1. k0k
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    k0k New Member

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    What is "Well written"?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by k0k, Jun 21, 2012.

    Someone care to explain to me? As I've always wondered, what things in a narrative piece make it "well written" compared to something that's "badly written"?

    I know I'm being general, but this is confusing me quite a bit. How do you identify a piece of writing as being a "masterpiece" compared to "junk"? Is it the plot development, character development, the flow of the story? Are these things you "necessarily need" to write well? How do you know you achieved these things to a "good" degree? Are there certain exceptions?

    ..or am I just over thinking things a lot?

    Also, feel free to move this thread if this is off topic.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is all of the above. You want a simple answer to a question that occupies a major percentage of this site.
     
  3. thetyper
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    thetyper Member

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    In my opinion, there are several things to consider. First, all the basics must be in place in terms of language proficiency, unless a specific point is being made like in The Sound and the Fury for example, or Franny & Zooey. Another good example - the best I can think of is the outstanding Manon des sources by Marcel Pagnol who uses illiteracy to the most beautiful effect I have ever read.

    Second, yes there must be some kind of purpose to the work - plot development, characterization, etc.

    Finally, there must be an underlying point to the fiction - ontological, aesthetic, something that pays respect to literary theory and shows it is part of the canon.

    No I do not think one necessarily knows if one has achieved these things, and even if one has a sneaking suspicion (which I have never had) it is up to readers to decide if it is any good, at least a collective reader, as individuals may be biased or uninformed.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    see what cog said...

    there's no formula for writing well... of course grammar and mechanics [spelling, punctuation, etc.] have to be within acceptable limits, but even there, an exceptionally gifted writer can get away with things a lesser one can't... it comes down to being much like what justice potter stewart had to say about hard-core pornography: 'i know it when i see it'...
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Take your favorite novel out of the shelf, read it and re-read it until you find out why it is your favorite novel.
     
  6. marktx
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    marktx Contributing Member

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    I would use the following working definition:

    If your storytelling grabs the reader, pulls them in, makes them care about the characters and their challenges, and keeps them up late at night because they can't put it down, then it's well written.

    If your storytelling distracts the reader, bores them, or confuses them, then it's not well written.

    In other words, forget about pleasing critics or earning your English teacher's approval. Concentrate on your relationship with the reader and don't worry about anyone else.
     
  7. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    This.
    I think personal reading preferences will influence what you consider well written.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think “well-written” starts with virtuosity in the use of language. Sentence variety, precise word choices, attention to rhythm, and avoidance of such things as unintentional alliteration and rhyme all contribute to virtuosity and help bolster the reader’s confidence that the writer knows what he’s doing. Note that when I talk about virtuosity, I’m not referring to showiness; I’m not talking about a writer who’s just trying to impress the reader with complicated and unusual sentence structures, an unnecessarily large and difficult vocabulary, or anything else that serves the writer’s ego rather than the needs of the story. You can hear virtuosity even in simple music in the confidence and sensitivity a really fine musician brings to the performance – sublety, control of dynamics, and control of tempo, tone, and ornamentation such as vibrato. A poor musician may try to impress an audience by playing difficult music, but he will do so badly; a good musician will impress an audience by playing simple music very beautifully.

    Another aspect of good writing is the intelligent and creative use of metaphor and simile. I’m talking about freshness of imagery and the avoidance of clichés. A good writer consistently surprises and delights his reader with telling, well-chosen imagery. Note as well that this imagery should be appropriate for the setting of the story. If you’re writing about the American Revolution, for example, you might say that the thunder sounded like a fusillade of artillery; you would not say that it sounded like a Harley-Davidson motorcycle roaring down the highway – Harleys weren’t invented back then, so that image would be inappropriate.

    Language and imagery are merely matters of technique, though. Now we come to the primary building-block of fiction: character. A well-written character comes acrosss as a real person, not as a collection of character traits.You can’t define Fred Flintstone by stating that he’s fat and says “yabba-dabba-doo.” (I just dated myself, didn’t I?) You have to go a lot deeper than that. This is the main reason I object to the attempt many writers make to define their characters using character sheets. Listing names, ages, jobs, likes, and dislikes doesn’t create characters. In my opinion, a far better approach is to put your characters into situations and write scenes about how they deal with them. That will force you to create actual people, not just snapshots of people.

