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#1
Old 04-07-2015, 05:13 PM
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Worst successful writers and authors

Who is the worst successful writer/author out there? Writers who are well regarded or popular but who make many mistakes in their writing, or are simply poor writers who happen to tell good stories. Or great writers who tell not so great stories. Or writers who use too many cliches. Stuff like that.
#2
Old 04-07-2015, 05:42 PM
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Tom Clancy is the first one that springs to mind. Stephenie Meyer, as well.
#3
Old 04-07-2015, 05:44 PM
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Damon Lindelof
#4
Old 04-07-2015, 05:44 PM
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John Grisham is both a horrible prose stylist and a boring plotter.

Tom Clancy had some great stories, but badly needed an editor. Almost all of his books could be improved by shedding 200 pages and removing statements and descriptions he's repeated several times.
#5
Old 04-07-2015, 05:47 PM
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Peter Benchley and Mario Puzo are in the small category of authors who's original works were much worse than the movies adapted from them.
#6
Old 04-07-2015, 05:53 PM
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V. C. Andrews. I enjoyed her books when I was about eleven years old. I tried to read Flowers in the Attic as a thirtysomething, and was so bored--but so determined to find out what the hoopla was about--that I skimmed the rest. I've been frustrated enough to skim a novel maybe three times in my life.
#7
Old 04-07-2015, 05:55 PM
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Stephen King famously admitted that his writing style was comparable to "a Big Mac and fries at McDonalds."
#8
Old 04-07-2015, 06:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gerald II View Post
Writers who are well regarded or popular but who make many mistakes in their writing
Mark Twain would probably answer "James Fenimore Cooper," judging by his famous essay on "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." Cooper was extremely popular back in the day.

Quote:
Originally Posted by buddha_david View Post
Stephen King famously admitted that his writing style was comparable to "a Big Mac and fries at McDonalds."
I'm sure King meant that his style is plain and unpretentious rather than that it is bad. At any rate, there are successful authors who are definitely worse writers than King is.
#9
Old 04-07-2015, 06:36 PM
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Admittedly, I've only read one book by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook) and one by Jeffrey Archer (Paths of Glory) but they are in a dead heat for the top position on my list of poorly wriiten fiction. Jeffrey Archer for tedious plotting and flat uninteresting characters, Nicholas Sparks for unadulterated sap.
#10
Old 04-07-2015, 06:49 PM
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The guy who wrote "Memoirs of a Geisha" had pretty horrid prose. I couldn't get past the second page, the sentence structure was so monotonous.

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Originally Posted by Thudlow Boink View Post
I'm sure King meant that his style is plain and unpretentious rather than that it is bad. At any rate, there are successful authors who are definitely worse writers than King is.
I wouldn't call his prose "plain" so much as simply that he needs an editor who's willing to cut out his word vomit. It's painfully obvious that when he gets stuck, rather than stopping and thinking, he just keeps typing. He'll describe the room, the street, a character's nose hair, some random musings, etc. and suddenly jump into the next scene. There are other authors, like Victor Hugo, who either enjoy that writing style (or were being paid per the installment). But King doesn't write description for descriptions sake. He just refuses to step away from the keyboard, once he's started to work.

An editor, willing to stand up to King's marketability, could almost certainly make him far more marketable than he already is.
#11
Old 04-07-2015, 06:56 PM
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If you're expressing it as a quotient of the most sales divided by the worst prose and least imagination, J. K. Rowling at a canter.
#12
Old 04-07-2015, 07:16 PM
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11 posts and nobody's mentioned Dan Brown or those people who wrote the "Left Behind" series?
#13
Old 04-07-2015, 07:25 PM
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There are a lot of stinkers out there. A couple of summers ago, looking for a dumb beach read, I checked out a spy novel by Ludlum. I was expecting dumb, but not that dumb. I couldn't get past the third page. It was freakin' awful.

Mario Puzo doesn't belong anywhere on the list, though. The only novel I've read by him was The Fortunate Pilgrim, and it was great--and this from someone that usually doesn't care for mimetic fiction.
#14
Old 04-07-2015, 07:41 PM
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James Patterson is just atrocious. Repetitive, cliche ridden prose, infantile exposition, unintentionally hilarious descriptions, characters so thin they're practically water soluble...just a lousy, lousy writer through and through. Yet he's the most successful writer in the world!

