The A-Z Bookbag: W is for Wretched Writing


We’re taking a step back from fiction today and into a different world, one that pokes fun at the bad writing we’re all guilty of from time to time.


Wretched Writing: A Compendium of Crimes Against the English Language by Ross Petras and Kathryn Petras is a collection of writing snippets from various authors (though a few are highlighted more than others) that demonstrate what makes bad writing bad in a hilarious way. The snippets are organized into categories, and there are lots of categories and lots of snippets for each category. So I’m sharing a few favorites.

Let’s start with this snippet from Adjectives, Wrong.

She popped the elastic at the top of the second sock and pushed her sexually ambiguous Timex watch up along the blond hairs of her handsome forearms. –Steve Whalen, POB2, A Love Story (1982)

Anatomy, Problematic has some amusing examples.

She sat huddled in a chair, covering her ears with crossed legs. –Edgar Jepson, “The Moment of Truth” (posthumous, 1949)

She stood at the foot of the stairs, narrowing her eyes and breathing through her hips. –From a short story in The Saturday Evening Post

And because breasts are often the subject of bad writing, they get their very own category. This example made me laugh out loud.

Her hips were beautifully arched and her breasts were like proud flags waving triumphantly. –Michael Avallone, The Case of the Violent Virgin (1957)

Cacophony, Catastrophic explores the world of bad sound effects.

“Bluh!” he choked. “Ahk! Bluh!”

“Caw!” the cop said urgently. “Caw! Fuh! Bah-up!”

–Stephen King, Rose Madder (1996)

See the name there? Even King isn’t immune to unfortunate prose.

The authors delve into extremely lengthy character descriptions, colorful language, and as this snippet shows, problematic commas.

Highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector. –Article about a documentary by Peter Ustinov, The Times of London (November 29, 1998)

Of course a book like this needs a category on euphemisms for genitalia, but I found the unintended inclusion of them more amusing.

Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls. –Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818)

And where would we be without misplaced modifiers?

She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought her from San Francisco. –Danielle Steel, Star (1990)

He put the melting honey-colored fruit on her plate and got out a silk handkerchief. She began to eat it thoughtfully. –F.C. Phillips, “Romance for the Chambermaid” (c. 1885)

There are many, many more snippets to enjoy/laugh at/cringe at. I haven’t even addressed the section about trying too hard to impress the reader.

Also in my Bookbag: Wool, Witch Dance, White, Weight of Shadows

What W titles are in your Bookbag?

4 thoughts on “The A-Z Bookbag: W is for Wretched Writing

  1. Pingback: Blogging A-Z Challenge: The Complete Bookbag List – with Genres! | Allison Maruska

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