1. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    What makes a good writer?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by EricaJRothwell, Sep 4, 2012.

    I have been reading some articles on what makes a good fiction writer and read one checklist that annoyed me. It said that using adverbs were a mortal sin and that describing a persons dialogue with anything other than 'said,' was bad too.

    I've read before, as well, that putting in too many words, or going into too much description is bad abut I disagree!

    I like to build a world, or be immersed into one (if I am reading) and I want to know everything. I like purple prose! And if you only ever use 'said,' to describe dialogue how would you know in what tone the character is speaking?

    To be honest, I think it's mainly bullpoop and a good writer is individual. Writing is a creative art and shouldn't be reined in with strict (and stupid) rules.

    What to you think???:)
     
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't claim to be a writer, but I do read.

    For me, one universal rule is that for a good writer has to be able to write prose that flows. That is inviting to read.

    I've read books with excellent ideas, but with poor quality prose. I wouldn't myself call the author a good writer, though clearly they'd have great potential if they could work more on the actual "writing".

    For me, the biggest difference I see between amateur writing and professional writing, is the quality of the language. I think there is less difference, though still moderately large, between the quality of the ideas, plot, general narrative.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Whether you realize it or not, you've managed to outline the yin and yang of writing (at least for those who want to be published): you should not allow yourself to be hemmed in by well-meaning guidelines (avoid over-reliance on adverbs, balance showing and telling, avoid infodumps, avoid "purple prose") that become hard-and-fast rules (never use adverbs; show, don't tell; never give any background information; never use anything but strict declarative sentences). But, if you expect to be published, you must be cognizant of what will and will not sell in this market. Writing like Herman Melville, or Henry James, or Leo Tolstoy may tickle your fancy because you have a love of the written word and enjoy reading those writers, but as a first-time novelist you will not get an agent or a publisher to bite.

    Bottom line: if you don't care about being published, write however you please for your own amusement. But if you dream of seeing your work on the shelves of your neighborhood bookstore, learn the guidelines and only break them if you have good reason and can make it stick.

    Good luck.
     
  4. MeganHeld
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    MeganHeld Senior Member

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    Write the way you want to write. Each writer has a unique voice. You can use other words other than "said' and you can use a lot of description.

    Being a "good" writer takes practice. You want your story to flow and your plot to stay riveting. But, sometimes that does not happen first draft. Be willing to compromise cutting out parts or having to add parts. First drafts are meant to be written how you want.

    As well, being a good writer takes believing in yourself that you can write a novel. Most people will tell you what to do, how to write, etc, in order to get published, but novels must be written first. It may seem daunting how much advice people give out. Just write the novel how you want. This is your world, your characters and something to be proud about. As long as you practice and realize what length the novel needs to be per genre you are fine.
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with Ed - if you want to write for publishing, it's a good idea to learn how to work with the guidelines (don't listen to anyone who calls them "rules"). You don't always have to follow these guidelines, but you need to deviate purposely, not just because you feel like doing something else. For example, there are reasons to use "said" which have less to do with "rules" or guidelines but have a lot to do with writing skills. Not having a grasp of those will mark a writer as "not ready for prime time". And unless you have truly remarkable, fantastic, piece of genius story-telling skills, ignoring those guidelines will sink your book faster than the proverbial lead balloon.
     
  6. Program
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    Program Member

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    Make sure the articles you read are from a "knowledgeable" source. I can't say for sure if the article you read is written by a "knowledgeable" person, but from what you've said, it doesn't sound like it.

    In this case, describing dialog only using "said" is more likely to be the mortal sin, instead of what the article says, assuming you are referring to "fiction" in general and not a specific genre.

    By the way, that checklist sounds like it's targeted at certain people. It sounds to me like the author of that article feels s/he is superior to many (specific) writers and is having difficulty coping with the fact that s/he may not be.

    If someone or something is giving you "rules" for writing, always remember that the rules are more like suggestions - not something set in stone.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my take on the question:

    a 'good' writer is one who uses his language and wields his/her words well enough that readers can both understand and enjoy the reading of his/her work...

    a 'very good' writer does so with a level of expertise that raises the writing up to an art form...

    an 'exceptional' or 'great' writer turns out works of word-art that withstand the test of time and changes in readership to become classics...
     
  8. ...
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    ... Member

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    I'd also add, practice and life experience.
     
  9. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Thank you for your response :)

    I have to point out though, that some of biggest selling books of recent time: twilight and fifty shades of grey, are filled to the brim of purple prose and stray very far from the "rules,".

    It's all so confusing. I don't know what is write and what is wrong or even if there should be that problem. Ive been writing a long time but never tried to get into any technical side of writing until now. Maybe being here can help clarify the rules lol

    Thanks again! X
     
  10. Danvok
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    Danvok Senior Member

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    Persistence, dedication, and life experience.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Story trumps all. If you think your story-telling is so great readers will forgive structural problems, you're most likely mistaken, but it does happen. Just don't mistake the exceptions for the rule. The exceptions make the news.
     
  12. Samo
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    Samo Member

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    A good writer is someone who can tell a good story well using written words.
     
  13. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    EDfromNY pretty much encompasssed the value of the articles you read. Anyone who deals in absolutes is an absolute (choose your favorite pejorative).

    But, what makes a good writer? Well, first of all, you need to be fairly literate. If you can't write a cohesive collection of coherent sentences, then you probably need to go back to school and learn. Second I would have to say learn to be observant. Watch other people in your everyday life. See how they handle their obstacle, big and small. Check how this person will walk past a reflective window in a building and, almost subconsciously, check their look, stand a little straighter, hold their head a little higher, straighten their clothes and/or their hair while another person walks by with barely a notice of their reflection in the window. These little things tell you a lot about human nature. These are things to collect when trying to build the fine nuances of your own characters. Next is your own bank of experience. Relate the things you experience in your own life to your character building in your stories. Lastly (for now anyway), imagination. Take all of the above-noted bits and find unusual and creative ways to weave them into an idea you have for your characters. Whether it's an espionage, romance, fantasy, or murder mystery people - human nature - is always going to hold up regardless of the predicaments you present. People, as the song says, are people.
     
