1. E. C. Scrubb
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    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

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    What makes literature "Good."

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by E. C. Scrubb, Aug 27, 2012.

    EDIT: Oops, should've ended the title with a question mark. :D

    So, I have a question (as if you couldn't tell from the title).

    It's been bugging me for a while. What makes literature "good"? Here's why I ask.

    There seems to be two ways to look at it. One is the "quality" of the literature. However, isn't that too much like beauty? Literary quality really seems as though it is in the eye of the beholder. I've read books that are "good literary quality" and shook my head. I've read books of "bad literary quality" and have been completely enthralled. Isn't the point of the story to capture your readers, take their focus away from their world and your writing, and pull them completely into the world that you're creating (fiction), or re-creating (non-fiction storytelling)?

    If that is true, then isn't the quality of literature (in comparison to other published books) at least somewhat based on sales of the book, because it is a measure of how much the literature has reached the audience and persuaded them to live in the world that has been re/created? In other words, it has re/created a world that people want to live in - or a world of which people want to learn?

    Literary awards are given for books that sell hundreds of copies - maybe thousands. But if they haven't reached they're audience, then why is it good literature? Twilight (for instance) is pretty much universally panned by published writers, yet it sold millions, drawing teens and adults alike into a different world of vampires. It successfully communicated a story - achieving the most basic point of (fiction) literature - in a way that blew the measurables of the charts.

    So really, what is good literature? Is it a special use of language in a story, or is it a special ability to communicate a story that enthralls the reader?

    I lean a bit to the latter, mainly because in the end, language is nothing more or less than the primary tool used for communication - so if someone can utilize the communicative tool in a way that reaches others, then they have made a good literary achievement.
    ____
    Mods - sorry if this is in the wrong section. I just thought it should be in general writing since it deals with the way we both approach our writing, and judge other writing.
     
  2. FirstTimeNovelist91
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    FirstTimeNovelist91 Senior Member

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    Fifty Shades of Grey certainly "enthralled" millions of readers, but it was FAR from good.

    I actually don't think Twilight was bad, and Stephenie Meyer certainly grasped my attention. Her description was vivid, and I think Twilight had a lot of unexplored potential. It was also targeted to TEEN girls, so it has to be judged differently from adult-targeted books.

    I think it is a little bit of both. A good book also gets the reader thinking about higher themes or moral values. I think J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer brought up the theme of immortality, though I think J.K. Rowling did a better job. Twilight, as a love story, is decent, though very anti-feminist.

    And as for Fifty Shades of Grey? Sheer awfulness, though it hilarious.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    For me, it's all about language. Simply put, great literature has to have writing that is imaginative and effective in getting an idea (or ideas) across to the reader.
     
  4. Eva-Athena
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    Eva-Athena Member

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    I think it's how the story is worded. It depends if the story is "shown" or "told." As long as there are a lot of descriptive words and interesting vocabulary that goes beyond words like "Walk" and "Said." Also, the characters need to have some flaws, that is to say, they can't be absolutely perfect. Also, an interesting plot is needed.
     
  5. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Completely subjective. Point: A Professional Wrestler in the WWf had a number one New York Times best seller. A chirdren's book. Was it good? They thought so.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    For me, there's "good" as in technically well-written. There's also "good" as in the quality of telling the story. Ideally, a book will have both, but if it's lacking in one it has to have enough of the other to make up for it. And, as always, if you're talking about anything other than the technical (grammar, spelling, etc), it's totally subjective. What one reader loves and considers good literature, another will trash to the moon.
     
  7. TrinityRevolution
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    TrinityRevolution Member

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    I think Fifty Shades is a great example of marketing rather than what makes good and bad literature, where's Twilight is a good example of what makes people tick.

    I haven't read through either, but have read a single chapter in each, in the secrecy of a deserted department store aisle. I found them both okay to be honest, I don't read things with a critical mind, so have no real opinion on what makes for good writing :/
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It's a combination between the words, and how they've conveyed, and the character's themselves. A character who's truly alive will almost make you wish you can meet them, talk to them, spend time with them.
     
  9. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    To me, it is an addicting story. If the first chapter grabs my attention, or the story has something I want to find out, I will write it. I can careless about the characters unless they are the type of characters I like. I like characters who kick ass, have no fear, and are sexy. Characters who represent real people are boring to me. I like unrealstic things unless the setting has something interesting even if it takes place in a modern world.
     
  10. TrinityRevolution
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    TrinityRevolution Member

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    Now I think about it, I think it really is as simple as entertaining those intended...
     
  11. Program
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    Program Member

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    I think you'd have to divide this discussion into types of writing. What makes one type of writing good does not necessarily make another type of writing good. A great science fiction story is probably not written the same way a good piece of literary fiction is written. Although there may be some specific things you can point out (e.g. good literary fiction should explore the inner thoughts and emotions of a character - that may not even be "required"), in the end, it's mostly subjective. For example, "it needs to be very interesting" is completely based on who is reading. Different things interest different people and nothing can possibly interest everyone.
     
  12. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    its about the story mainly IMNSHO
    think back to your classics classes.
    those storys where translations of written down oral storys.
    they where not in their origional language and have been translated a ton of diffrent ways, yet you remember them.
    i atlest do not remember a lot what the "well written" english books i read in school where about.
    but the greek storys still ring in my mind.

    i dont think that is a couincidence OP
     
  13. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    To the OP if you listen to anyone on this matter, I'd say its this person here. Thibreaks it down and summarizes any argument anyone can make and still be realistic. I would add to it, but there is really no need :)
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to create a long analogy here:

    I like perfume. I collect it.