I'm a writer myself and I'm friends with several other writers, and all of us on our worst day are a thousand times better than James Patterson, but all our accumulated success, past, present, and future, probably wouldn't equal what that hack sells in a fortnight. I actually bought one of his books a few months ago purely so that, on those days when I'm feeling a bit too self-critical, I can remind myself what really bad writing looks like.

Last edited by Doctor_Why_Bother; 04-07-2015 at 07:42 PM.
#15
Old 04-07-2015, 07:51 PM
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He's done some good stuff but the last GOT novel of George R.R. Martin "A Dance with Dragons" was a meandering, overwritten mess. It's almost like you could tell he really did not want to write the book and was doing so under duress.
#16
Old 04-07-2015, 07:54 PM
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E.E. "Doc" Smith was a huge success, by genre standards, in the Golden Age of SF, and for his imagination he deserved it. But his prose style hurts!
#17
Old 04-07-2015, 11:02 PM
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Surprised no one mentioned E.L. James
#18
Old 04-07-2015, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by nearwildheaven View Post
11 posts and nobody's mentioned Dan Brown or those people who wrote the "Left Behind" series?
Jerry Jenkins (the first "Left Behind" series) gets my vote.

He's not just bad, he's distractingly bad. You can't even drive your consciousness through this narrative bad. Your consciousness keeps stopping the car to question if it really just heard what it heard, and then when you pull back onto the narrative highway usually after getting the answer, "yes, it really just heard that, and I don't know what to tell you," you can't even get back up to the speed of the flow of traffic before your consciousness needs to pull off again.

He is to narrative prose what Bladdy, the bladder mascot is to long-distance travel.
#19
Old 04-07-2015, 11:45 PM
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Matthew Reilly. I've only read Ice Station but it was bad enough to warn me off the rest of his stuff. He may have improved (I know a few people who seem to love his work) but I'm not really interested in finding out.
#20
Old 04-08-2015, 01:13 AM
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Patricia Cornwell ranks up there with Patterson and his super characters. Psychologist policemen who are expert jazz musicians are not my thing any more than doctor lawyers with cordon bleu culinary skills.
#21
Old 04-08-2015, 01:55 AM
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Anne Rice anyone?
#22
Old 04-08-2015, 03:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness View Post
There are a lot of stinkers out there. A couple of summers ago, looking for a dumb beach read, I checked out a spy novel by Ludlum. I was expecting dumb, but not that dumb. I couldn't get past the third page. It was freakin' awful.
Ludlum does overuse italics to a surprising degree.

Or at least I think he does, from the one page I partly read.

Last edited by foolsguinea; 04-08-2015 at 03:08 AM.
#23
Old 04-08-2015, 03:15 AM
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Originally Posted by foolsguinea View Post
Ludlum does overuse italics to a surprising degree.

Or at least I think he does, from the one page I partly read.
Those weren't italics. It was your brain fighting with your eyes to make it stop.
#24
Old 04-08-2015, 04:15 AM
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Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series. He writes good action scenes, but his plots are ridiculously absurd, his mysteries are ridiculously obvious, his love scenes are painful, and he actually invents cliches -- Reacher will start saying some stupid new catch phrase early in the book, and keep on saying it, over and over.

David Weber, author of several SF and fantasy series, also writes good action scenes, but has become so wordy that I skim up to two thirds of each book, especially the later ones. You'll have a line of dialog (and his characters sound almost exactly the same, whether they're fighting from horseback in a fantasy novel or from the bridge of a starship in an SF novel), then three pages of exposition, then another line of dialog, then another three pages of exposition.

But in both cases, I read most of their books. They're the junk food of books.
#25
Old 04-08-2015, 04:17 AM
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Originally Posted by BrainGlutton View Post
E.E. "Doc" Smith was a huge success, by genre standards, in the Golden Age of SF, and for his imagination he deserved it. But his prose style hurts!
QX, BG? Really QX?
#26
Old 04-08-2015, 04:43 AM
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Danielle Steele. Danielle Steele. Danielle Steele.

Stephen King has some great ideas but he needs an editor with big enough balls to cut his manuscripts in half.
#27
Old 04-08-2015, 05:29 AM
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Sara Douglass. A very popular fantasy author from Australia whose writing was purely horrible.

She died recently, and I don't care.
#28
Old 04-08-2015, 05:42 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by astorian View Post
...Tom Clancy had some great stories, but badly needed an editor. Almost all of his books could be improved by shedding 200 pages and removing statements and descriptions he's repeated several times.
You misspelled Stephen King.

I would also add Dan Brown.