  14. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    Reads and writes a lot.
     
  15. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    Writing guidelines seem to change almost like a fad. When I went to school, prose was taught as a necessary part of English, with adjectives and adverbs a necessary part of that language. Overuse of anything though can be irritating to any reader. My own pet peeve is the word "said". If you sit down and listen to any conversation, that word is beat to death in every day language. it is not invisible as these guidelines persist in saying. Any one type of dialogue tag, if used too often, can be distracting, or a problem.

    But here's the trick. Its not usually a problem for readers. Its a problem for writers. When you know how something should sound, it can hurt when it doesn't. An example might be a guitar played by a beginner who only knows one or two chords but they attempt to play a song. When an experienced musician hears the music, it doesn't sound like music to them. The same applies for writing. When a writer, agent, publisher, editor, or anyone in this industry, reads another person's writing, they see the things pointed out in guidelines. The see excessive use of adverbs, purple prose, excessive use of improper dialogue tags, including the word "said".

    My own writing was peppered with large amounts of dialogue tags that were inappropriate to the event, mostly due to my intense dislike of the word said. In retrospect, said was appropriate in some areas, if only to identify the speaker, and in others, the action happening around them identified the speaker, so action dialogue tags were not necessary. You should understand one thing though. A reader may not understand the specifics of why they don't like someone's writing, just as someone who doesn't play the guitar doesn't understand why the music sounds "awful' to their ears, they just know that they don't like it.

    Writers, agents, editors, and publishers are more experienced, and know why they don't like someone's writing. Listen to your forum friends. They are providing guidance, and help. Not rules.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the thing with said is that, unless - like anything else - it's over-used, it is indeed invisible. Like the word "the". And if you're using the narrative properly, you don't really have to use dialogue tags other than said except on rare occasions. The reader should be able to 'see' how the words are being spoken without having it hammered into their heads with tags.
     
  17. SleepingGiant
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    SleepingGiant Member

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    In my opinion, if you need to use adverbs profusely, you are not describing the characters state well enough through other means. I've always read "Don't tell the reader something you can show them instead"

    What's more effective?

    "Shut your mouth" Tom said angrily.
    or
    Tom's lips pursed, his brow furrowed. "Shut your mouth" he said.

    Short stupid example, but both say the same thing, but to me the adverb sounds cheesy. If you describe the characters emotion AND use an adverb it is unnecessary. Let the reader make the connection of HOW they see your character speaking. Not a golden rule though, sometimes they flow well in a story.

    Please don't use Tom Swifties though

    "Who farted?" Tom asked cheekily.
    "It smells like they $^%& themselves" Sally said with a flush.
     
  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    The flow, and command of the English language, which comes from a combination of reading/writing ability and confidence, separates good from bad writers. A good deal of sentences flow better when they're longer then a couple of short, choppy ones. A great writer knows the pacing of his/her novel, and knows when to speed up and when to slow down. Good writers, most of which have been published, are able to reach a reader from the first sentence and hook him/her into the story.

    I could go on for a couple hours listing what makes a one writer good and another poor.
     
  19. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Thank you, this made a lot of sense to me. I suppose this is exactly me, although I wouldn't like to admit it as I've been reading and writing for years. I am a laymen, and although I thought I had a basic grasp of what was good and what was not I didn't always know why. As the person I am, I do prefer what would be deemed borderline purple prose. I prefer excessive description to what I feel is ABC writing with no description at all, but that's just me. I came to this site to improve my own work as I knew something was wrong with it, I just didn't know what. Hopefully I'll find out and learn how to find a middle ground between what I want to do and what I should do.
     
  20. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Ahhhhh. I see! You're right, I never realised that before but yeah, as a reader said is invisible isn't it, it just sort of gets washed along with the flow of the story. Thank you!

    When I write something, I see a very clear picture in my head, almost like a film. And I'm all about the tiny expressions people make. When their voice turns to a whisper for instance because something the other person said has devastated them. So, is it wrong to write the dialogue tag as 'she whispered,' or to include a line about her voice ' Her voice was barely audible,' or just not describe it all? And I don't describe it at all, how can make the reader think her voice has changed without actually saying it? Could you give me an example? It'd be MUCH appreciated x :)
     
  21. J. Blake
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    J. Blake Member

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    Richard's voice dropped to a whisper. "You see that guy over there?" he said.

    I'd imagine something along those lines would do fine.
     
  22. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Thanks for the example. I do see what you mean, definitely. The second line does sound much better. So, the golden guideline here is show, don't tell? If describing a depressed person walking down the street, I wouldn't write,

    she walked slowly down the street, right?

    Well, usually I'd use something like;

    She padded down the street, or traipsed, are these words adverbs too?

    This is exciting. I actually feel I'm beginning to understand some of these guidelines.
     
  23. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Ah, great. So something like,

    Her voice was barely audible when she spoke. The impact of his previous words literally taking her breath away. " Then leave me," She said.

    Would this work? Is it too wordy?

    I TOTALLY see now how saidis this invisible word someone mentioned earlier. Totally. You really don't see it in a sentence.
     
  24. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    I prefer long sentences, broken with a comma but someone one here said that was a comma splice and I didn't quite understand.
     
  25. EricaJRothwell
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    EricaJRothwell Active Member

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    Thank you, this is great.
     

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