1. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Measure of an author

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by tonguetied, Dec 10, 2014.

    "The measure of an author is how well he expresses an idea, not where that idea comes from.", this statement from daemon bothers me a bit. My question is what is more important to create a good novel, the story or how it was presented? Before I joined this forum I would have thought the story itself was most important but it seems that how it is presented is possibly more important. Am I jumping to the wrong conclusion? Certainly both aspects are very important, so for me it is a question of which should take priority.

     
  2. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Unless I'm misreading you, you're conflating 'the story' with where the 'idea (story) comes from.'

    Of course the storyline is important, but the daemon quote isn't about the origin of the storyline - it's about the author's representation and rendering of that material. Does the origin really matter? The daemon quote is about how it's handled.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Ideas are meaningless. It's the execution (or expression) of the idea that matters.
     
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  4. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely agree with @thirdwind. Well, mostly, though likely still, because I'm sure he doesn't literally mean that ideas are meaningless. I would say that the execution is more important, and, usually, is what characterizes a work, whether good or bad. However, the idea is still important, but not more important. I'd be tempted to simply say "Balance," but I would put a good deal of priority on the expression.
     
  5. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    What I meant is that you get credit as an author for expressing an idea skillfully, and you get credit as a thinker if you came up with that idea and it is an interesting idea, or at least if you have something intelligent to say about that idea.

    Now, as a reader, I typically value thought over expression. I read not because I love the art of language, but because I want to stimulate my imagination. Since reading for that purpose depends so much on the reader's own effort, and the reader's reaction is so subjective and dependent on external factors, I tend to find the statement "_____ is a better book than _____" meaningless.

    For me, "worth reading" and "well-written" mean completely different things, although if something is well-written, then that can certainly make it more enjoyable to read, and therefore easier to digest into its constituent thoughts.

    Of course, there are others who read for pretty much the opposite purpose, and for them, "well written" and "worth reading" mean almost the same thing. The best an author can do is write as well as he possibly can, and appeal to those who read for the language, while at least earning the respect of readers like me.
     
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  6. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think all of you are confirming my suspicion, how it is written is more important than what is written, obviously up to a point. In my mind this is similar to "history is written by the winners of the world", I may not have that saying perfectly quoted. Since my mastery of English falls far short of many of you on this forum I feel like writing my novel is almost pointless; purely an exercise for my benefit alone. Thanks to all for the posts.

    Read daemon's post after I replied, which gives me some encouragement to write my story.
     
  7. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Measure of a person:

    I want to do something about the poor
    or
    I am doing something about the poor
     
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  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    History is Written By the Winners
    George Orwell
    Tribune, 4 February 1944

    Orwell may, of course, be plagiarizing!
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This is one of my favorite quotes - it ain't whatcha write, it's the way atcha write it - by Kerouac.
    Presentation.
    I used to think story was the most important, too. I used to tweak my storylines, plot, and tinker, always striving for originality, something that would make my story stand out. But I always felt unsatisfied with my actual writing. There was a disconnect from what I imagined to what I could get down on paper. For years ( decades ) I was frustrated and only just recently, about maybe five or six years ago, I looked into style/voice ( a much overlooked subject in past how to books ) and realized that's what was missing. The how to books were telling me how to write a story ( which though informative isn't all that's needed ) but not how to tell your story - how to find your voice. The part that separates Stephen King from Dean Kootz from Harlan Ellison.

    If you look at certain authors writing on certain similar subjects you can see what a difference a writer can make even on the impact of publishing. Take Lolita by Nabokov for example who actually said in one of his afterwards ( I think ) that one publisher had told him that if he set his story in a rural setting with plain lingo then he'd publish it. But would they? In a way they did - Erskine Cadwell, a very popular pulpy writer at the time, had wrote a story called Tobacco Road - 20 odd years prior to Lolita and in it there is a man who is married to a twelve year old girl and a grown woman who bribes a sixteen year old boy into marrying her. The plot had racier ideas than Lolita but the execution was less serious than Nabokov therefore easier to publish.

    Readers seem to be invested in ideas and it's actually what draws them to the book - but in the end it's the execution of said idea that really gets them talking. That's why they can 'love' characters or 'hate' them.
     
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  10. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know who said this, but the saying goes, It's not what a story is about; it's how its about that counts. To me, this means you can pick the most prosaic of topics or worlds to write about, but if written with outstanding characters in compelling situations etc, you have a great story.
     
