Please! Tell me about the fucking golf shoes!

Let's get down to brass tacks - how much for the ape?

Oh God – did you eat all this acid?

There’s this one scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where our intrepid hero, Raoul Duke, is sitting on his hotel suite bed completely out of his god damned mind on Lord knows what, as he stares transfixed at his traveling companion and personal attorney Dr. Gonzo.  The man has just been regaled with a fantastic tale of the effects of pure adrenachrome, a drug sourced from the pineal gland of human beings.  As Duke is gripped by the massive high his imagination takes flight, and the man’s mind spins to make sense of what Dr. Gonzo is telling him.  Finally, just at the climax of the tale, the Dr. Gonzo stops to tend to his own high, and Duke glares at him in sweaty, impotent rage, cowering under the tea towel placed upon his head, eyes popping from behind the aviator-frame glasses like some frustrated reptilian creature.  “Finish the fucking story!” he bellows, twitching like a madman.

When I encounter bad writing this is exactly the scene that plays over and over in my head.

I could never try to pass myself off as any sort of expert when it comes to narrative structure, pacing, setting, and plot.  Yes, I’m technically a professional writer, but the nature of the profession is by its very nature one of constant evolution.  It’s a constant learning process, and every day that goes by turns you into a better writer than you were the day before.  Becoming a good writer – someone that can use the medium to convey not just information but do it in a way that leads to a certain goal, whether it be to provide understanding or to elicit an an emotional response  in a reader- requires you push ever forward unerringly towards becoming better.

Just because I’ve come far in this process doesn’t make me an expert or entitle me to use pretentious bullshit phrases like “honing your craft” or “finding your voice.”  Still I’ve gained plenty of experience, encountered more than my fair share of absolutely horrible writing, and while I have deep reserves of patience it can sometimes grow precariously thin – and if there’s one thing that sends me into paroxysms of rage it’s sloppy fucking storytelling.

I can deal with the problems of a deficiency in the actual technical act of writing.  Switching to different points-of-view in the middle of a chapter, overuse of exposition, even grammar and syntax problems and typographical errors like misspelled words don’t get to me, as these are all things that a good editor can fix. No, the one thing that drives me into an obsessive Captain Ahab rage is a mismanaged narrative.  In other words, you can’t fix stupid.

If you’re telling any story, you make damn sure that there’s a discernible beginning, middle and end.  I don’t care if you start in medias res and end with a healthy dose of deus ex machina, but if you don’t at least address the primary conflict in the narrative whatever you’re writing will fall flat, whether it be a short story, novel, academic paper, newspaper article, or slice-of-life blog post, and you’re just going to frustrate and alienate your readers.  Like listening to Nickelback, it’s the one unforgivable sin.

And don’t tell me that you don’t know better, either.  You don’t need an MFA in Creative Writing to know that you can’t leave a story unresolved without generating a massive amount of angst in a reader.  You wouldn’t leave off the last section of an academic paper, or the final paragraph of a newspaper article; you wouldn’t finish a novel at the second-to-last chapter or leave out the pivotal scene at the end of your short story where it’s revealed that the butler did it.  No, instead you bring the narrative to a logical stopping point so that your readers will leave satisfied and not wanting to strangle you with the power cord to their phone charger.

Finish the fucking story.

You're goddamn right I'm mad.

Thank you, Harlan.

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3 thoughts on “Please! Tell me about the fucking golf shoes!

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