The Best Bad Writing Ever.


As PR practitioners, we place a premium on the written word. The well-crafted media pitch, opinion piece and ghostwritten trade article, even an email missive to a client – these are what we seek to achieve and expect to deliver daily. Our hearts – and our egos – beam when our written work is praised.

Unfortunately, poorly written passages are common in our industry – and the bane of our existence. Until today. Check this out:

She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the thief of imagination.

Although obviously not written for a news release or corporate communications newsletter, this hilarious piece of fiction, written by Chris Wieloch of Brookfield, Wisc., was honored as the 2013 winner of an obscure writing competition called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University.

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction ContestThe contest challenges entrants to "compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." The submissions are, indeed, wonderfully entertaining examples of some of the worst writing ever. They also hold humorous lessons for those of us who write professionally. For example, another winner, this one from the “Adventure” category – proves that run-on sentences can be quite entertaining, even though we, who pride ourselves on our word craft skills, normally avoid because they convolute our carefully designed strategic messages.

“I told you to wear sensible shoes, but no, your vanity would not allow it!” he yelled at me as if that had something to do with the airplane crashing into the jungle and all the bodies draped in the trees, but it was just the sort of nonsense I was used to from him, making me wish one or the other of us was hanging dead above us, instead of Rodney.”  – Written by Thor F. Carden of Madison, Tenn.

In honor of our upcoming Thanksgiving celebration, this entry from the “Historical Fiction” category, written by Jordan Kaderli of Dallas, Texas, humorously exemplifies how the use of multisyllabic words and extraneous adjectives can make a sentence practically unreadable:

“The Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered around the feast, a veritable cornucopia of harvest and game, a gastronomic monument to the bountiful biodiversity of the land, and while Mrs. Standish’s cranberry sauce was a far cry from the homogeneous gelatinous can-imprinted sacrosanct blob which has become the holiday’s sine qua non, the rest of the food was good.”

Finally, here’s a great example how the use of jargon, which we counsel our clients never to use during media interviews or in any corporation communications where they want to be understood, should still be avoided. Thanks to Maggie Lyons of Callao, VA, who submitted the following to the “Horror” category:

“Even though Letitia had brushed her teeth, Draco could still smell her garlicky breath, but assuming her blood would at least be toxin free, if not particularly appetizing – because of the antibiotic properties of the garlic’s allicin, an organosulfur compound – he gleefully plunged his incisors into her throbbing jugular vein.”

Bad writing will always be with us. As PR pros, we will continue to wage war against it with the weapons at our disposal – modeling good writing; teaching it when we can; and editing, editing and more editing. However, to the winners of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest – and to all the winners since the competition began in 1982, I say, the world needs your sense of humor and creativity – write on!

About the Author

Gwen Chynoweth

Gwen Chynoweth is the executive vice president and chief talent officer at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  PR Perspectives

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