  11. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another nail in my book coffin. I will have to admit to not being well read, not even familiar with the stories that peachalulu mentioned. I tried reading Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" and have not finished it. Supposedly she is a great author, but that book is terrible in my opinion despite having outstanding characters and a compelling situation. Since her book is more of a political statement than just a story to be told that probably explains my distaste for it, but I really cannot see why it is held in high esteem.

    I will just continue to carry my lamp in search of a great author. - I am kidding, I don't disagree with anything that anyone has posted, I am just a bit disappointed in this discovery.
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You don't have to love the classics for good authors or writing. You just have to find a writer that speaks to you - some of my favorite writers aren't classics or necessarily 'good'. I've never finished Ayn Rand, I think Joyce Carol Oates is overrated and I don't like Jane Austen.

    Why disappointed?
     
  13. Swiveltaffy
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    Swiveltaffy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wait for it. (Or maybe not this time.)
     
  14. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've tried many highly acclaimed books only to find something lacking in story, and as such, never finished them. That's fine with me.
     
  15. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Both are equally important. All the clever dialogue and scintillating descriptions in the world won't save a dull, uninteresting story. Conversely, a great story will be undone by poor writing.
     
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  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I can only second this.
     
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  17. A.M.P.
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    @tonguetied
    Atlas Shrugged, or any of Ayn's works and essays, are political and philosophical works which isn't the traditional story type you come to expect.

    There is much criticism for Objectivism and her writing skill alone though she is held in high esteem mostly due to the philosophy rather than her works which can easily be attacked by a red pen. She had a major impact on the social and philosophical scene in New York and that's where her fame and respect comes from more than her actual writing skill.
     
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  18. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, also Atlas Shrugged, due to the fact that Ayn Rand was Russian, was part of a tradition we don't really have here in the west outside of one or two very select works, that of novels being very thinly-veiled political manifestos.
     
  19. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    I'd have to agree with the majority opinion here.

    If you've ever read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, you know all about it. The story in the first two books is amazing. Has great characters and outstanding plot. But, since it's translated, I find myself slogging through them. The language doesn't make me turn the page.
     
  20. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I probably will regret saying this, but so much of what seems to be important appears to be the mechanics of writing, something a good computer program might do for you. When I initially joined this forum I asked if there was a program to help a person write a story, overall the answer was no, you had to do the work yourself. That is okay but I don't think that will be the case for much longer, there will be an app for that. I absolutely agree that how a story is written is of great importance and now accept that it is probably the most important aspect, but it is like looking behind the curtain and seeing the levers being operated.

    When I read the various posts on the forum there is a great deal of knowledge being imparted, but there are typos, etc., but it doesn't take away from the intent of the posters. I have seen dueling pixel sabers in many posts where in reality the differences are moot - I guess I am answering my own question, a misplaced statement is taken the wrong way and it escalates.

    It is more important how you write it than what your story is. Thanks for the enlightenment.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say that a minimum level of writing quality, a pretty high minimum level, is the most important thing in the sense that it's a prerequisite--without it the work won't succeed.

    But that "pretty high" minimum level doesn't mean that you need to be a writing genius. You do need to have an engaging, interesting voice, and that is "writing", but it's not the same as being able to sculpt the English language in tremendously complex ways.
     
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  22. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think computers are likely to do a lot except get a bit better at grammar any time soon.
    Most other things that could be classified as presentation do actually require good creativity to execute well. For example changing something from telling to showing would normally be done to improve the presentation, but then you need to create little story elements to do the showing. Story and presentation are far more intertwined than you might first realise.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2014
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  23. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Try not to be intimidated about grammar issues. I don't have a good education. I'm probably the most intimidated on here about my grammar. Everything I learned, I learned from books. But in one sense it helped. I'm not writing from a sense of correct sentence structure, I'm writing from a sense of getting the scene and mood right. By thinking creatively I'm manipulating things to fit my needs and in revisions I can correct things that need to be corrected. And the bonus is my grammar has gotten better because I'm studying to find what can work for me and how to get it down right in the first place. But it's an on going process.

    And I like what Plothog says -
    Which is it exactly. Everyone dreams of visiting a chocolate factory but only Dahl could write his version. Story stands out but if you look at even his wording the acerbic effect is there in the way he chooses to write his sentences.
     
