Monday, May 13, 2013

Gun To A Knife-Fight

A new market for me today. The good folks at Bluffer’s set up an online debate between Brian Joseph Davis and myself. The proposition before us; “Is Dan Brown a terrible writer?” If you’ve read any of my previous columns on the topic, you can probably guess which side I was arguing.

The “debate” itself is done in quasi-Oxford style, with no rebuttals; Brian and I never interacted, the whole thing having been organized remotely by our editor and new pal Emma Smith. And while it is perhaps inappropriate for me, as an interested party, to venture an opinion as to winners and losers, I dare say that while Brian’s defense was admirably succinct, mine was, let’s say, rather more … spirited. Or maybe “excitable” is a better word. (Hey, like the scorpion in the parable, you knew what I was when you picked me up.)

It’s an interesting mode for me to write in. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always loved almanacs, books of trivia, factoids. I recently had the opportunity to do some work for Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers (you can buy that book now, if you're so inclined), which are very much in that spirit. Bluffer’s has something of the same “hot,” hyper-compressed style. The articles are all quite short, and informationally-dense. And they demand a singular discipline.

Here’s a dirty little secret of writing; short articles are much harder to write than long ones. It’s a relatively simple matter for me to unload a big bucket o’ hate on Dan Brown, but something else again to boil that bucket down into five poisonous mouthfuls. They call them “bullet points” — but with a limit of one hundred words to back up each assertion, any damage you do must come not from massive kinetic impact, but from precision and incisiveness. Not a bullet, but a stiletto.

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