And Stieg Larsson.


mmm
#29
Old 04-08-2015, 06:14 AM
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Another vote for Dan fucking Brown. I DL'ed The Da Vinci Code free for Kindle and read it. At free, it still cost too much. The fact that shit has made him very very rich is proof there is no God.
#30
Old 04-08-2015, 06:35 AM
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Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
Anne Rice anyone?
Oh god yes. Turgid prose, FTW!

Stephanie Myer (Twilight author). Just goes on and on....
#31
Old 04-08-2015, 06:54 AM
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Originally Posted by The Second Stone View Post
Anne Rice anyone?
THANK YOU! Her first book wasn't bad, but it seems like it just tapped into a vampire thing at the verge of the wave. It's not bad, but my god, it's not good. It was fun. I've tried to read all of the others and yawn, yawn YAWN.

BUT! Everytime someone finds out I love to read and they ask "ooooh, have you read Fifty Shades of Gray?"

Depending on the person:

"I can find better erotica online for free."
"<flat stare> No."
"Ooh, no! But have you read Anne Rice's erotica? It's good. Like really good."

Her vampire stuff is not great, but omg, her erotica is so holy majoley.
#32
Old 04-08-2015, 06:54 AM
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No discussion of this sort can be complete without mentioning the Reverend Robert Lionel Fanthorpe.



I've mentioned him before on this Board, but your first reaction was probably "Who?"

The man wrote about 180 books that have been published and (to my astonishment) re-published, often more than once. Regardless of what you may think of Dan Brown, or Tom Clancy, or James Patterson, or Clive Cussler, these people are GODS compared to the awfulness that is Fanthorpe. His name (and his many, many pseudonyms) has become a standing joke in the SF community.

Fanthorpe literally wrote to word count, often abruptly ending a story when the limit was reached. If he needed to pad his work out, it looks as if he literally opened a thesaurus and started stacking synonymous adjectives. I'm not joking or exaggerating.


Don't believe me?

Quote:
BIG and round, like a great silver full moon it came out of the sky. First as big as a sixpence, then the size of half a crown. Then the size of a saucer; the size of a dinner plate, and still growing as it descended. Huge . . . vast . . . and somehow terrifying.

It seemed to blot out the stars and to blot out the blue velvet of their canopy. It seemed to be an alien thing of the night, and yet for all that there was a strange, terrifying, alien beauty about its gleaming symmetry.

The great disc ship . . . the unearthly thing, skimming slowly down, like a coin tossed by a careless god, into the abyss of nothingness. A silver coin skimming across a universe; spinning across a galaxy. Down, down . . . down . . . a great silver spinning thing. A ship, an alien ship, a strange unearthly thing, something that was cold and hard and terrible. Something that was beyond man ... that was different from man . . . that seemed to have neither part nor parcel with the ordinary human world. Something frightening, frightening because it was strange; strange because it was frightening.

It came through the sky, a round, spinning plate of a ship, a flying saucer out of the sky, down through the blue vault of air; down through the dark forests of night; down to the sleeping, unsuspecting countryside below, then it was no longer a thing apart. It had touched down. Softly as a feather landing in a cushion of air.
Or this:

Quote:
Beyond the sea a coastline, Greek coastline. Rugged, rocky, tortuous. A coastline as strong and as forthright as the nation who lived beyond it. The brilliant cunning of the Greek mind-as twisted as the inlets of their coastline, with its promontories, its peninsulas and its gulfs. Beyond the coastline fields. Cultivated fields; beyond the fields, mountains-high, forbidding, frightening, dangerous, and in the fields and the mountains, men . . . Men in the cities too. Men in the cities and in the towns. Men of Athens, men of Corinth, men of Medara, men of the Peloponnesus, men of the great northern mainland, men of Naxos, men of the islands, men of Greece. Farmers, artificers, craftsmen, sailors, politicians, democrats, oligarchs, tyrants; living together in a great tangled heap of humanity. A heap of humanity that led the world in its own time, and whose influence extended for five millennia into the future. The World of ancient Greece. A world of gladness and beauty. A world of pain, and savagery, and death. A world very much like our own, a mixed world, a perplexing world. A world in which everything was different except basic human emotions. A world where there were secrets.

These are both from this site: http://peltorro.com/examples.htm
, but I can assure you there are many more., I've collected a file of examples of his stuff.



The worst part: He's still alive, and could put out more of this tomorrow, if he wanted.
#33
Old 04-08-2015, 07:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Doctor_Why_Bother View Post
James Patterson is just atrocious. Repetitive, cliche ridden prose, infantile exposition, unintentionally hilarious descriptions, characters so thin they're practically water soluble...just a lousy, lousy writer through and through. Yet he's the most successful writer in the world!

