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  1. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    What makes a "masterpiece"?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by seta, Aug 10, 2009.

    I've noticed that some timeless pieces of literary work capture either the Zeitgeist or predict some great thing.

    For instance, The Great Gatsby. To me it was a ludicrously boring book but for whatever reason it is popular work. Is this just because it is a reflection of the times?

    Then you have something like 1984, which is a fear-mongering dystopic prediction inspired by real things (some of which more or less came true).

    Other great stories have very novel concepts.

    So what makes a masterpiece?
     
  2. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    A novel's use of language and expression of ideas and universal themes seem to be the common factors of these books.
     
  3. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    To me a masterpiece is simply something I love reading the first time and then still love reading it a second, third, fourth...ect. time.
     
  4. daturaonfire
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    daturaonfire Senior Member

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    I think this depends on your definition of a masterpiece. Shakespear, in his time, was not a high-flying literary artiste writing in obscure riddles. He wrote to entertain the masses; in the same way, I think our masterpieces won't be the experimental literary fiction that wins all those shiny trophies. (Not that there is anything wrong with literary fiction, or shiny trophies.) It'll be the stories that moved readers, gave them hope or showed them a new way to think. Harry Potter's an example--even if you don't like the books, there's no doubt they are going down as classics. Those stories were too much a part of reader's lives to ever be anything less.
     
  5. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, masterpieces are books that have transformed me.

    The rest are just entertainment, used to pass time.

    In order to transform me, a book must show me a greater perspective; a glimpse of the source, a philosophy of some kind that I can use in my own life.
     
  6. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    The Bible: read it.
     
  7. Henry The Purple
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    Henry The Purple Active Member

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    Haven't I seen you Bible preaching before in other threads?

    I suppose a masterpiece is, in terms of literature, an outstanding piece of work that is brilliantly written.
     
  8. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    This
    and this.

    The defining attributes of a classic would be different.
     
  9. bickfordes
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    bickfordes New Member

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    I think there is a difference between a masterpiece and a work of popular fiction. The Great Gatsby is an American classic because it represents a way of life and thinking that has departed from us. It is not really read in other countries and I doubt it will outlast the next hundred or so years (mostly due to that horrible Robert Redford movie he he). 1984 has an interesting concept. I don't think the writing is up to par, and there have been many books predicting the future. Again, in 100 years will we be reading it... I doubt it.

    Now, in my humble opinion, a book like One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez, Crime and Punishment, and Madame Bovary are examples of masterpieces. Not only are they written in a way that re-defines writing itself, but they challenge even modern readers to think about universal concepts. Masterpieces are timeless, both in theme and literary intention.
     
  10. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I've read the Bible, I've even compared translations and studied portions in Hebrew and Greek.

    Some parts are quite beautiful poetry.

    Some parts are very coarse mythology.

    Some parts are outright offensive.

    An interesting read though...

    Charlie
     
  11. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    The bible is mostly just copies of older stories. I think the originals are better.
     
  12. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I have and it didn't move me.
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Great Gatsby may be an American classic, but its been canonised as English Literature and will continue to be studied for as long as people still read. Same goes for 1984 (and you're the second person to diss his writing, and I still don't see it....he's one of the greatest writers I've ever read....easily on a par with people like Flaubert...) They both deal with very universal themes and are just as applicable today as they were when they were written (which makes me wonder if you've actually read/understood the books. 1984, for instance, is only about the political stuff for the first third of the book - after that its a love story and an exploration of human nature that transcends any particular political message)

    As to what makes a masterpiece, as has been said, it comes down to nothing more than great writing ultimately. That is all that can be implied by "masterpiece".

    "Classic" on the other hand, has more serious connotations. A classic is a work that has been canonised for some reason or another, a work that academia deems important and worthy of study and continued readership. It may be for its literary worth, its value as cultural capital, its philosophical content, or usually some combination of those things and others.
     
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  14. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Okay, so what is "great writing"?

    Can we start making bullet points to categorically define great writing?

    1) Readability. Proper grammar and punctuation and structure are a great start to ensuring that your readers can actually understand the messages which you intent to convey.

    2) Emotion. Your characters must be believably human so that your readers can form a connection with the characters.

    3) Tension. There must be believable problems and resolutions to keep your reader involved.

    4) Depth? Is depth of thought necessary for "great writing"? Or is an entertaining story enough?

    5) Novel Concepts? I guess from the Great Gatsby example that really novel concepts are not necessary. That book was a simple period drama, and utterly boring in my opinion yet it has become literary cannon.
     
