1. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    How do you define good writing?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DromedaryLights, Sep 8, 2014.

    Clarity?
    Expression?
    Innovation?
    Storytelling?
    Flow?
    Individuality?

    I find this question to be a lot more difficult than it should be. Many would argue that there are plenty of examples of bad writing, even among famous authors (especially among famous authors, some might say). But what do you consider to be good writing? It's all so terribly subjective.

    And so I pose the question: What writers, works, or characteristics do you feel epitomize good writing?
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2014
  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I generally praise writing that lets me forget I am even reading. It helps to write with consistent diction and with clear prose that never makes me work too hard to figure out what thought is being communicated.

    I sometimes speed-read, often with the aid of rapid serial visual presentation, so I appreciate when the author makes that task easy for me by presenting things in a nice, simple, linear fashion that does not have me pausing every 30 seconds to reread a paragraph.

    I can also appreciate more complex and nuanced usage of language, especially when it is necessary for communicating a complex and nuanced thought, but if I had to choose any quality of writing to idealize -- one that I strive for by default unless a special circumstance calls for something else -- it would be the quality that makes it easy to speed-read.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2014
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  3. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I agree with @daemon, and of the six characteristics you listed, I would put flow at the top, followed by clarity. I read mostly for pleasure, and I don't want to have to work to discern what the author is trying to say. Needless to say, proper grammar and spelling are paramount.
     
  4. William A. Gordon
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    William A. Gordon New Member

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    I do not think you will find any consensus on this question. Jacqueline Susann thought "a good writer is one who produces books that people read . . . So if I'm selling millions, I'm good." Of course, she thought, after reading Portnoy's Complaint that Philip Roth was a good writer, "but I wouldn't want to shake hands with him."

    One professional writer, Garry Provost wrote in the 1987 Writer's Yearbook:
    "Good writing is writing that you can get published and paid for. If nobody will buy it, then it's not good."

    9780937813102.jpg
     
  5. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    *Warning: I seemed to have spewed bullshit from my mouth-hole. So, don't expect much direction. Yes, I could've edited it. I'd rather demonstrate myself in a bad light.

    To sound like a vague asshole, expressivity. Experimentation is good too. As well, I'd say that on a certain level there's that slightly subconscious part of it, wherein one simply is biased to one's own outlook and whatever supports that outlook is favored. Also, genuineness. As an extremely horrible self-made example to demonstrate what I haven't specified as what I'm trying get at:

    {asd-= '';. ~~(CONnnstTa_T-$$
    8===D FUCK
    SSSsssssssh()l|_|_ovv

    The above, while utter shit in its current get-up and context, could be a fantastic way to express something (assuming there was something to express and it was done in a way that favored the expressed). It's not conventional, either. It's raw, though. It communicates on an entirely different level. Most would thing it doesn't communicate at all. Whatever. You know, I'd have a better example, but I find unfair to post. Regardless, I think (bullshit) I am trying to say that "good" writing isn't defined merely by some yardstick, or at least, a yardstick. As you said, it's all subjective shit (bad paraphrase), but any one attribute can't express the full range of human experience. In my opinion, writing, as any art, is present to express something human -- and I mean this in less of a bipedal Homo sapien way than a highly self-aware relatively intelligent creature sort of way. I guess, "good" writing just captures something honestly, accurately, and powerfully. It does this through the freed interaction with medium.
     
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  6. Alexa C. Morgan
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    Alexa C. Morgan Member

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    I don't know about good writhing. :p <::: Writhing might demand knowledge and skill beyond my abilities (maybe even hula hooping! ) When it comes to writing, for me, is the ability of the author to depict a scene and transpose the reader (me) in the action and make me learn and understand and overall, see the world through different eyes, not just whatever I find similar to my POV. To generalize, most men are visual and audio/ they respond to words like "picture the water glistening on her bare skin," or "he heard a loud thunder coming from the base of the sky," while women are more kinesthetic (which explains the popularity of books like 50 shades or twilight) and also audio " She gasped when he touched her, she felt his caress"... etc etc. That is to generalize and be very vague because of course, each individual relates to certain aspects from your above list. I choose flow, expression and storytelling. Heck, even if one has 2 out of 5 I say, has mastered acceptable writing skills. Innovation, well thats very hard to achieve since all subjects and all plots and all characters, more or less, have been described in prose at one point or another. Individuality, I do not understand perhaps what you mean by that, since of course, when one writes, one writes from his own perspective (regardless of first or third or whatever POV in the book)
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    For me, it's all about style and the use of language. This is what separates the great writers from the good ones.
     
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  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Honestly, it is all of these things. Eloquence is more than just expression, flow, and clarity, it is the clarity of thought which also usually means clarity of story telling. And while innovation is by far the least important to me, it is a big bonus if you can do it.

    How to write good writing and have it be still your own is very hard to do, and to do this you must regularly read not only good writers, but the best writers, and the worst writers to see how you can get it so right, and how you can get it so wrong. For the terrible I recommend anything by Ayn Rand, Dan Brown, or James Hurbert. For the Great there are too many to name.
     