    Also realize that the story you tell about your character will change that character – it will take him through an arc. If the story is worth telling, the character will be somewhat different at the end than he was at the beginning of the story. So don’t fall too much in love with your character as he is when the story starts. If you do, you might not let him get damaged, heal, and grow as the story progresses. In fact, this means you don’t have to define your characters to the thousandth decimal place at the beginning of the story. He can be a little bit vague when the audience first meets him, and the events of the story color him in, so to speak. As he changes, the reader gains a greater understanding of him.

    Now we finally come to plot. It turns out plot isn’t as important as character or even technique. There are great novels out there – classics – that have minimal plots. But they have strong characters, and are written with excellent technique, and are fascinating just because of that. You might even find that the more elaborate your plot, the more difficult it is to fully keep track of, and you’ll have to pay close attention to avoid major plot holes and other absurdities. First rule of plot, though, is: Don’t bore the reader.

    You could use that as a rule for writing in general: Don’t bore the reader!

    Be aware, though, that it’s an impossible rule, because there are so many different readers – different kinds of readers – out there in the audience. Some want horror thrillers, and if you give them a historical drama, they’ll be bored. Some want YA fantasy and if you give them a deep philosophical novel, you’ll bore them. Others will want poignant tales of love and loss, and if you give them vampires and werewolves and zombies, mixed up with plenty of gore and hapless humans screaming as death approaches, you’ll make them vomit as you bore them.

    There are many audiences out there, and many individual readers, and you will never be able to please all of them all the time.
     
  9. Program
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    I'd say well-written is when your work has (for the most part) everything it needs and nothing it doesn't need (which is also just when everything is important). But, how figure out what a story needs and doesn't need? I'd think that's too general.
     
  10. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Minstrel's post is well written.
     
  11. Pythonforger
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    Pythonforger Carrier of Insanity

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    It must make you turn the page. Even if your language is horrible, your plot is bland, your characters are blander and you break every rule of writing known to man, if the reader wants to turn the page, it's well written. (This is why I am a supporter of Twilight.)
     
  12. YugiohPro01
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    YugiohPro01 Member

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    Simply said it is well written if you can feel yourself inside the character, that even though you know their problems are just insignificant and part of a universe that you are not actually a part of, and you still care for the character and see their problems as real and you even become concerned with them as they were yours, then it is truly well written. But personally I think it all comes down to the reader. Perhaps dozens of thousands of people will say something is well written but if you yourself do not find yourself in the writing, then it will just seem like junk. If we're putting examples on the table, take Catcher in the Rye as an example. I really do not know how many people have stood on this issue but it seems as though half the world praises it and half does not. I think this is because some have really synced with the character and other have just found it as garbage. But do not put me on sides here, I actually have neutral feelings for the novel, slightly going to the side that thinks it's garbage. But the principle stands. You yourself find if a piece is worthy being called well written. Even if it has amazing plot development, outstanding characters, beautiful metaphors and a spectacular conclusion; You can still find it bland and boring.
     
  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The last point I made in my post above said there were many different readers and different audiences. The kind of writing you describe here makes me want to slam the book shut and toss it into the fire. I'm sure many others would have the same reaction. Your reader who wants to turn the page has different standards. He likes it, I don't, but it's the same piece of writing. Is it well written for him but badly written for me? How can one piece of prose be both well written and badly written at the same time?

    This is why I don't find your criterion useful. There has to be more to writing well than just making a given reader turn the page.
     
  14. Estrade
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    Estrade Member

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    I think good writing starts with efficiency and ends with virtuosity. It's better to get as far as efficiency and no further, than to try to do it the other way around.
     
  15. michaelj
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    michaelj Senior Member

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    even if the writer tells all the time rather than shows and even if their historical inaccuracies are wrong all time, then the reader can and has before overlooked them for a fun and easy to follow story with likable characters. Thats what makes a well written story, not describing every paragraph, abusing the theasaurus but a fun and easy to read tale.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree with minstrel that simply enjoying the reading of something does not mean it's 'well-written'...

    the term refers more to the mastery with which words are used, than to it just being an engaging story/novel/article/whatever... what are 'good reads' to millions can be poorly written, as witness the schlocky, yet bestselling gluck churned out by chris paolini, stephanie meyer and dan brown, among all too many others... while to be 'well-written' a work must be good both technically and in content...
     
  17. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I second that.

    I also think that we can all give you our own answers to what we feel is well-written but at a certain point it comes down to personal preference. Of course, there are stories that people will all agree are well written but that don't necessarily appeal to all audiences.
     
  18. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    Not all the words correctly and in order, but the correct words in the right order. Prose or poetry.
     
