How writing deliberately bad stories has made me a better writer

Reddit is a massive anarchic community where there’s a forum (or subreddit) for pretty much everything. Recently I came across /r/worststory, where members post prompts designed to inspire awful stories, and respondents reply with short, deliberately bad stories that are often funny and thought-provoking. Clichés, repetition, awkward prose, beginner mistakes, typos and repetition are encouraged.

After reading a few sniggeringly good/bad stories, I started submitting a few of my own. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Winston Churchill’s death in Nazi-zombie-occupied Paris (prompt: write a horribly inaccurate piece on the death of a significant historical figure), and an ignorant 13-year-old’s anarchist manifesto (Anarchy rulez!!!). I don’t claim they’re good or funny, but it did get me thinking about writing.

Deliberately writing badly, with the intention of amusing readers, requires a writer to be just as careful with their word choice as they would in more serious writing pursuits, if not more careful. You have to think about what would be suitable for the prompt, what kinds of mistakes an inexperienced writer might make. You have to consider your reader’s expectations and how you can maximise amusement by subverting, averting or playing straight those expectations. Where prompts provide a character, you’ve got to think about how someone like that will sound, what they will consider important, what they are ignorant of.

Writing in short form – these stories are only a few hundred words long – means they’re easy to complete. And while there’s not a huge amount of editing involved – the first draft feel is just right for the intended purpose at /r/worststory – the ability to read a completed piece so quickly after it is begun means you can consider possible “improvements” for next time.

I’m going to keep writing Worst Stories, because it’s fun, it makes it easy to write something every day, and it helps me think about writing from a new perspective.

If you go and have a look and write something, let me know, I’d be interested to see it.

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