  15. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Firstly, the Bible is a GREAT book. Not ALL of the stories are re-tellings of older ones, the biblical account of the flood is not the same as the one in the Sumerian Enuma Elish, and I'd LOVE you to give me an example of an older telling of the battle between the army of Judas Maccabeus and Emperor Antiochus (don't think any exist outside of the Apocrypha).

    It is filled with historical accounts, stories, myths, morals, parables, poems, ad cryptic little bits of wisdom.

    I think what makesa really great classics a classic is a central and strong theme. Member 'Wreybies' has a blog post on it that explains it much better than I can, but the best stories seem to have stories that go beyond good characters or plots.

    Frank Herbert's "Dune" series was listed as an example, it's widely considered a SF classic, the underlying theme as Wreybies pointed out could be 'resource allocation', and in an age where we are bending over both ways for cheaper oil, anyone can relate.

    Lord of The Rings was another example, another classic and pinnacle that inspires much modern fantasy writing (and even gaming, didn't Tolkien invent 'Orcs'?). The underlying theme is of class struggle.

    The Matrix=Salvation?
    The Godfather=Love for one's family?

    Just some ideas, that's my two cents.
     
  16. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    The ability to reach a wide range of people and allow them to connect it with their lives.
     
  17. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    Firstly, the Bible is a GREAT book.

    I lost any possible respect for the bible when my girlfriend read me passages explaining how rape was more than acceptable punishment for certain things.
     
  18. natemjames
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    natemjames Banned

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    To me this is, partly, what makes a masterpiece.

    The fact that one writer can write a book of such incredible and unfaltering quality that it brings a message, be it philosophical, ideological, or just a plain good story, to millions of people across continents never ceases to amaze me.

    On a more basic or ground level, another part of a masterpiece is the descriptive language that a good writer can convey to the reader. There are very few books that easily take me on a real, vivid journey that I can picture every step of the way.

    But when you do get that, then it's a very special feeling.
     
  19. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    So what qualities of writing create this?

    That's what I'm getting at...
     
  20. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    The bible is a masterpiece because people constantly use it to make opposing arguments. What other than a masterpiece could so thoroughly befuddle its readers, yet somehow remain credible to those people?;)

    As for connecting to mass markets. . I dunno if that's really a "masterpiece" qualifier. . more like a classic.
     
  21. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think arron89 has given a great explanation already. Generally, a classic is:
    And here's why it's deemed important and worthy:
     
  22. Elistara
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    Elistara Member

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    I think this sums it up pretty effectively. To reach millions of people across continents, think of a theme that all humans can relate to. It needs to be written in such a way that people understand, and are guided on the journey with you. As a writer, you want to express emotion, make the reader feel something, yet not lose them in trivialities, or the more boring parts. Make it interesting, share a little different angle on things, and maybe not even make it obvious. Sneak it in there.. for them to think on later.

    Like, really mean something, and when you are writing to express it, construct scenes in which it can all be expressed without simply coming out and saying it. If you catch my meaning? Hard to explain, other than just thinking about a book that expresses an overall meaning, and written out in every day scenarios..

    And imo, don't drown them in description. I dislike books that do this, as I am not one to skip a boring paragraph. If I don't read every word, I feel like I might miss something, and like I cheated myself.

    I am not sure if I have expressed myself effectively here or not, I can simply hope someone got something from it. :)
     
  23. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    A classic is a work that has been canonized for some reason or another, a work that academia deems important and worthy of study and continued readership.

    Okay, I missed that, my bad.

    "This work illustrates perfectly this aspect of writing."

    I guess Things Fall Apart is a classic because it really encapsulates the feel of being an African tribesman during English occupation. Even though it's nothing revolutionary or visionary - it's more or less Chinua Achebe writing about his homeland's history in the form of a story, it is a classic because it's very readable and culturally rich.
     
  24. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you lost all possible respect for a thousand year old thousand page book because of what one line (and one author of one book) thinks then you are ignorant IMO. You can gloss over wisdom like "judge not lest ye be judged" and find plenty of negative things, but there's lots of blame to go around.
    What have you written lately that's served as the book for an entire people for millenia?:confused:
     
  25. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    There are so many paradoxical statements in the bible - some saying one thing and others saying another. I really don't care how old a book is. Anyways, it's been rewritten so many times, the most popular today being the King James bible which was written in the 17th century - making it far less than 1000 years old.

    The writings of Hippocrates, Caeser, Epicurus, Buddha, Confucius, and many others are FAR older - not that age confers any real value.

    Heck, even the works of Nostradamus predate the modern Bible.

    You still have failed to bring any legitimate reason to respect the bible.

    ~~~

    Edit - Is religious preaching banned on this forum?
     
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