I'm a writer myself and I'm friends with several other writers, and all of us on our worst day are a thousand times better than James Patterson, but all our accumulated success, past, present, and future, probably wouldn't equal what that hack sells in a fortnight. I actually bought one of his books a few months ago purely so that, on those days when I'm feeling a bit too self-critical, I can remind myself what really bad writing looks like.
He's the winner, hands down. I take great personal offense to his existence.
#34
Old 04-08-2015, 07:35 AM
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Hay Harrison. Much talent, wrote two or three of the finest short stories in sf, at least one very good trilogy... and then churned out semiliterate drivel for decades. The last SSR book was so bad even by his own standards that I'm considering throwing it away.
#35
Old 04-08-2015, 07:41 AM
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J.R.R. Tolkien. There's no way in hell he would have been able to sell LOTR if he submitted it today: way too wordy, way too long, big, long rambling walk across a swamp absolutely killing any momentum for the entire middle third of the book...

More of a movie writer than a book writer, but George Lucas. He's the big idea guy, no problem with that, but he had the idea over 40 years ago and he just... kept... writing...
#36
Old 04-08-2015, 07:44 AM
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Robin Cook. I read one book by him, Toxin. Horrible, horrible prose, unbelievable characters, action scenes that were physically impossible. I remember one in which the hero is sitting in a car in a parking lot, watching something through a window of a building. He observes the bad guy start to do something evil to someone, and gets out of his car, runs up the stairs, and stops the bad guy before the punch lands, or something. I'm a bit hazy.

And, of course, Dan Brown, who's gotten a few mentions above.

I'm not sure James Patterson belongs here. Not that his books aren't terrible, but I think it's been a long time since he actually wrote any of them. He's basically the manager (and owner) of a book mill, churning out crap under his name.
#37
Old 04-08-2015, 07:56 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BrassyPhrase View Post
THANK YOU! Her first book wasn't bad, but it seems like it just tapped into a vampire thing at the verge of the wave. It's not bad, but my god, it's not good. It was fun. I've tried to read all of the others and yawn, yawn YAWN.

BUT! Everytime someone finds out I love to read and they ask "ooooh, have you read Fifty Shades of Gray?"

Depending on the person:

"I can find better erotica online for free."
"<flat stare> No."
"Ooh, no! But have you read Anne Rice's erotica? It's good. Like really good."

Her vampire stuff is not great, but omg, her erotica is so holy majoley.
Anne Rice has some skill--but she's one of those who sold enough books to dispense with an editor. Sorry, Anne--your work still needs editing.

For flat out dreadful--but successful--Dan Brown leads my list. But it's a long list....

Last edited by Bridget Burke; 04-08-2015 at 07:56 AM.
#38
Old 04-08-2015, 08:00 AM
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Originally Posted by foolsguinea View Post
Ludlum does overuse italics to a surprising degree.

Or at least I think he does, from the one page I partly read.
Madness

Insanity
#39
Old 04-08-2015, 08:37 AM
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Ayn Rand.

Leaving aside any discussion of her Objectivist philosophy, her prose fiction writing is dreadful - leaden, plodding stories filled with ludicrous incidents and melodramatic speeches. For someone who claimed such lofty intellectual prowess, her books read like the worst soap operas replete with the most cartoonishly two-dimensional characters. The heroes are all "manly men", the heroines are clearly Mary-Sue stand-ins for Rand herself and the villains are all mustache twirling Snidely Whiplashes.

I can only presume that Rand thought writing a 1200 page novel rather than a 12 page short story would make her ideas seem more epic, so she monotonously rehashes the same basic situations and dialogue again and again and again, on and on and on, over and over, ad infinitum, ad naseum...
#40
Old 04-08-2015, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Hershele Ostropoler View Post
Surprised no one mentioned E.L. James
Came in to do just that. $100s of millions for dreck.
#41
Old 04-08-2015, 09:01 AM
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Came in to mention Robin Cook, but Saintly Loser beat me to it. I hope he is/was a better physician than he is a writer.

I read one of David Baldacci's books about 15 years ago, and I still regret it. Absolutely no characterization or establishment of scene.

Baldacci and Cook's books were my introduction to the hard truth that a book doesn't have to be well-written to be a bestseller.
#42
Old 04-08-2015, 09:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Amateur Barbarian View Post
Hay Harrison. ...
Harry Harrison, maybe?

