Write the worst plot you can possibly think of. Toss every trite turn into it. Use every cliche. Bald plot devices should be de rigeur. Pack it as full of dreck as you possibly can; brainstorm the most abundantly-used or annoying plot and dialogue tricks you can remember from every source. Joyously abuse language, metaphor and imagery.
Is there any point to this other than having a ton of fun? Well, sure, although I think the fun is reason enough to do it!
First, this can help to remind you that it’s a lot easier to find bad writing when you’re deliberately looking for examples of it. When you’re looking at your own writing and hoping to find it good, you’re less likely to ferret out these things. Instead, you could try turning it into an entertaining exercise in pointing out the flaws, as though you were snarkily pointing out the flaws in a late-night movie you stumbled across on TV.
Second, this can also remind you that many overused plots and plot devices became thus because they worked. We overuse the things that work. We take advantage of plot devices and shortcuts because they make things easier on us. Knowing this helps us to find alternatives that serve the same purpose yet seem more elegant, fresh and original.
Third, it can be frustrating at times to not be able to use some of these cultural shorthands. Sometimes it helps to get them out of your system all at once.
And finally, if you write all this stuff down in a hurry, free-writing it, you’ll find out which pieces of trite material are lurking most readily in your brain. This is probably a good indication of what you’ll need to watch for in your own writing. Make note of those types of mistake that show up most often, and turn them into a checklist for your own proofreading purposes.
“Less blood in my coffee-stream, please!”
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have more coffee than blood in their veins!
Great post/exercise. Giving yourself permission to write badly can be very liberating, and often because of that, you find what you wrote is a whole lot better than you expected. I subscribe to a principle of bad first drafts. Whenever I reach a difficult progress point in a story, which is usually about a third to half way in when the reality that my grand ideas are slowly become concrete for better or worse, I sometimes lose confidence. At this time, it’s important not to be too critical of what you’re doing, so I give myself permission to write a bad, lousy story. Who cares? Just plow ahead. Have fun with it. You can fix it up later. Usually I get to the end and find out I’m very happy with the story, even sort of blown away by good it is, but giving it permission to be bad frees up the creative mind to do it’s work unhindered.
I agree that you need to give yourself permission to write badly. This is one thing that modern teaching methods tend to miss out on, I think. They’re so focused on evaluation and grading that we start to believe we have to do everything right the first time. When it comes to something creative like writing, that can cause you to seize up before you even get started. I never really understood the point of free-writing until I came to understand that—it’s a way to allow yourself to write badly if need be, without that internal censor popping its head up.
I couldn’t agree with you more about teaching, and I just spent a year teaching high school English. I really think people learn best, and are most effective when you deemphasize evaluation and grading. At a certain level, you can’t teach people to write. You can teach them some stuff about writing and give them feedback, but they sort of have to teach themselves how to write, and you only really do that by writing, usually badly for while. I also practice and teach martial arts and it’s the same there. Eventually, if you’re going to be good, you have to start to teach yourself, and accept that you will make mistakes. That’s really an integral part of learning.
All of this is stuff I wish I’d learned in my writing classes. I actually remember the moment when I learned it and understood it—I was suffering a period of burnout and ended up reading Walton & Toomay’s The Writer’s Path. It really went into the idea that normally recalcitrant writers tend to open up and do far better work when they’re given permission to write about whatever they want, and are told they won’t be graded.