Thursday, April 17, 2008

...with its sword.

Adam Cadre (he of Ready, Okay!, Photopia and the MiSTing of The Eye of Argon) has posted the 2008 winners of his Lyttle Lytton Contest, a harder, better, faster, shorter version of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Adam points out that his examples of sentences that don't belong in the competition may be funnier than the actual winners because they're intentional-intentional comedy, not intentional-unintentional comedy. In a few cases that's true, but most of the examples come across to me as far too precious - the sort of thing you find in humorous genre novels that try to be the next Hitchhiker's Guide (I'm looking at you, Rob Grant), but aren't actually the sort of jokes that make that sort of novel good for me - it's the longer conceptual jokes that make or break that sort of book.

The other thing that stands out is that unintentionally bad writing routinely trumps intentionally bad for the funny. I don't know if it's just that the contest entries tend to be overcrafted, or whether I'm giving credit for the unwittingness of it.

I still suspect the winner cribbed from LaHaye and Jenkins, though.


SunflowerP said...

I'm prone to complaining about auctorial self-consciousness. Of course a writer has to be aware of what s/he's doing (or else you might as well just check out what those infinite monkeys have come up with), but if it shows too much, that's a point (or several) down for quality of writing even if the writing is otherwise good.

This leaves me cold to a lot of humorous writing. Especially notable in this line is almost any fantasy that gets blurb-described as "urbane" - IME, this nearly always means it'll read like it's congratulating itself on being too modern and sophisticated to take its subject matter seriously.

I got enough of a kick out of the contest that I'm glad you linked to it, but what I enjoyed most was Adam's own writing.


jfpbookworm said...

For the intentionally bad writing, like in the contest, I think the major problem is that a lot of folks think that if a malapropism is funny, then seven malapropisms, an absurd premise, and bad grammar must be hilarious.

I'm trying to recall if I've read any "urbane" fantasy lately. The closest thing that comes to mind is Charles deLint; I read one of his books but couldn't get into it because it seemed to rely on earlier books set in the same universe rather than redevelop the characters. It's the literary equivalent of overhearing gossip about people you don't know.

SunflowerP said...

You're thinking urban fantasy - and, yes, de Lint has focused more and more on the Newford books in recent years. I haven't read a lot of them myself, and have had the same problems you observe, but I find that the short-story collections are a big help in getting my bearings.

I wish I could come up with an example of something promoted as being "urbane", but I can't - probably because I seldom remember books I couldn't finish (rare though they are) unless they're so bad that I throw them across the room (rarer still). The somewhat-obscure A.A. Milne novel Once On a Time might, or might not, be described that way in one of the blurbs/review quotes on the cover of my paperback copy, but it's definitely not an example of what I mean - what I'm getting at is books that want to be a cross between The Princess Bride and Thorne Smith's The Nightlife of the Gods, but don't pull it off.