Originally posted by nihilistic_kid
at Good Writing vs Bad—Hugo Edition
I often use these two lines from Farewell, My Lovely in class, as an example of excellent writing:
"It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
I then ask what we know about the blonde? The older students know definitively that "it" is female—the e in blonde is the giveaway. The younger, more politically
annoying aware students will often point to and object to the "it" in "It was a blonde." They have good eyes—the narrator is referring to a photograph of a blonde. And she's attractive, strikingly so, perhaps even archetypal in her blondeness.
And what do we know of the narrator: he's intelligent, creative, cynical, attempts to detach himself from his own animal nature, is irreligious but was likely religious at some point, likes to show off. We know more about him than about her. And there's also a rhythm that carries us on—the second sentence wouldn't work nearly so well without the first, which is a double iamb. (da DUM da DUM it WAS a BLONDE) Not bad!
And now, some sentences on a similar theme, from the Hugo-nominated novel Skin Game by Jim Butcher:
I’m pretty sure the temperature of the room didn’t literally go up, but I couldn’t have sworn to it. Some women have a quality about them, something completely intangible and indefinable, which gets called a lot of different things, depending on which society you’re in. I always think of it as heat, fire. It doesn’t have to be about sex, but it often is—and it definitely was with Hannah Ascher. I was extremely aware of her body, and her eyes. Her expression told me that she knew exactly what effect she was having on me, and that she didn’t mind having it in the least. I’d say that my libido kicked into overdrive, except that didn’t seem sufficient to cover the rush of purely physical hunger that suddenly hit me. Hannah Ascher was a damned attractive woman. And I’d been on that island for a long, long time.
What do we know of this woman? Well, she has eyes and a body and, uh, some kind of look on her face. But what we don't know what. Is it, "Yeah, you want this, baby, and I like that!" or is it "Haha, another dumb nerd with a boner. That's right, waddle over here, Pointdexter!"?
And what do we know of the narrator—he has an erection, and he likes to flap his lips. And he's the world's worst anthropologist. (What society are you in?)
Now, why would some readers look at this mess and think "Good writing!" Simple: they're being asked to do something very simple—think of a hot chick. What does she look like? Whatever you think hot chicks look like, duh! No rhythm, no clever figurative language, nothing impressive about the narrator, but the words say "think of a hot chick" and you do and that makes you happy and there you are.
The "hot chick" is rather an aside anyway. Think of a guy in a hat. Think of a guy inhaling deeply and using all his AWESOME POWER in ONE BLAST. Think of any big city—this one happens to be named Chicago despite having almost nothing in common with Chicago. (By way of contrast, you can to this day use Farewell, My Lovely as a map of LA's Westside.) It's just dumb sloppy bullshit, that has the advantage of being easy enough to write that anyone willing to do it can make deadlines easily.
Note that I'm not discussing the sexual politics of the scene, for the simple reason that any human attitude or endeavor can be described well, or it can be described poorly. Content is a matter of taste and context. One needn't be a so-called "SJW" to look at Butcher's prose and see nothing but a piss-poor Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox of a hardboiled detective looking back at you, with a crooked smile and far-off look in his eye as his dick gets hard.
Is it hot in here, or is it just the society we're in, mama?