  19. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Not that I would argue for or against Twilight but there were significantly more than a given reader that enjoyed that series. I think pythonforger's cirteria is very sound. Anyone can pick something apart but we don't get to choose what others like or consider well written. And Twilight has a pretty large group that enjoyed it.
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Mamma's agreement with Minstrel --
    "Well written" is probably the most over-used term with respect to authored works. The frequency of its use has lessened its meaning. Ultimately, I think it means that the author successfully conveyed the thoughts, ideas, and story that was in his or her head into the words on the paper (computer). And that the true depth of those thoughts and ideas were conveyed -- not just a shallow sprinkling of those thoughts and ideas. A well-written piece should also be free of repetition and words that are used merely to show the erudition of the author, rather than the underlying idea.

    There is a current best selling book out there now that I was forced to read for my book club. The story involves a gimmicky hook, rather than a truly great story. Basically, people love it because the hook is that it is told from the POV of a particular animal. The idea is if you love this animal, you'll love this book. How could you not? It's told from the POV of this beloved animal. If you don't love this book, you must not like this animal. You are therefore horrible.

    Well, I read it. I love this species of animal. But I utterly despised the book. I found it to be horribly written. Successful? On a commercial level, absolutely. As far as conveying what I suspect was in the author's head, which was a love of this animal, plus an alleged portrait of a guy whose wife dies, not so much. That plot was pretty much handled as: Wife dies. That sucks. Too bad. But this animal is here.

    So, lots of people loved this book. Good for them. They were entertained, and that is a valid purpose for a book. But as far as "well written?" I'd have to say no way.

    I have a similar feeling about a current erotic blockbuster. "Well written?" No way. Extremely repetitive. Unrealistic plot. Ludicrous dialogue. Entertaining? Heck, yeah. But I have less distain for that author because the book never pretends to be anything other than a fun escape. In the first part of my definition, this book would be closer to "well written" than the animal book. But it was needlessly repetitive and full of words that the author put in just to show us she knew them. (This was obvious -- the use of a 'high level' word doesn't make a story badly-written. If used correctly and it is the very best word to convey what the author is trying to say, the use of a less-common word makes something well written. If, however, it's used just because the author wants to use that word, then it falls the other way.)

    So, in a long-winded way, I suppose mostly what I'm saying is that "well written" is a successful, efficient communication from the writer to the reader.
     
  21. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I don't think Twilight is particularly well-written. But it is a very unique take on an old archetype and theme--which is why it did so well with its targeted audience.

    For that it deserves respect. But the writing (just like the first few Harry Potter's) is not masterful by any stretch of the imagination.

    With that said, I think "success" and "well-written" are two different beasts. One can easily be a huge success while just being a master story teller (Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games). You don't need to be a literary (well-written) paragon to achieve it.

    I am personally at the moment writing a YA novel and trying to fuse "success" and "well-written" together. It is very hard.

    What I mean by that is I am:

    - Using almost no adjectives (definitely none that are redundant with nouns)
    - Using almost no adverbs (definitely none of the "ly" variety)
    - Using no "to-be" verbs
    - Using almost no prepositions to start a sentence
    - Using no "was's" (for an active voice)
    - Using almost no "had's" or "hadn't's"
    - Making sure I don't overuse words that I naturally lean towards
    - Plus many more small things

    As you can see my post is littered with the above mentioned things--writing a story without them is rough. But my writing has increased tenfold after re-writing my manuscript with these things in mind. It is much more concise and fluid. I also cut out about two thousand words of fluff just by writing in an active voice.
     
  22. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You're equating "popular" with "well-written," and that's precisely why pythonforger's criterion is not useful. It doesn't make the necessary distinction. Not everything that is popular is well-written, and not everything well-written is popular.
     
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  23. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Hm, very true. Good point.
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would be very careful with this, as it can be dangerous. These are good rules to learn and follow, but if you become too dogmatic and rigid in your approach with them, the writing can end up awkward and confusing. These rules have evolved because they have a lot of underlying validity, but you also have to recognize when they are better off disregarded.

    I've seen a few writers go through a piece with these rules in mind and had disastrous results.

     
  25. Cassiopeia Phoenix
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    Cassiopeia Phoenix Contributing Member

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    I have to agree with chicagoliz. I'm far from mastering English, and these rules only make my writing confusing. Sure, I don't use adverbs with -ly a lot, because they don't really explain anything and I do avoid repetitions of words and sentence structures, and everything, but... It makes my writing really stiff, when I police my words like that.

    I personally don't like it, but what can I know?
     

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