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Sturgeon's Law

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I came across a reference to Sturgeon's Law, which has made me more philosophical about getting worked up when I read a book that is so bad that I can't believe it got published.

Apparently, someone commented to the noted science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, that ninety percent of sci-fi was crud, to which he retorted, "But, 90% of everything is crud."

Sturgeon's law - Wikipedia

For me, a book needs to be a key that opens something within me. If the teeth don't line up with the tumblers of my soul, then I reject it...though, it may unlock doors for other readers. As the old saying goes, 'One man's trash is another man's treasure.'

It's still a shame that many best-selling books are so badly written!

Best keep my book throwing skills intact....



Staff member
I don't mind badly written books. I'm more interested in story than craft when I read. That's not to say I don't notice bad craft. I certainly do. It just doesn't wind me up (much). And it's also not to say that I don't appreciate good craft. But good craft for me is invisible – like good special effects in movies. I'm not a fan of that particular kind of literary fiction that's all about craft, linguistic effects that border on poetry, words that take your breath away. I want the story to do that not the syntax. But then it's all subjective, isn't it? Taste, I mean.

I think life is too short to get (too) worked up about what everyone else is doing. Better to make one's own work as pleasing to oneself and one's audience as possible, and hang the rest of 'em.
I don't mind badly written books.
I think there are degrees, there. A little clumsiness is fine, but there are times I find myself screaming at the author of a given piece. I also have a weird fetish with comma usage, for which I probably need therapy at this point!:confused:

But good craft for me is invisible – like good special effects in movies.
100% agree! Great craft is noticeable only in that moment of retrospective clarity you have after reading, when you just sit there and go "WOW!". You may not have any idea what happened, or why it was good, but damn it all, it grabbed you!

I'm not a fan of that particular kind of literary fiction that's all about craft, linguistic effects that border on poetry, words that take your breath away.
Yeah, the Purple Prose Brigade are strong in that stuff. Its linguistic gymnastics, showing off how many obscure synonyms you know. It can be great, but it is even more difficult to achieve that just regulation "good" writing.
Great poetry is invisible too, ultimately. The purple prose brigade are self- regarding gob-shites. Verbiage shite-hawks. Unless you really like that kind of thing, but chances are, you're pretending to, for fear of not seeming sufficiently sophisticated and clever. But you are clever, because actual stupidity is rare or we'd be extinct.

Beeatchhh. Owwwwwwwww.
I think of purple prose as like espresso--a tiny bit can be wonderful in the right place and time, but it can be hard to swallow, and usually you just want a regular old coffee.
I know at least one NZ writer who unashamedly admits she aims for purple prose when she writes. I can understand that; when you revel in words, language, and subtle meanings, writing purple prose is a thrill. There are so many glorious words in the English language that are rarely let out to play--sometimes you simply have to free them for the delight of watching them romp on the page.
Prose can be beautiful without being either purple or puritanical.
This. Beautiful, artistically crafted prose can be a powerful thing. Purple prose is pretentious pretty much every time. That is why we use the term as a pejorative. Moreover, really good prose tends to be minimalistic. Look to Tolkien at his most effective moments. Sure, he waxes all too lyrical about sodding plants and fields and whatnot, but watch as he drills down to the core of his meaning, as when Gandalf fights the Balrog in Khazad-dûm. What is a long (though I grant, impressive) scene in the films is dealt with in the smallest number of words possible in the books:

... still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.
From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.
Glamdring glittered white in answer.
There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back, and its sword flew up in molten fragments.
One person's purple is another person's phloxic Byzantium.
In the end, it's all in the eye of the beholder. Minimalistic or impoverished? Purple or richly poetic? We all like different things. And vive la difference.
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