’ve been, I still decided to go with The Dark Tower, simply because it’s written in third person. From the numerous writing forums I’m currently participating in, a lot of people are telling me I need to work on a structure of writing in third person.

Within the First Few Pages

Within the first few pages I found myself reading the same sentences over and over and trying to focus. That’s bad. Most people would say that type of behavior is signs that I might have some attention disorder, or an inability to stay focused. Bullshit! It’s the freaking book’s problem. The book is broken! Maybe not to everyone, but if I open it and it doesn’t make sense to me, it probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of other people either. Books are supposed to draw in the reader, no excuses. It’s not the reader’s fault that they’re bored. It’s also not the fault of the reader, or most people altogether, that they’re not at a reading level of someone with a graduate school degree. What’s really the point of writing if no one can understand what you’re writing. If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and nobody’s around, do you really call yourself a writer?

People read Twilight. The only people who don’t read it, are writers. The language is too 5th grade. However, the reason for Twilight’s success was because people we’re into the idea, not because they like reading. Most people don’t even like reading, yet Twilight got practically every girl in America to not only pick up a book, but to read four of them. Most people don’t read for the poetic weaving of words or the underlying politics that hides subliminally behind every idea, they read because they want the story. They don’t want the Harvard vocab.

“Sorry Stephen! I don’t know what a god damn ‘hovel’ is!”

It is not your readers fault that he or she has no idea what you’re talking about. It is not your readers fault that they put down your book because it seemed like homework. It is no one else’s fault but yours that you were trying to speak a language that only a small minority of the world can comprehend.

But, if that’s what you’re going for, it’s your move.


12 responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Write Like a Harvard Prick

  • Jas

    In my opinion, a ton of great writing is often written in the same style that the author would use to talk to you (or on the case of the third person, other people). Of course, this is also dependent on the author having an engaging way of speaking in the first place. Most writers who write the way they talk make me want to rub my poor attention span against a cheese grater. We are back to where we started. Disregard this comment.

    • Bricona

      haha thanks Jas. I know there’s a large margin in which I’m totally wrong about this, and I just sound like a total ass. However, I’m talking as a reader, I’m complaining as a reader.

  • Daniella

    Twilight has got to be some of the worse writing I have ever seen. I mean there is no style, so pizzaz, no sparkle ( well not with the words anyways). But you are right, it works because the idea was something special ( before it crowded our television screens and all other media outlets).

    My favorite place to read is Starbucks. Actually, my favorite place to do all things is Starbucks.

  • Olga Wolstenholme

    You don’t have to be a grad student to know what “hovel” means. I couldn’t get into The Dark Tower either, but not because the language was too grad school-y…

  • Gina

    I actually just finished the Gunslinger and was totally underwhelmed. The word choice was weird, and you’re definitely not the only person to say that. A lot of people- even grad school people- have complained of the same thing. It feels like King went through his entire book and used a thesaurus on every fifth word, just to fill it with obscure/ intelligent-sounding language.

    And while it was a decent example of third person, it certainly isn’t third person omniscient; it’s skewed in much the way Harry Potter is- you see and know only what the gunslinger sees and knows. Notwithstanding the POV, I think it was a very herky-jerky style of story telling (the forward-moving story was constantly interrupted by flashbacks, which were then sometimes interrupted by other flashbacks) and therefor not something to be emulated.

    • Bricona

      Yeah, the flashbacks were so confusing. I’ll admit, if you open to any page in The Shining, it’s some really freaky detailed stuff. This was like spooky lit meets john steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. “Where’s the beef?”

  • Sam

    I get told all the time my writing is too much telling not enough prose. I read lots of stories on sites that are filled with great prose, but the stories suck and I wouldn’t remember them tomorrow. I agree that a good writer, like a good director can make a story more interesting, but there has to be a story there. There always should be a balance. But it seems its ok when the balance sifts to style over story, I blame arrogance for this. I want to write what I like to read, the kind of story you can tell sitting around a campfire (as long as there’s no kids around)

    • Bricona

      I don’t know about the campfire narrative. There’s a way I post on my personal development blog that’s more of a essay way of writing. However, I wrote a blog post titled, What do you want to do before you die? A Realistic Bucket List, which was more of a conversational narrative. They both work, it’s just for a personal development blog, I should really stay loyal to the essay format of things.

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