September 23, 2009

That All You Got?

I really expected this list of "Dan Brown's 20 Worst Sentences" (from the Telegraph's Tom Chivers) to be a lot funnier and Avallone-esque than it proved to be.

I'm not saying they're not clunky sentences, or that there aren't "infelicities" in them; I'm only saying that they can't quite bear the weight of the slightly desperate-sounding scorn piled on top of them. If the writing is bad, it is a pedestrian, rather unremarkable sort of badness, found in all sorts of published writing for which people are paid lots of money.

As an example, I'll cite a bit of snide commentary from the article itself, because I hate the "show don't tell" cliché and because it's pretty funny that it occurs in the first cited example:

They say the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell”. This [excerpt from Angels and Demons] fails that rule.

Maybe it's different in the UK, but where I come from, rules get broken, not failed. i.e., when you break a rule, you are failing the person who made it, rather than the rule itself, which really doesn't care one way or the other. You can also fail a test, which I think is kind of what happened here. Take that, Chivers.

Posted by Dr. Frank at September 23, 2009 06:26 PM | TrackBack

In number 18: so people are breathing in the museum? That's good, right? Unless they're zombies. Ok, it was an overwrought sentence. But so was a lot of what Faulkner wrote.

I seem to be the only living creature that has not read Dan Brown but seeing the examples, I can agree with you. There are probably many moments of unfortunate writing, but nothing to rouse the villagers with torches...

I did learn something useful: if I'm swimming and a shark comes by and its eyes go white...


Posted by: Marisa Birns at September 23, 2009 07:12 PM

I, too, have never read Dan Brown. Perhaps there are others as well.

Posted by: Paul at September 23, 2009 07:28 PM

Ha, I haven't read him either! Maybe Frank Portman and Dan Brown audiences don't coincide? Who'd of thunk?

Posted by: Girl Detective at September 23, 2009 08:22 PM

I've read him and like his stuff OK. I realize it's all riddled with errors and everything, but his books are fun. There's worse out there, that's for sure. Light reading.

Posted by: Cpt. at September 23, 2009 09:12 PM

i'm sick of people going out of there way to say how much they hate something. if you hate dan brown that much, don't read his books. reading every word he's ever written to decide on 20 sentences to declare the worst is such a waste of time, especially if they're not going to be hilariously bad.

Posted by: aaron at September 23, 2009 09:14 PM

It's kinda like shooting fish in a barrel. Many of the most popular fiction writers would fail similar inspection. But they're doing something right to have sold so many books. What I find particularly distasteful about articles like the one Chivers has written is the "holier than thou" feel to it. I have read a Dan Brown book and enjoyed it for what it was. I realized I wasn't reading a classic to be sure, but I was entertained. When it's all said and done, isn't that the point?

Posted by: trey at September 23, 2009 09:37 PM

I agree with Aaron (and having seen this list yesterday, planning to enjoy it and then finding it boring, I agree with you too Frank).

The story should rule above all--- if he's telling a ripping yarn I'll read past the overwrought sentences. And seriously, why do so many writers feel the need to cannibalize our own? The job is hard enough as it is.

Posted by: Steve Bramucci at September 23, 2009 09:45 PM

Yes, how dare Dan Brown enjoy his literary celebrity, even having committed such egregious errors as (gasp) incorrect usage of transitive verbs. How dare he!

Posted by: Nate Pensky at September 23, 2009 11:18 PM


Posted by: kittie at September 25, 2009 05:00 PM

Sometimes fun stuff is stupid. That's Dan Brown and I'm okay with that. Sometimes fun stuff is mean. That's this article and it could have been 100% funner. Yes, I use that word because it's stupid and it's fun. Get stupid people. Understand stupid. Embrace your own inner stupid and that in others. Throw a little stupid at the pins and see what you score. Maybe even a cookie.

Posted by: kelley at September 28, 2009 06:18 PM