Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Bradbury Test, Revisited

UPDATE: So I find out this book of Harrison’s isn’t one of his earlier ones, but came mid-career, and is meant as a parody of the “space opera” genre in which he ordinarily excels. Dumbass me. Still, the points I bring up are valid, even on a parody: Eeew. Bad writing demons, OUT!

I’ve written some on this blog about the so-called Bradbury Test, taken from a statement said by fantasy author Ray Bradbury, going something like this: Most of what we write is crap. You have to get the bad stuff out for the good stuff to follow.

I believe this test to be true.

I have evidence:

Right now I’m reading “Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers,” one of Harry Harrison’s earlier sci-fi works. It fits easily into what I call the “boobs and boots” niche of sci-fi and fantasy, in which nearly every quiet moment in the story is filled with the aforementioned articles. I may not finish the story due to the B&B quotient being high. But on top of that, this book feels written. It has a writerly stain about it; the same kind of writerly stain I notice about my own books at the moment. Harrison knows what he wants to write, but as he’s writing this story, he’s getting the bad stuff out of the way. The good stuff comes – witness his Stainless Steel Rat series – but the bad stuff had to come out first.

Same with another of my favorite authors – Terry Pratchett. I know among some circles it’s blasphemy to say he wrote anything that could be considered bad. But you know what? His early books, even the one that introduces my favorite character, Rincewind, is terribly written. It, too, falls into the B&B niche and feels written. Only in his later novels do we feel him capture his voice and become completely him, not some facsimile of previously-published authors that he emulated.

I’m not saying emulation is a bad thing – it can help any aspiring writer get the bad stuff out. Personally, I’m looking forward to that epiphanic moment when I, too, shed the Lloyd Alexanderisms and Aviisms that constrain my writing style and I come into my own. I imagine in the future, aspiring novelists will look at my early stuff and say, “Wow, that sucked. But he got better.” At least that’s the hope. The getting better part.

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