1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    What I think makes a great writer.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by essential life, Jan 15, 2010.

    I think a great writer is one who can write about 'boring things' in an entertaining way.

    Like for instance, he or she can write an entire short story about a guy who's walking down the street twiddling his thumbs and make it seem like it's the greatest thing you've ever read.

    I can't do that. At all. I need a plot...a good one, a clever one, an exciting one. I need to make things happen in my story to mask all of my deficiencies as a writer.

    Anyways, what are your thoughts on this?
     
  2. Bongo Mongo
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    This sort of reminds me of the Catcher in the Rye. If you haven't read it, it spans only a few days of some sixteen year old wandering around in the city. What really makes it is the unique style of writing and your care for the character. The writing really hooks you fast, which is something you probably need in a story about boring things (a good hook), and him as a character makes you stay along for the ride.

    Hope this helps.
     
  3. ipromise
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    ipromise New Member

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    I don't know...I think that is one definition of a good writer...
     
  4. Denied Fixation
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    Denied Fixation Member

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    I agree with you... in a sense... but what you get out of something might not be the same for someone else. I think identifying a great writer is subjective... it's no different than identifying a good movie. Ron Howard works for some... but others prefer the Cohen Brothers.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No one thing defines a great writer. I do agree that a good writer can write an interesting piece on what, on the surface, sounds like a mundane story idea. The example I always use is walking to the mailbox, and recently I put my money where my mouth is for my own peace of mind. The result is The Courier. Mostly what it proves is that I still have a good deal of learning to do, but I still encourage people to take on such challenges.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think this is a horrible cliché. Nobody could possibly hold my interest to such a dull plot -- or rather, lack of plot. You'd have to have a fanatical obsession with the written word itself, in order to find such a read interesting, because all it really contains is words.

    But show me this story and I'll change my mind.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Or take the challenge yourself, instead of looking down your nose at it.

    Why is he twiddling his thumbs? What will happen if he stops? Maybe he's a decoy to divert attention from something else.

    Admittedly, if ALL he is doing is walking down the street, twiddling his thumbs, there isn't much story there. But the surface storyline need not be the total story.

    Maybe he is trying not to panic over a serious dilemna, and his casual appearance is only a facade over his inner turmoil.

    Don't judge a book by its cover, and don't judge a story by a brief description. Such descriptions often leave out key information.
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I agree with Horus. It's impossible to make interesting a story entirely about a man walking down the street twiddling his thumbs.

    I could make an interesting story where a guy is walking down the street twiddling his thumbs, but the story is going to be about the conflict in his head, and not about him twiddling his thumbs.

    Perhaps that is what the OP meant, but I can't be sure. In order to make interesting a story about a man walking down the street twiddling his thumbs, you will need to focus on something else to make it interesting, in which case, the story is not about him walking down the street.
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    But an uninteresting story doesn't necessarily equate to bad writing. I mean, if your taste dictates that there must be a compelling story, then yes, you'd probably hate something like the example described above. But there are plenty of people for whom story is secondary to "words", style and deftness with language.
     
  10. DvnMrtn
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    DvnMrtn Contributing Member

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    A good story and good writing are two completely different things. A good story is one that has a good plot, characters, and makes the reader feel like they are a part of the world you have created, throwing in twists of excitement and discovery along the way. Good writing is --at least in my opinion-- defined as something that touches life itself in some way or another. A great story is something that combines a good story and good writing.

    If you can write about a man walking down the street twiddling his thumbs and somehow while doing so touch upon something greater then it could be good writing.

