Our house is a 70â€™s house.
Which is to say it was designed and built during an era when architects did really stupid things.
One look at our roof will tell you that. The south slope has a mind of its own. Instead of meeting the north slope at the peak, it ends at a wall which rises another two feet to the ridge line.
In a better designed 70â€™s home, this wall would hold a row of windows to welcome the sun onto a vaulted ceiling. But we donâ€™t have a vaulted ceiling - just a wall across our roof, clad in vinyl.
It looks ridiculous.
It is not just the roof that looks like this, one half of the house is actually smaller than the other.
When our guests first come to visit, I have to explain it away by telling them that the factory shipped the wrong halves of a prefab home and instead of correcting the error, the builder simply cobbled it together.
But in the 1970â€™s, design like that was considered revolutionary because it broke all the rules. Now it looks just plain dumb.
So what makes for bad architecture?
The same thing that makes for bad writing.
The key to bad anything can be found in the words of the worst insult one can toss at any work of art: "It must have won a prize."
I am sure the architect of our house was thinking about a prize when he or she drew up the plans. Â Okay, if not a prize, they were thinking about their portfolio. Â What they were not thinking about was us, the people who have to live there.
How could they be?
Since the south half of the house is smaller than the north half, we have all kinds of problems. Â The kitchen is so cramped that you have to stand off to the side to open the refrigerator door. Â The bedroom closet has only half the space it would in a normal configuration. Â The list is long.
So how did this happen?
Well, it looked great on paper. Â Maybe even good enough to win a prize - and right there is the essence of bad design. Â When the designer is focused on something other than their customer, they are inevitably doing their worst work.
The irony is, they think they are doing their best work.
The same goes for writing. When we find ourselves impressed by the brilliance of our words, it is a good time to back off and think about the reader. Â Will the writing be clear to them? Â Will they enjoy our words as much as we do? Â Are we adding to the story or just trying to be clever?
If not, we are in danger of writing badly.
I couldn't leave you without an example. Â Here is a paragraph from a book reveiw:
Banville is one of the great stylists of our times. He is a dedicated lexiphile possessed of preternatural lucidity whose accurate sentences unfurl with such fluency and syntactic grace that even the most quotidian descriptions are rendered euphonious. One does not simply read Banville; one luxuriates in the susurrating glory of his prose. - James Levy writing in The Age
One does not have to wait forty years for styles to change to realize just how atrocious that paragraph is.
Now please don't confuse poor writing with bad writing. Poor writing happens when we are careless and screw up, and anyone can do that - like when we mangle a sentence or deliver the wrong halves of a prefab home.
Bad writing is something else entirely - it takes effort.
(h/t Mark Nicol at Daily Writing Tips)
This weekâ€™s writing challenge: write a tale about hubris.
Post your article toÂ Gather Writing Essentials.
BE SURE TO TAG your submission withÂ MWE. Â Note: I search for articles using the tag "MWE" Â If you don't tag it right,Â I will not find it.
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Last weekâ€™s writing challenge write a tale in the form of messageÂ drew the following responses:
Weekly reminder: don't forget to recommend an article that you like (to learn why, read Ann Marcaida's article Attract More Writers and Artists to Gather!).. Â Also try to place a comment on at least one article and say more than you liked the piece. Â Tell the author what worked and what needs work.