The Good Prose, The Bad Prose, and the Cloverfield Monster


A bit of writing I just did for the forum on Web Fiction Guide. People were discussing whether ’tis nobler to write a good story with bad prose or a bad story with good prose.  I weigh in as follows.

But first: I’m glad they found our site, but why did someone search for “theremin penis”?  Why?

On to the mini-essay:

Writing isn’t really good or bad, unless you don’t hit what you were shooting for. There are tons of different styles: descriptive prose, straightforward prose, prose poetry, flowery prose, purple prose, lots of other prose styles I can’t think of at the moment… Your job as a writer is to find the style of prose best suited for the kind of story you want to write. Is it a story about characters? Is it about in part what the kind of prose used says about the narrator? Is it an action story? Is it a romance? Is it set in the past, present, or future? All of these have different prose styles that are generally regarded as being well-suited for them.

But there’s actually more to it than even that anti-“good writing” screed. Take the movie Cloverfield. On the one hand, you could argue that its direction is techincally deficient. It was shot cheap and looks it. You could also argue that it was shot wrong. Every other Godzilla movie has been shot primarily from a birds-eye view. How can you see the epic scope of Godzilla’s destruction from a puny human’s perspective?

Ahh, but that was the point.  By shooting it cheap, they gave the illusion that it was really shot by the characters involved. That guise of verisimilitude (hey spelled it right on the second try) makes the movie feel much more realistic. When you shoot it from above, you’re distancing yourself from the action. In the same way, incredibly descriptive or psychological prose can be completely out of place when you’re talking a straight action scene.

Furthermore, in the case of Godzilla movies, the “epic” scope distances you from the characters. Who cares about the characters in a classic Godzilla movie? All you want to see is destruction. But by making the filming of Cloverfield more personal, we come to care about the characters, we get to know them, they get fleshed out. When the Cloverfield monster destroys a nearby building, we are truly terrified, a feeling you don’t get when you see a building destroyed from a bird’s eye view. The interesting thing about Cloverfield, to me (and something I only realized while writing this), is that every other single Godzilla movie is shot wrong, not Cloverfield. It’s like everyone was writing really simple prose for complex character studies, or really elaborate prose for action scenes, and someone stood up and (LOLfiction-style) said, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

And sci-fi dorks looked upon it and saw that it was good.

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2 Responses to “The Good Prose, The Bad Prose, and the Cloverfield Monster”

  1. sebatinsky Says:

    While I’ve not seen Cloverfield, you definitely used it as an excellent analog to prose – I’d never thought of it that way before. And it is good.

  2. annoying Says:

    Maybe the search has something to do with this.

    Like sebatinsky, I haven’t seen Cloverfield either.

    You make a good point in your mini-essay. Your small attempt to explain why different prose styles work for different types of stories is something that a lot of people either don’t remember or just don’t know. I’ve seen comments to the effect that ‘that’s not how I’d do it’, like the way the commenter would do it is the only way it can be done. I don’t have a problem with people making suggestions; it’s just when they think they know better than the authors that it bothers me. Anyway, all I’m really trying to say is that you have some good points.

    🙂 And it was good. 🙂

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