  9. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    Here is the moment where I lose all credibility forever: Ayn Rand had terrible and evil ideas, but I don't think her writing was the worst thing ever. The Fountainhead was kind of an interesting story, and if you completely ignore what she was actually trying to say and impose your own interpretation on it, I think it's got some interesting points. I never read Atlas Shrugged though, so maybe it is worse, but based on wait I've seen Ayn Rand is nowhere near as offensive as, say, Janet Evanovich.
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Read Atlas Shrugged. It's one of the worst novels I've ever read. Everyone is a 2D character, either an objectivist and the sun shines out their arse, or a collectivist and the most evil person on the planet. Also, the dialogue is dreadful 'Hello Dangey, you are the most influential woman in the world, how do you sleep at night' kind of awful. The story may be mildly interesting, but she doesn't answer the very obvious question with her 'strike', why didn't the next generation of competent young go-getters take up all the powerful positions? Atlantis isn't described as a very big place.

    Her philosophy may be interesting until you realize that it is just Nietzsche if you strip him down to the barest essentials and misunderstand him a little bit. And really, it's not even that rational or well-thought out. Let's just face it, humans are social creatures.

    Ayn Rand is the worst writer I've ever encountered, and I'll stand by that statement even despite the Dan Browns and J.K Rowlings of the world.
     
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  11. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    Well that does sound pretty atrocious.

    Say what you will about J.K. Rowling, but we cannot deny her mastery of and abiding commit to the aptronym. Who else would dare to name their "Minister of Magic" character "Pious Thicknesse?"
     
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  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Atlas Shrugged is ahistorical too, it claims Socialists are so stupid they ram trains into walls. It's just caricatures and silliness.

    And yeah, J.K Rowling is a writer I have serious problems with, but maybe calling her one of the worst is going a bit too far. xD
     
  13. DromedaryLights
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    DromedaryLights Active Member

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    She's very good at what she does. If she weren't making childrens' books I'd probably have some beef with her writing and with the unsubstantive, shallow escapism of her stories, but she is writing childrens' books so she gets a pass. Although I do find it problematic that a lot of supposedly adult books really aren't that much more nuanced in their morale framework. I guess that would be kind of like your criticism of Atlas Shrugged.
     
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  14. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Worse than Denise Ellis?
     
  15. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Instead of defining what's good, I simply look for what isn't. If it manages to run the gauntlet of criticism and come through unscathed, it's good.

    Generally, good writing tends to be simple and clear. It is efficient in delivering it's message and inciting emotion without using any more words than necessary.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2014
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    @daemon - I generally praise writing that lets me forget I am even reading.
    @stevesh - I don't want to have to work to discern what the author is trying to say.

    I agree with both of those (partial, taken out of context) statements. I appreciate thinking about what the author's theme or slant might be AFTER I've finished reading. In fact, the best characters, themes and topics have stayed with me for a lifetime, and I have certainly re-read the books that gave them to me. But I don't want to be sidetracked by an author's prose while I'm actually reading, and I certainly don't like having to stop or backtrack to figure out what is going on. It takes me out of the experience. I accept that other people read differently, but that's my preference.

    I strive for clarity in my own writing, and expect to find it in the books I enjoy most.
     
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  17. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    I would say that, for me, good writing communicates an idea worth expressing.

    Personally, I am all about the message. I can and will forgive stylistic errors, but cannot forgive a lack of substance.
     
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  18. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Like, why you gotta bash my favorite author?
     
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  19. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am in no means trying to derail anything, but does anyone have any thoughts as to why we value clarity so much?
     
  20. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Ayn Rand is writing books for children? Damn, dude, that's cold, but I love it! :D

    You and I are going to get along well.

    I see your point! :p
     
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  21. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Good writing for me is someone that can make the familiar fresh. You think you've seen it all before but you haven't seen it like this. Too often writers are following other writers not thinking outside the box. They churn the familiar into cliches.

    Take Harriet the Spy - a bratty character whose unredeemably arrogant. In the first person with her sharp witted observations - it's brilliant. Take Lolita - Nabokov masks a monster under beautiful prose. Take Francesca Lia Block - her offbeat characters and sparkly prose seem to live in some updated fairyland. There's nothing really special about - pedophiles, snoopy children or offbeat L.A. teenagers but each writer makes you think there is. For me that's the key.

    How do they do it? They set themselves apart from everyone else, for a start. Nabokov though inspired by road trip noir movies wasn't out to write his story like Raymond Chandler or Erskine Cadwell or James M. Cain. He goes against the grain. Same goes for Fitzhugh and Block.
     
  22. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    To me, good writing is theme clearly expressed.

    Theme and clarity have a lot to do with it.
     
  23. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good writing or great writing?

    Good writing stays out of the way of the story (as already expressed by more than a few here). It's clean, noninvasive, economic.

    Great writing appears almost divine. It's as if the author has given the reader a piece of his soul.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^This. When I cry because the book is over.
     
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  25. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    There are over 7 billion people on this planet we call home. Regardless of what is written and by whom, someone out there will love it and someone will hate it.

    For me personally, I love a book that paints pictures in my mind. A book that tells a story like it's a movie in my head.

    And yes, there are books out there that I couldn't finish, couldn't get into or just did not enjoy but I would not say they were badly written.
     

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