    When I first started sampling perfume, I liked the "pretty" stuff--the stuff that was designed to appeal to a big audience, including inherently pleasing and mostly familiar notes.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with that perfume, but eventually you've Done That. After you've sampled enough pretty perfumes that all smell kind of familiar, you start to want something different. One of my favorite perfumes now is one that smells like tuberose and mushrooms. Another smells to me like burned wood and cold tea. I've also started to understand the appeal and nuances of old-fashioned classic perfumes, ones that would have the average person wrinkling his nose and saying, "Eew. Smells old-ladyish."

    I suspect that some literature is the equivalent of those classic perfumes. We wrinkle our noses and say, "Eew. Too overwritten and abstract." Or any number of other criticisms. But my theory is that that we're not the audience for those works. That's not because we're not bright enough or sophisticated enough, but because we haven't been submerged in the _language_ part of writing and literature long enough to want something different, and then something more different, and then something even more different.

    OK, I suppose all of that adds up to "acquired taste". I'm arguing that much literature is the reading equivalent of bitter olives, dark port, or Chanel No. 19. I love Chanel No. 19. I'm prepared to accept that dark port has a complexity of taste that I would appreciate if I wanted to work at it. And the same is probably true of much of the literature that would have me rolling my eyes and putting the book back on the shelf.

    Now, once in a while a perfume comes along that's so staggeringly beautiful that the obsessive perfume collector and the average person wandering through the perfume department by accident are both knocked down by it. Once in a while a book is that good, too. But a whole lot of perfumes, and books, are at various points on the "acquired taste" spectrum.
     
  15. Reverie
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    Reverie New Member

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    Different people will have different ideas about what makes "good" literature. In general however, I'd say it's a combination of
    1) a captivating plot
    2) characters that draw you in
    3) eloquence
    4) the ability to make the reader think

    This is just me, personally!
     
  16. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I have to disagree with this to a certain extent. The rules of grammar can be broken in fiction, so I wouldn't immediately call a piece of writing bad if the grammar isn't up to conventional standards. A lot of writers break grammar rules for stylistic preference. So how do we judge these pieces of writing? Take for example Jose Saramago. He uses commas where periods should go (run-on sentences), has multiple characters speaking within the same sentence (yes, the same sentence), and doesn't capitalize proper nouns. Despite all this, he's considered a great writer. What makes him different from any other writer who does the same thing? I think it's a tough question, and it boils down to personal opinion at that point.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think one can tell when these rules are broken deliberately (ie, with understanding the rule and having a purpose for breaking it) and someone who just makes errors because of ignorance/laziness. With the stylist, the question of quality then becomes "Did it work?".
     
  19. Juganhut
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    Juganhut Banned

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    When I do not have to think about what is written (except mysteries), and it all flows together.

    Like others, Fifty Shades was a media baby. It is crap in my opinion, and if you pull up reviews on it %50 agree. The other %50 LOVE it.
     
  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    For me popular fiction skims the surface world. It's key aim is to be
    entertaining. When it deals in emotions - it's routine, no surprises. They
    take you down a path that maybe unusal, but no matter how original, it still feels vaguely
    familiar. Paperbacks also tend to take after the movie industry. Flashy action , special
    effects, wisecracking characters - whatevers in style.

    Literature however seems to operate on another plain. Not everything is explained, things aren't tied
    up, emotions are multilayered and conflicting. Symbolism cloaks deeper meaning begging a re-read.
    It's fresh and enlightening. But that doesn't mean literature can't be entertaining or even boring.
    Literature seems to follow along the same lines as art - serving no special purpose except, perhaps, to provoke an idea.
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm a bit confused by your terms. Literature is the written word, regardless of whether it's genre or literary fiction, nonfiction, etc. Paperback is a format - the content isn't affected by it. I don't think we're talking about the differences between literary and genre fiction - are we?
     
  22. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Paperback literature - that's a term of lowbrow fiction. Some of it's genre, some of it isn't. I could've said classics - but that conjurs
    images of Moby Dick - not writers like Anne Tyler. Maybe I should've said Literate Literature vs Paperback Literature or Junk Fiction.
     
  23. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    what you cant read paperback literatrue, as opposed to literate literature, i hope the literature your read is readable,?
    i dont think something being paper back or hard cover affects ones ability to read it. i have read the same book in both medians, and spoiler it does not change,.

    also who is to say what is junk?
    i dont like Harthown, i have not read anything by him that was good, he comes across to me as regressive who had an issue with advancement and ambition.
    and i think Arther C Clark is a brilliant man with amazing stories and vision.
     
  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you mean pulp? Almost everything these days is republished in paperback, so a book's availability in paperback really doesn't say anything about its quality.

    Of course, some of the pulp classics are now flat-out _classics_, so being published as pulp doesn't mean anything either. My view is that the sins that popular fiction can get away with, and the sins that literary fiction can get away with, are different. But both categories include plenty of very fine books, as well as plenty of books that aren't worth finishing. In a few decades when we've sorted out which of today's books have become classics, I'm confident that we'll find that both categories are amply represented.
     
  25. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I think you definitely need to have interesting vocabulary to get into that upper tier of stories. But what I like the most about any form of entertainment that tells a story is the philosophical questions being asked. One of my favorite TV shows has been House (sad to see it end). And they use the vehicle of sick patients to confront Dr. House with an alternate philosophy that he disagrees with on some level (or his associates might disagree if he doesn't) and there is kind of an interesting debate that takes place on the show while they are telling a story and solving the mystery of this sick patient.
     

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