The Telegraph’s 20 worst Dan Brown sentences

I’m not bitter at the success of Dan Brown. Really, I’m not. I would love to sell one book for every 10,000 books Dan Brown sells and I’d consider myself very sucessful, but I don’t resent his success. Anyone that can sell books in the kind of numbers that the Browns, Rowlings and Meyers of this world do is something that should provide succour to all writers. It is possibe to sell books by the million.

Of course, it does burn a little bit when those books are atrocious, but there’s no point being bitter about it. Remember the other day when I said the reader was always right? Well, it’s the readers that are buying up all those awful books, so there’s no point in other writers griping about it. I certainly wouldn’t care what other authors thought if I was selling a gazillion books a second like Dan Brown.

However, I can’t necessarily call Brown’s books awful. I’ve never read any of his books or even seen the movies. I’m just not interested. The mass hype puts me off and the few friends of mine that have read them have essentially said, “Well, they’re quite entertaining stories, but shit, they’re awful really.” That’s never made much sense to me except to mean that the stories are quite engaging, but those stories are full of holes and the writing is terrible. Well, that’s not entertaining as far as I’m concerned so I’ve never bothered. There are so many other things to spend my time and money reading.

Then today I came across this article on the UK Telegraph website. Now I’m glad I never invested time and money into any of Brown’s work. The article lists their pick of Dan Brown’s 20 worst sentences. Oh my life, how I laughed reading this. Seriously, how did some of this stuff get past an editor? Here they are (the bits in italics are the comments of Tom Chivers on the original article, linked above):

20. Angels and Demons, chapter 1: Although not overly handsome in a classical sense, the forty-year-old Langdon had what his female colleagues referred to as an ‘erudite’ appeal — wisp of gray in his thick brown hair, probing blue eyes, an arrestingly deep voice, and the strong, carefree smile of a collegiate athlete.

They say the first rule of fiction is “show, don’t tell”. This fails that rule.

19. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 83: “The Knights Templar were warriors,” Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space.

“Remind” is a transitive verb – you need to remind someone of something. You can’t just remind. And if the crutches echo, we know the space is reverberant.

18. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: He could taste the familiar tang of museum air – an arid, deionized essence that carried a faint hint of carbon – the product of industrial, coal-filter dehumidifiers that ran around the clock to counteract the corrosive carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

Ah, that familiar tang of deionised essence.

17. Deception Point, chapter 8: Overhanging her precarious body was a jaundiced face whose skin resembled a sheet of parchment paper punctured by two emotionless eyes.

It’s not clear what Brown thinks ‘precarious’ means here.

16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. “Do not move.” On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

15. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: As a boy, Langdon had fallen down an abandoned well shaft and almost died treading water in the narrow space for hours before being rescued. Since then, he’d suffered a haunting phobia of enclosed spaces – elevators, subways, squash courts.

Other enclosed spaces include toilet cubicles, phone boxes and dog kennels.

14. Angels and Demons, chapter 100: Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers glorified the four major rivers of the Old World – The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Rio Plata.

The Rio de la Plata. Between Argentina and Uruguay. One of the major rivers of the Old World. Apparently.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 5: Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop’s ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.

A keen eye indeed.

13 and 12. The Lost Symbol, chapter 1: He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 17: Yanking his Manurhin MR-93 revolver from his shoulder holster, the captain dashed out of the office.

Oh – the Falcon 2000EX with the Pratt & Whitneys? And the Manurhin MR-93? Not the MR-92? You’re sure? Thanks.

11. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow’s peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.

Do angry oxen throw their shoulders back and tuck their chins into their chest? What precisely is a fiery clarity and how does it forecast anything? Once again, it is not clear whether Brown knows what ‘forecast’ means.

10. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: Five months ago, the kaleidoscope of power had been shaken, and Aringarosa was still reeling from the blow.

Did they hit him with the kaleidoscope?

9. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 32: The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen. “SmartCar,” she said. “A hundred kilometers to the liter.”