    "The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies." - Ray Bradbury from Fahrenheit 451
     
  11. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    If you described everything that the man saw, felt, smelled, etc. in great detail, I imagine there would be a certain type of hyper-realistic draw to the story; from experience, I can say that writing with intense realism tends to invoke its diametric opposite. Objects are not hyper-realistic in real life; we can't see more than one side of a tree at once, or the intricate detail on the surface of a leaf from far away; nor can we learn the entire history of an object just by paying attention to it. I daresay you could even make a story where time is dead interesting through such a revealing technique.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I took this as a challenge, and this is what I came up with: Idle Hands
     
  13. ManhattanMss
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    I think you might be contrasting plot-driven fiction to literary fiction, in which even the most mundane of points in the story are given a significance the reader wouldn't otherwise see or appreciate (and can sometimes miss entirely). I'm not sure most "great" literary fiction writers think of their fiction as writing about something--least of all something they find boring--so much as simply a way of creating an imaginative experience for their fictional character(s) and hoping the reader will share that experience in some compelling way. Underlying themes emerge from within the story rather than having a storyline thrust upon a topic or image that could be described as otherwise "boring" (or even "exciting," for that matter).

    There are also terrific writers who do write about things (most especially mundane things) in an entertaining way. But these kinds of stories are usually considered to be "essays," rather than fiction. That's how I think of them. I don't know why there couldn't be such a thing as a fictional essay, except that the fictionality, if any, in this kind of writing is usually irrelevant to its entertainment value. David Sedaris comes immediately to my mind when I think of brilliantly entertaining, relatively plotless stories about some fairly or frankly mundane things.

    There are tons of short story writers whose story themes are not always spectacular, yet their stories are compelling and brilliant or poignant or moving or beautiful or interesting in some significant way. Many of even the best ones wouldn't qualify as "entertaining," I think, so much as insightful, or enlightening, or simply experiential in some other way. Maybe that's what you're thinking of.

    A clever, exciting, plot-driven story is really just one form of storytelling, isn't it? I can't think why a clever, exciting plot would either limit or be responsible for its author's greatness or lack of; and I'm not sure there's any good reason to think it'd disguise its author's writing deficiencies. I think published writing will inevitably reveal both the author's strengths and his weaknesses.

    Anyway, I think you need to write what you write and do it as well as you can. If you're lucky enough to know that plotting your story works best for your writing, then there's nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by approaching your stories that way.
     
  14. Irish87
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    Irish87 Contributing Member

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    To be as philosophical as I can, I picture a great writer as somebody who enjoys the process. The opinions of others are rarely useful since most people are attracted to small, otherwise insignificant details. Colors, the shapes of objects, the way somebody speaks (Mr. Caulfield comes to mind) or simply the shimmering drops of rain dancing in a street. We fall in love with the pictures in our mind and when a writer can paint those so vibrantly then he is adored. Nevertheless, that does not mean he is a great writer.

    In the end the great writer title is subjective. It is determined by the person and no one else. To me a great writer is somebody who enjoys writing, who loves the ability to create entire worlds, and who cares little what I think about them.
     
  15. essential life
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    Great work! I like how you gave life to all the occupants on the street. I love the thought of him doing it on purpose to win a game and cause a commotion. A nice twist.

    I think that's all I can do. Play to my strengths. In the final analysis, maybe the most important thing is that I entertain my readers through my fanfic. I've read a lot of professionally written stories with prose that dwarfs mine, yet I do not find them particularly moving in any way.
     
  16. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    A great writer is a great storyteller.

    Walking down the street twiddling your thumbs? When I read this I thought immediately of Thomas Covenant when he is walking down the street and we are introduced to him. The action of walking down the street was never made interesting, but what we learn while he is doing so is. (That is how the first book started, wasn’t it?)

    Anyhow, a boring plot with dull characters and no conflict will never be interesting no matter how much of a word master someone is. The story is everything.
     
  17. thinking
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    I think most of the time, people try to hard to come up with great plots, but the story doesn't follow suit. I think good writing can be about anything, from a man walking down the street to chasing monsters through the Swiss Alps. It all depends on how you say it.

    Can you write a great story about a man waling down the street. Of course. But, like architectus said, it probably wouldn't be about him walking down the street anymore. Then again, Is Catcher in the Rye about Holden walking through New York or what he's thinking about? Maybe that's splitting hairs.