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  24. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't want to drag this out too much more, everyone has basically given me the same answer and I do agree with it. However I think you maybe misunderstanding what a computer app could do for a person's writing. I could see a program that would help you keep a character in its proper character, a southerner using southern slang, a Canadian ending many sentences in "eh", etc. But it could go well beyond that, use real life conversations to plug in the details and you as the author would simply select and edit among choices. I think I mentioned this at least once before on this forum, back in the mid to late 70s I had PC with a 286 processor, 1Mb of ram, etc., but I also had a program called Grammatik IV, or something close to that, and it would review an ASCII file and point out grammar errors, same word usage, and several, what I thought, were complex rules of English and suggest alternatives. In the forty years since I would have expected something like that with huge gains in capability.

    So I am not saying an AI computer would generate your story but it could offer a lot of help with the way it was structured. The author would have to write the story, but just like this group helps people formulate ways to create their story, a program could do much of that. When I read a thread where the statement "you have another thing coming" was pointed out as really being "you have another think coming", and I believe it was cogito brought out the term "velar plosive" that caused the error, I felt so far out of my depth it was a real eye opener as to just how complex the English language can be. Granted a person doesn't have to write the perfect novel to write a great one, but it is apparent that it is a general goal; and this doesn't appear to be a game of horseshoes and hand-grenades.

    Thanks again to all of you for your responses.
     
  25. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You don't strike me as someone who has written, or read, much at all - based on what I highlighted from your post. Don't you see the absurdity in what you said?

    How can a computer programme ever tell you if a scene has emotional resonance or not? How do you think a computer programme's gonna know when, if and how, a sentence should change - and what about it should change - based on the context of the scene and more still - based on the overall tone and plot of the book? You think a computer programme can tell you about rhythm? - Well, what kind of rhythm is the "correct" one? When is it okay to break the rhythm of a sentence or a pragraph or a scene? How can a computer programme ever hope to tell you if your character is acting in character, speaking in character, or developing as a human being?

    While grammar and spelling are indeed important technicalities, constructing a story is an art.

    Do you think a computer programme, without the eye and mind of a human designer there scribbling on his tablet and mousing over Photoshop and Illustrator, could create a masterpiece of a digital painting?

    Do you think a computer programme could make music so beautiful it moves you to tears?

    Do you honestly think a computer can teach you to write well?

    Writing well isn't the same as writing correctly. I grant you computer programmes can certainly help you write correctly - help you achieve impeccable grammar (one day) and correct all your typos.

    But how can the same programme teach you when to break a grammatical rule for effect? And how can it tell you when the effect is achieved or if it's just wrong? Because it'll tell you it's just wrong, like Microsoft Word tells me fragments are wrong and "Will walked into the room" is wrong (because of "will").

    How do you ever hope to write well if you do not have any sense of intuition for good writing? And do you really believe a computer programme is ever going to have the same intuition as a human does? And if you've learnt to trust a computer's technicalities more than your own instinct, then just how developed as a writer are you? I'm not questioning you personally as a writer, but I see something deeply wrong when an artist like we are all here on this forum would choose to trust a computer programme over his or her own gut instinct.

    And even if a computer programme could write better than I can - someone had to programme that. There's still a human mind behind it. And the truth is, I don't give a damn even if such a thing existed. Because I care about developing my writing and my style - my stories told in the way I want to tell them. That's why I write. Whether there's someone else or something else out there who could do the same job is irrelevant. If a computer can write, that doesn't mean I can write, and I only care whether I can write.

    And I think that's what you should care about too. Do you wanna rely on a tool, even if such a tool existed, or do you wanna actually know how to do it yourself?

    There's no need for disappointment. There's only a challenge. Either you'll write and better yourself, or you won't. I hope you write, and don't ever let anyone or anything make you believe it's somehow pointless.

    PS. if you honestly think playing with words is like "looking at how levers are operated", then I don't honestly think you've written - not for real. Either that, or you gotta ask yourself if you simply enjoy story-telling without the writing aspect of it. That does exist, but you might be looking at a different form of outlet, such as planning RPGs or hiring ghost writers to tell your stories. But if you truly cared about telling a story, how can you not care about the words? And if you cared about telling the story, you'd care about whether the story reaches your audience and makes them react the way you want them to, to feel the story like you do - so how can you not have fun playing with words, when you know even a single punctuation can impact on how a message is received? The magic of the story comes in making an impact on the people reading it - and that you do with your words.
     

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