Pro tip: when fleeing from the police, take a moment to boast about your getaway vehicle’s fuel efficiency. And get it wrong by a factor of five. SmartCars do about 20km (12 miles) to the litre.

8. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 3: My French stinks, Langdon thought, but my zodiac iconography is pretty good.

And they say the schools are dumbing down.

7 and 6. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 33: Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch – a vintage, collector’s-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday.

The Da Vinci Code, chapter 6: His last correspondence from Vittoria had been in December – a postcard saying she was headed to the Java Sea to continue her research in entanglement physics… something about using satellites to track manta ray migrations.

In the words of Professor Pullum: “It has the ring of utter ineptitude. The details have no relevance to what is being narrated.”

5. Angels and Demons, chapter 4: learning the ropes in the trenches

Learning the ropes (of a naval ship) while in the trenches (with the army in the First World War). It’s a military education, certainly.

4, 3, and 2. The Da Vinci Code, opening sentence: Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Angels and Demons, opening sentence: Physicist Leonardo Vetra smelled burning flesh, and he knew it was his own.

Deception Point, opening sentences: Death, in this forsaken place, could come in countless forms. Geologist Charles Brophy had endured the savage splendor of this terrain for years, and yet nothing could prepare him for a fate as barbarous and unnatural as the one about to befall him.

Professor Pullum: “Renowned author Dan Brown staggered through his formulaic opening sentence”.

1. The Da Vinci Code: Title. The Da Vinci Code.

Leonardo’s surname was not Da Vinci. He was from Vinci, or of Vinci. As many critics have pointed out, calling it The Da Vinci Code is like saying Mr Of Arabia or asking What Would Of Nazareth Do?

If nothing else, this should serve to remind us all as writers that the “rules” are often and easily broken by even the best selling of authors, and that doesn’t necessarily stand in the way of publication. But let’s make a pact now, writers everywhere: May we always strive to be better writers than Dan Brown.


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14 thoughts on “The Telegraph’s 20 worst Dan Brown sentences

  1. I too love that familiar tang of deionised essence. I came to appreciate it as I learned the ropes in the trenches of my internship at the local regional museum of history.

    I’ve never read anything of Dan Brown’s and at this point I don’t really have any desire to. Mass hype over any author or movie is an instant turn-off to me as well so I haven’t had the thrill of finding these gaffes personally. Thanks for linking such a great article.

  2. Yes, indeed, guffaw in disgust. I was given a copy of the Da Vinci Code for my birthday by a ‘friend’; said friend was apparently well read, and considered the book amazing.

    Not willing to discount it purely on commercial success, and trusting my friend’s appraisal (if skeptically) I tried to read it. Oh, how I tried.

    The appalling writing meant that I *struggled* for two pages. Then I struggled even more – really, it was nearly painful – through three pages more. And then I gave up. And then I considered burning the book, but thought that might be ungrateful. And then I considered burning my friend, but thought that was probably a bit extreme. The book still sits in my bookshelf. I can’t bring myself to go near it.

    (Yes, what an extreme reaction. What can I say? The experience was traumatic.)

    The friendship has since died. I blame a large proportion of its death on that book – because I just couldn’t talk to this person the same way again.

    And btw, what would the publisher want an editor for? They have a marketing department and a computer with a spell-checking function. Right?

  3. I’m just waiting for you to become a successful author so that the Telegraph can run a “20 Worst Alan Baxter sentances” article.

    If it happens, will it also get posted here?


  4. See Im often across things alot earlier than the genereal public is esp with the job I have – I read TDVC and the 3 others before that about 12 months prior to the media frenzy that turned them in to a brand and just enjoyed the stories. Like the Rogue Warrior who I love by Al just cant grasp, the overall concept, screenplay like narrative and general ‘good trashy book for a plane/train’ sits fine with me – I never expect to open a Dan Brown novel and be blown away with its literary skill contained within and with every box ticked in the ‘ten things you must adhere to so Leticia will accept you as a writer’ list 😉

    Its like analysing the Terminator and picking at all its faults rather than just watching it for the action and explosions. Having read all those lame ass sentences listed above points out that he is a very average writer, but with the stories themselves being quite engaging and a good escape from the heavy stuff we normally read, i can ignore them and just enjoy it.

