Penny Arcade vs. Bad Fiction

TB’s not one to talk about bad writing, but the sheer density of flaws he has crammed into the “passages” makes me grin:

One could almost make a game out of it: How many “do nots” can you spot in these three sentences?


  • Quoting popular song lyrics (“Take it to the limit”)
  • Contradiction/nonsense (If they’re immortal, what’s with the crypt?)
  • Passive voice (“was heard”)
  • Mixing tense (“said” vs. “extending”)
  • Beginning a sentence with a conjunction (“And I am here”)
  • Gratuitous cussin’ (Space bitches? Inappropriate unless they’re dogs.)
  • Bad pun (Not about to repeat it.)

What else have I missed?

Unnecessary Repetition?

“I am Grimm Shado”, said Grimm Shado.

The aptronym of Grimm Shado is also bad writing in my book.


Isn’t it supposed to be bad writing?

“…their metal friends rued this day, and rued it hard.”

Yeah. That’s the joke. Fantasy literature sucks. But people read it.

Kind of like Da Vinci’s Code.


Yes. What’s impressive about it is how much badness he’s crammed into it. It takes an acute awareness of what not to do to actually come up with writing this bad. It’s like he’s taking the contents of Strunk & White and The SFWA’s essays and is trying to cram every mistake he can into a snippet of text. Knowing what he’s doing and finding all the mistakes makes it funnier for me.

What he’s doing reminds me of a couple who released an album as a joke that was a kind of a cult hit 15 or so years back. They were bad in a way that only great musicians could be; there were parts where the piano accompaniment would kind of get lost and wander off, only to recover a few bars later. It was painful to listen to and yet genius at the same time, but if you weren’t a trained musician, you’d probably not get the joke.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like if a director made a short film attempting to take the contents of Roger Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Clichés and try to cram as many of them as possible into a film – deliberately.

Bad Fantasy writing can’t really be discussed without a nod to The Eye of Argon.

Grignr has long been one of my favorite character names for any game with a class even remotely close to “barbarian.”

Edit: and holy crap! The dramatic lost ending has been found! “How a shapeless mass slithered from the quagmires of the stygmatic pool of time, only to degenerate into a leprosy of avaricious lust.” Fuck yes.

“I am Grimm Shado,” said Grimm Shado, his triple wand claws extending.

That doesn’t read to me as ungrammatical in terms of mixed tenses. To me it reads the same as (for instance) “he walked down the avenue, his cape trailing behind him.” That seems grammatical to me. Or at least, it “feels” right in grammatical terms. I don’t have the grammatical know-how to break it down precisely however, or use technical terminology to describe what is happening with the tenses. It just feels like something I’ve read plenty of times and is a perfectly natural sentence construction. I guess I should go page through my Strunk & White but it’s certainly not something I would have noticed as a flaw. The sentence is obviously bad for other reasons of course.

edit: or, for that matter, it doesn’t seem much different than (for instance) “‘Hello,’ he said, stroking his chin.” Which again feels totally naturally* and acceptable to me. I just spotted Henry James using this construction in Portrait of a Lady: “‘You frighten me a little, but I think I’m right,’ said Ralph, persisting in cheer.” If this is a grammatically different situation than the examples with the cape and the claws, I’m unclear on why; but grammar has never been my forte. The first two examples do add another subject into the mix, but it’s still not obvious to me why it would alter the appropriateness of a tense change.

*well, there goes any authority I might have had in a discussion of grammatical writing.

The best discussion of bad fantasy writing I have ever come across is Ursula Le Guin’s essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie,” which is in her collection “The Language of the Night.” It’s still impossible for me to read it without laughing or at least smiling.

edit: Wow, that Eye of Argon is pretty awesome stuff.

I’ll check that out, thanks. It may have some good advice for my upcoming Q23 fanfic. In this one, we’re all furries, and need to fight off armies of cloned Gone Gold and OO troopers with our mutant powers. Tom is Professor Colon, a monacled ocelot.

My gut feeling is that it should read “as his triple wand claws extended,” and that the Henry James quote, despite coming from a well-known intellectual, is incorrect.

I may be attributing the wrong problem to it, though.

Well, again, all I can say is that the phrasing as Henry James uses it is something I have seen often enough over the years that it seems perfectly normal to me. I can’t discuss it on any higher level than “feel,” but I will say that I wish I could write as incorrectly as James does. (Although he did have a fondness for run-on-sentences in his later novels, probably because he dictated them.)

If Tycho (or is it Gabe? whatever) is trying to get angry at somebody for stealing his character or something and being a crappy writer then the pot’s vectors are the complex conjugate of his kettle.

This is why I don’t like reading fantasy: I have to manually parse all the sentences, and it takes me forever. SF, OTOH, is more concise and to my liking in general, though that’s not to say there isn’t bad sci-fi too.

I’m not quite sure how to say this, but uhm… PA is a comic, and it’s been known, in the past, to create fictional situations for intended humorous effect.

It’s funny, I read that sentence (with the tense change and the claws), and dismissed any problems with it as something akin to the artifacts tied to comics (sequential art, to the pretentious).

In my head, Grimm Shado introduces himself, and then his claws extend. I’m not enough of a grammar-phile to have any idea how wrong it is, but from a “visualizing what I’m reading” standpoint, it works.

In a comics sense, I could see the frame being from behind Shado, with his intro being a bubble at the top, then a sound effect next to his extended(ing) claws, then his second sentence at the bottom.


Spoofy has a boner for the Penny Arcade guys ever since they connived to start a successful charity. Probably before that, too, but that’s what changed it from a semi to a glistening, red, angry tool of displeasure.

It’s not that I disagree with you outright Les, but shit writing is shit writing regardless of genre.

It’s truer than true.