    Anyway, the point I want to make is that you can write a great story about anything, and it can be great writing. But I basically agree with what whoever started this thread said. So yeah.
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Perhaps this is redundant but I feel it needs to be said: your comment is entirely subjective--there are plenty of great works of literature that revolve around little or no story whatsoever. Likewise, there are stories with amazing plots that are appallingly written. If being a great writer was as simple as having a great story, it'd be a lot easier to become one.
     
  19. thewordsmith
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    My thoughts exactly! Don't oversimplify. There's almost always more to the story. (Perhaps it's a reverse Seussian Mulberry Street? Everything in the world is happening around this guy - murder, assault, bank robbery, police chases, weddings, bar mitzvah, birthday parties, clowns, balloons, the whole proverbial 'magilla' and he doesn't see any of it.)

    As you can see, that quite dull sounding jumping off point could lead to so many different interpretations. Dull little man walking down the street twiddling his thumbs? Depending upon your degree of imagination, even that could be exciting and, depending on one's lack of imagination, something like War and Peace could be made to sound pedestrian.
     
  20. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I would love for someone to point out to me a great piece of literature that had a terrible plot and little conflict. Perhaps, as you say, I have not yet experienced them.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That isn't what the poster said, though.

    All he said was:
    That's only a summary of the storyline. It isn't the plot, nor does it presume that the character is uninteresting or that there is no conflict.

    Make sure you understand the difference between plot and storyline.
     
  22. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Virtually any fiction or plays by Beckett, the majority of the fiction of Elfriede Jelinek (both Nobel prize winners), a few of the novels of Bret Easton Ellis, The Road by Cormac McCarthy....and that's just by a quick glance at one of my bookshelves.

    As has been pointed out, literary fiction is full of work that is not driven by any particular plot or character, but by language and style. The same isn't true for genre fiction, but that doesn't mean that such books don't exist.
     
  23. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I looked up The Road by Cormac McCarthy in Wikipedia. It had a good size plot summery full of conflict.
     
  24. ManhattanMss
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    I don't think the summary describes what I'd call a "plot," having read it, so much as maybe a tenuous storyline that sort of emerges as the characters simply experience their "world." I mean, just because a story is unconventional (and THE ROAD is that) doesn't mean it cannot be summarized for all kinds of reasons, including book jacket blurbs, film pitches, and certainly a Wikipedia description. Neither the kind of character development, nor the "conflict" in this novel is probably what a reader would anticipate from a more conventional (certainly a mainstream) novel (although maybe you've seen the movie--I haven't; that might give you a different take than reading the book).

    You could say that Beckett's UNNAMABLE is a story about a mind that finds itself in a dying body stashed in a flower pot (if I remember), a vantagepoint from which this mind observes himself, his own thoughts, and his surroundings, desperately despairing that he cannot prevent himself from continuing to think. It's truly not exactly a plot. Or, maybe more to the point, the work itself is not driven by any particular storyline trajectory. In my mind, this was more a reading "experience" than what most conventional readers would probably demand or expect (or want) from a "story."

    "Conflict" (or "tension) comes in all kinds of forms, really, not always from a "plot," per se, or a protagonist/antagonist kind of relationship. But, now that I think of it (with respect to the lack of conflict or tension), what about Calvino's INVISIBLE CITIES, which is a series of stories about imagined cities presumably told to the Kublai Khan by this fictional Marco Polo. A delightful, highly imaginative fictional travelogue! I don't recall much of anything I think I would've called conflict or tension. In fact maybe its absence is one of the interestinig qualities about this particular story.

    Trust me, there's fiction out there that redefines fiction. There's a ton of stuff that's jaw-droppingly creative!

    But now I've forgotten the topic.:redface:
     
  25. Mr What
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    I trust you're a fan of Mrs Dalloway then, OP?
     

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