  5. And that’s where you and I differ! I can grasp the concept of the Rogue series of books. I understand why you like them. But they’re crap and I can’t bring myself to waste time reading them.

    To use your example, Terminator is a great action movie with very few flaws. The latest Wolverine film, on the other hand, was woeful with really stupid errors in the writing, therefore I hated it. I can enjoy action flicks (or books) with no substance, but not when they’re poorly written and full of holes.

  6. haha – the old Rogue has dropped the ball on the last few and it certainly shows – Ive read far far worse shit than Dan too – I think Matthew Reilly is a better writer than him but good luck getting an Aussie to that level eh!

  7. Yeah, look, I love a trashy read. You couldn’t by any stretch call Robert G. Barrett’s work anything like literature, or even books that are anywhere near higher off the ground than Brown’s works. BUT they *are* properly written, and well edited. Therein lies the difference.

  8. you guys are writers, im a reader – havent written anything seriously since uni. i guess this is the same as me complaining about the drum tracks on a nickleback song – there is really no need to, you know they are average.. hehe

  9. Chris – as Alan has said recently – ‘the reader is always right.’ So you must be right in this instance – it’s the writers who are wrong!

    Does that also mean that if Dan Brown and JK Rowling sell more books than Alan Baxter, that makes them ‘more right’ as well? Maybe technical quality of writing (and quality of Daniel Adair’s drumming) is not really that important.

    Take Oasis for example – Is Liam Gallagher a great singer? No. Do they write good lyrics? No. Is the music technically brilliant? No. However, put it all together and they are one of the most popular bands in the last decade or so.

    It’s the subjective quality of the overall package as experienced by the reader or listener that matters.

  10. James – indeed, Chris is right. As a reader also, I’m right too. I’m just a reader with a more discerning palate than Chris. 🙂

    I also hate Oasis. With a fucking passion!

    But you’re right, it’s all subjective and different people like different things. Sadly, people seem to like Dan Brown type books and Hollywood blockbuster type movies, so the publishers and production houses continue to churn out the same old homogenous shit that they know people will buy, constantly pandering to the lowest common denominator in a marketplace full of brainless sheep consumers.

    But I’m not bitter or anything.


  11. hahaha – ive always been into the Masonic, meanings within meanings, secret society type stuff and have done years before he came along. So while Dan appeals to the lowest common denominator, like Marcinko’s, Rambo on Roids capers, I read thru the crapola and take what I want from it – Given both authors books read like screenplays you can knock them off in 2 or 3 decent sittings so its an escape, pure and simple – after reading a million words a day on email, I often am not up to taking on anything deeper than that – its like watching CSI, just turn your brain off and enjoy it.

    And yes, personal experience on working 2 Oasis albums in my Sony days, I can only agree with you on a general hatred of Oasis 9and Nickleback!)

  12. Well, I did enjoy TDVC, but I basically read it to find out what the big deal was. I really enjoyed it, but I thought everyone taking it literally was just stupid because it’s OBVIOUSLY not true. I mean, really people.

    But, I did really like the book. So much so that I bought a copy of Angels and Demons and realized that it was the EXACT same book with different names and places. After reading for a little bit, I could predict…okay right HERE is where to twist is…and this guy seems good so he must be the bad guy, yada yada yada. So, yeah, learned my lesson.

    I hate to admit it, but I didn’t really notice the bad sentences and mixed metaphors that much. I would probably rate the books about the same level as any fluffy pulp fiction novel…entertaining but without much substance.

  13. You must have been tired or something. And it’s not that it’s not true that I have an issue with – after all, I’m a dark fantasy writer so I have no case against writing things that are true! But writing them well is another matter entirely.

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