As far as the OP goes, almost every writer gets worse over time. It's like they have only X number of good books in them, but when they run out they just keep on writing. Most if them start out (even most of the ones noted here) with a strong book which gets them published. and then they're on the treadmill/gravy train.

They number of writers who produce many good books seems vanishingly small.
#43
Old 04-08-2015, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Ethilrist View Post
J.R.R. Tolkien. There's no way in hell he would have been able to sell LOTR if he submitted it today: way too wordy, way too long, big, long rambling walk across a swamp absolutely killing any momentum for the entire middle third of the book...
Really? You'd put Tolkien as worst with the likes of Ludlum, Rice, Baldacci, Rand, Clancy, and Dan Brown running around? Really?

Anyway, I assure you newly written sprawling novels with excessive wordage and rambling content are still being bought and published. Not that I agree Tolkien represents such in the first place...

ETA: Don't believe me? Give Jean Auel's The Land of Painted Caves a try.

Last edited by Knorf; 04-08-2015 at 09:12 AM.
#44
Old 04-08-2015, 09:14 AM
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L Ron Hubbard might be an option.
#45
Old 04-08-2015, 09:21 AM
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A friend loaned me a recent Robert Ludlum "thriller." It was long, it was boring and, apparently, not even written by him. Never again.

Last edited by burpo the wonder mutt; 04-08-2015 at 09:22 AM.
#46
Old 04-08-2015, 09:22 AM
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I think for me, the worst writer doesn't just have poor craft, vapid plot lines filled with cliches, wooden characters, and stilted dialogue. There should also be some just plain bad story telling: even a cliched plot can be great reading if it's executed well. There should be a painful lack of real imagination. So therefore for me someone like J. K. Rowling does not really belong on the list, because there are some truly distinctive creations in her work, for all the constructions like, "'open,' he hissed..." Same with Stephen King, especially since it's hard to argue that his work isn't executed well.

My top nominations for this title therefore would be more the likes of:

Ayn Rand. Clearly an author whose work is kept alive only by fans of her political philosophy.
L. Ron Hubbard. Would be all but forgotten without help from the stupid cult-religion he founded.
E. L. James. I have no fucking idea why anyone buys his work. He represents the worst in fiction. Unreadable tripe.
#47
Old 04-08-2015, 09:29 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TonySinclair View Post
Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher series. He writes good action scenes, but his plots are ridiculously absurd, his mysteries are ridiculously obvious, his love scenes are painful, and he actually invents cliches -- Reacher will start saying some stupid new catch phrase early in the book, and keep on saying it, over and over.
I read somewhere of Child saying he doesn't plot his books - I was thinking, I sure the hell hope not! It's usually just Jack Reacher, Smelliest Man in America, Wandering Around Randomly Until It's Time to Wrap the Book Up.
#48
Old 04-08-2015, 09:40 AM
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Of all the writers I read regularly Piers Anthony has to be the worst. His works not usually bad enough to stop reading but he definitely goes on the bottom of my list.

Lin Carter would have probably never been published if he hadn't been the publisher. Strangely I like reading him even though he's bad.

I enjoyed the first two series and their sequels by David Eddings, but the last series they wrote was absolutely horrible. I get the feeling the publisher threw a large briefcase full of cash at them and said "Write something, Please!"

Last edited by furryman; 04-08-2015 at 09:43 AM.
#49
Old 04-08-2015, 10:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by furryman View Post
Of all the writers I read regularly Piers Anthony has to be the worst. His works not usually bad enough to stop reading but he definitely goes on the bottom of my list.

Lin Carter would have probably never been published if he hadn't been the publisher. Strangely I like reading him even though he's bad.
??

Lin Carter wasn't the publisher for the bulk of his work (or of any that I'm aware of). He was an editor at Ballantine, and was responsible for their "adult fantasy series" that brought back a lot of important fantasy writers into print (such as Clark Ashton Smith). But Carter had been successfully published long before he held that post.



I certainly wouldn't count him as a "bad writer". Og knows there are plenty worse than him seeing regular print. Nor was he, alas, ever really popular (although fantasy fans know him for Conan and Thongor, and for several other fantasy series now out-of-print.
#50
Old 04-08-2015, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Don Draper View Post
[Ayn Rand] monotonously rehashes the same basic situations and dialogue again and again and again, on and on and on, over and over, ad infinitum, ad naseum...
Give her a break; she was born on Groundhog Day.
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