Transcript- Bad Fiction

Author: The Book Matrix
Title: A Short Study on Bad Fiction
Plot: A discourse on pitfalls aspiring writers should avoid
Note: For this lesson I used Sir Francis Bacon's writing as an example of what to avoid

Listen to "A short study of bad fiction (techniques for writers to avoid) [13 Mins]" on Spreaker.


Full Transcript
Hey, welcome back!

I reviewed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne after reading Sir Francis Bacon’s book The New Atlantis and it emphasized the difference between good fiction and bad.

One of the key differences between good fiction and bad is that good fiction could be possible. There’s enough truth in it for us to say, “Wow! I could see how that could happen... And maybe it did!...” But bad fiction could not possibly be true. I’ll explain:

It is a very immature and lazy impulse to write a book and then think, "I know, I’ll use a well respected and universally loved name like Superman. But I’ll call my book the New Superman.” 

The problem with that approach is it sets the expectation that the New Superman is going to be better than the old one. And so you better deliver! But if you were a good writer who was capable of attracting readers, you would just establish your own name.

Another trait of a bad fiction writer is changing an established story world thinking this is fiction so it doesn't need to be true. For example: what would your mind do if I used Manhattan as the story world and mentioned the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben? It would send your mind spinning, right? It implies there’s a mystery that needs to be solved. Did the US conquer England and France and transport those treasures to Manhattan? How did they get there? Is this a story in a parallel universe? Is it the future? Did I just miss a location change in the text just now? Maybe something went over my head?... And then you might scour the text looking for clues. The last thing you would imagine is that the writer is so incompetent he would forget to confirm the proper location for those landmarks. And you would obsess until the end of the story because of it. Your mind would be distracted until you complete the story. Only then would you be certain the author was just lazy and irresponsible. And that revelation would make you angry.

I mean if you were me, you would think, “You lazy shlub!” I just wasted all that time scouring your book, being confused and doing research to discover that the problem is not that I am dumb, you are!

And then you re-examine the book looking for other flaws, which is exactly what I did with Sir Francis Bacon’s book. Because if an author relies on the reader's knowledge of Manhattan to establish the story world, then the use of real objects and locations is paramount! Because he will bond with the locals who share that knowledge, or he'll make everyone think he's a complete idiot for being wrong. And so this can be polarizing. Authors who do their homework create strong bonds with the readers, and lazy shlubs make their readers angry.

And so imagine I wrote a book called the New Superman, but this new version indulges in crime has no superpowers whatsoever, he’s fat and ugly. Now that’s gonna make a few people angry! And the universal question the reader would ask, is, “Why is he doing this? Did he use Superman’s name to attract his (Superman's) fans and make book sales? I prefer the original Superman. I hate this book!” Using this approach will make people instantly hate your book when you change details that are integral to the thing you're changing. 

You do not use something wildly popular to attract readers and then disappoint fans of that wildly popular establishment by screwing up the thing they loved so much! You just don't do that!

Having studied Sir Francis Bacon’s book it appears obvious to me that he used the name the New Atlantis to attract fans of the lost continent, but then failed to do his homework. He didn’t think it was necessary though because he referred to his island as the New Atlantis. And he imagined we would love it because he imposed his idea of a Utopia on us.

So let’s imagine I hate Vietnam. And so I built a city called the new Vietnam and then I remade it completely. Fixing all the things I considered wrong ultimately creating a place the exact opposite of the one everyone knows.  I can see how a person might think this is a good idea, it's an upgrade in their opinion. But who do you figure the name would attract? Would it attract other Vietnam haters? Or would it attract people who loved the old Vietnam, but would embrace an upgrade?

You just can’t do that, right? It’s bad form!

Whenever I take a popular name and insert the word new in front of it, I need to be absolutely positive that my new version is unquestionably superior in every way because otherwise I make the fans of the old one angry. And that was the mistake that Sir Francis Bacon made.

His book was only 18 pages long and yet somehow he managed to write the story so poorly that it made me angry.

I understand where he went wrong because I write fiction and I’ve made similar mistakes in the past, but I didn’t publish those books. Even I knew they were bad and I was wise enough to hold onto them until I understood why.

Now you may recall from the podcast book review on Sir Francis Bacon’s book, that I read a paragraph updating the language to make it impossible to miss his lame attempt at increasing suspense. However, there were many others. Instead of increasing suspense though, what he did was create confusion over and over.

For example, at the opening when the men were sick and dying of hunger and they found this new land he gave a description of the inhabitants that implied they were a fierce fighting people invoking thoughts of cannibals; making it impossible to land their boat. And these canibals that we imagined were making mean faces and forboding gestures that caused the sailors to debate whether they should risk disobeying and land the ship anyway. 

But then a boat comes out and intercepts them at sea and an emissary hands them a paper written in four languages; the four most common ones. Asking how they can be of assistance.

And so there’s this immediate incongruity that strikes us as confusing. How could these backwards people know four of the most common languages? And so we think we must have been confused based on the vague description in the opening of the book. Maybe these guys weren’t holding spears and home made bows and arrows, but muskets and cannons. The book didn’t specify so we obviously mis-understood. However, the book did imply. And it was that implication that we picked up on and used and then later instead of having that implication lead to suspense that was fulfilled we just discover, "Oh, we were wrong!" And so the suspense was canceled out when the confusion was made clear. 

The note, by the way, specified, in no uncertain terms could they land their boat, which was vital to the survival of the people on it. So here's an attempt to create suspense. It (the note) suggested they make a list of what they wanted so they can receive it and be on their way. However, their first request was to land their boat to care for their sick, which was immediately granted. And so they (the island people) said no and then they said yes. And in fact the island refused payment for the goods supplied and graciously extended to supply whatever the sailors needed. 

So when the boat landed and they were taken to a luxury hospital, then they were told they were not permitted to leave for three days, but that they were not prisoners. Implying that they might be prisoners. And then they were told they could spend a maximum of sixteen days on the island before they absolutely must leave. And yet again, shortly thereafter they were told the island was a secret implying they could never leave (right before being told they could remain on the island for as long as they wanted. Confusion, confusion, confusion... And that they would have homes and possessions given to them because everything was free here. And so there was this constant head-fake throughout the whole book that's really irritating (now that I understand what's happening). When I was reading at first it kind of had my attention. It was the confusion that kept me reading it. But then upon a second reading of this book, it's the incompetence that has my attention. These were sorry attempts at creating drama by denying the sailors what they needed initially and then giving them everything they needed for free (later).

So what he wanted to do was project this island as a utopia at the same time he tried to create suspense and make it seem fierce and foreboding in order to create drama. A dramatic utopia would have been a better title than the New Atlantis. All of that is compounded by the fact that at no time in the entire story did he establish the fact that this was the New Atlantis. 

Now in his defense the last comment we read is that "the end is not yet perfected." So maybe someone decided to publish an incomplete work of his against his wishes after he died. That is the only explanation that would be of a redeeming nature. I'm gonna go ahead and read another one of Sir Francis Bacon's books for two reasons:

  1. I want to confirm whether he's really this incompetent or not
  2. And I also want to give him a chance to redeem himself by reviewing a book he wrote to completion.

And that's all folks! As always have a brilliant week. Thank you for listening! And y'all come back now, ya here?



Podcasts mentioned in this episode

Listen to "Sir Francis Bacon's The New Atlantis [16 Mins]" on Spreaker.

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