1. Tella
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    Tella Member

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    Who is to say what good writing is?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Tella, Dec 4, 2015.

    Apologies if a similar thread was posted, I haven't seen any.

    So, opinions are a thing nowadays, so much to the point of near truth-extinction. Everything is an opinion, there is no one real "truth", something that appeals to one person might repulse the other, a sexist man might be a well-educated model to another, and so forth with books.

    Browsing the forum, I've encoutnered a couple of surprising statements, among them are flat out statements that some classic work of highly regarded authors are shit. On the other hand there are older-styled readers expressing that the newer forms of writing, and authors like Rowling, King, and the like are the result of literary regression.

    Although I've my own opinion, I see no problem with that. But I wonder, is everything really an opinion? Could a once famed classic be considered shit nowadays? If so, then what the hell is "good writing"? Who is to say what is good writing? If there is no such thing as good writing, then what is the point in reviews and critique? Is it a mere orientation advice to help an author better deliver their work to their own reader base?

    In other words, are books just a fandom thing? Claiming such would mean that there is no point in arguement and discussion between people of different taste, however it still happens. What I infer is that there is still some kind of "general quality" considered good. What is it?

    Let's discuss.

    Update:

    I don't mean to say that we're blabbering - we're not, theory is important - I just wish to take us to the next level of discussion. Let's compare between what's good and what's not, use examples, be less tame about our judgement, for the sake of understanding what we regard a quality work.

    Take sentence one and sentence two and comapre, judge words and sentence structure within their context and and explain why or why not they are good\bad. Just to clear up, we remain within the realm of storytelling.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2015
  2. ReproveTheCurlew
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    ReproveTheCurlew Member

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    Well, obviously this is a very difficult thing to answer. I believe just judging whether a thing is good or not overlooks a very important distinction between several things: Taste (do I personally enjoy the writing style, do I personally like the subject matter, does it personally touch me because I have encountered something similar in my own life), technically objective style of writing (does it invoke the senses, is the text grammatically clear and precise, do the images make sense and enhance the sense of the writing or are they too ambiguous, is it up to date and make sense to the modern reader etc), and lastly is it a work of fiction which deals with timeless themes, or is it 'only' telling a good story?

    The last point is, of course, very dangerous to talk about, because who defines what is a timeless theme, and in this part of an evaluation we endanger ourselves of becoming elitists. The first one is entirely subjective, and yes, it is up to the reader whether it is enjoyable or not. In terms of the second point one could say that it is subjective - but again, it differs. Some things are rather obvious (actual errors are a bad thing, as well as ambiguous images which make no sense), other things are not so difficult to judge, and sticking to pre-defined rules (such as always avoiding adverbs) too strictly can also be counterproductive.

    So yes, who indeed judges whether a book is good or not? As I think I have made clear, it is very difficult, which is why every criticism should be taken with a pinch of salt. As with every other writing, criticism is subjective, and all a critic can do is help the writer see how the text would react on a critic with a specific background. Which is why as critics we should be as thorough as possible, as to make clear why and how something does or doesn't work :D
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Above a baseline of competence, it's all opinion.
     
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  4. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let's assume it is all opinion. Not all opinions are equal. Some people are objectively more intelligent than others.
     
  5. Tella
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    Tella Member

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    Which leads us to a fair point. It is no secret that avid readers of books like Twilight or 50 Shades are deemed of low intelligence or just immature, though most range from teen girls and middle-aged mothers. However the point still remains: You read this = You are not intelligent.

    On the topic of timelessness, the world is varying with different people who each consider such and such topics to be cardinal. Some are even unexpected. I imagine that there's no shortage on great teachers who give an impression of maturity and keen insight, only later to reveal a primitive point of view.

    Great minds can surprise us sometimes. But until that surprise comes, those minds are emulated with respect. Hence even intelligence is a dubious thing.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2015
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not sure exactly sure how correlative this necessarily is. You yourself once made Many people make mention that people who didn't enjoy Snowpiercer were likely people who didn't understand it. I understand perfectly well what that film is about (and it's not about climate change) and still I did not care for it. Darwinian determinism.... yawn! My level of intelligence, which would seem to be up to the task of digesting the film, doesn't make me like it or appreciate it any more or less. It was, to me, a ham-fisted polemic of a topic that is jaded to the point of boring. It's a masturbation-fest where the writer and directer show me how smart they are, fap-fap.

    Now, to be fair, and to play devil's advocate, many people really disliked China MiƩville's Embassytown because they had no footing in linguistics, so they had no capacity to appreciate the two very different stories being told in that book. I enjoyed it immensely and thought it was amazingly crafted for his ability to weave the two things together, but if someone else who has no interest in linguistics reads it and fails to enjoy it's unusual disjointed nature, does that make them objectively less intelligent.

    Or... are you just bored, Nick, and figured you would add some kindling to this thread with a provocative, "iconoclastic" statement?
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never saw Snowpiercer. Are you sure I said this?
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    You know what, you're right. I inadvertently conflated two conversation together. My apologies. The part of the statement I remember being from you had to do with the film Inception, not Snowpiercer. Again, my bad. :bigoops:

    123456789 did not say this, but my point regarding Snowpiercer stands. It's a film that many people enjoy being "smarter than the rest" about, and while I guess I technically belong to that set, I still think it's a crap film.
     
  9. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    ME! FOR I AM THE ARBITER OF LITERATURE, THE DECIDER OF WHAT IS... sorry about that. Anyway, I'd argue what decides whether writing is good is if it fits the tones and themes of the book or scene. If a novel is supposed to be about something being fast, then I'd expect short sentences and very little internal monologue, as both of these can slow a novel down. If a book contains a scene about someone waiting, I'd expect a longer, almost more pondering monologue.
    The reasons I consider Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey as bad are pretty much down to characters, specifically the main one. A lot of their thoughts aren't things I'd think in the same situation as them, nor any one I've ever known would, because of this, it seems unrealistic to me, a personal response, and a lot of people agree with me. We think of the protagonist as stupid, with very little personality apart from that. Therefore, I am likely to think a person who identifies with the character shares that trait. Sorry if this is pretentious, but this just my idea. I try avoid this mentality when speaking to people as much as I can, mostly because I try not to be biased. In my conscious opinion, if you enjoy it, so what.
     
  10. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good writing is something that makes you feel the way you should when you read a good book.
     
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  11. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    To distinguish between what is good and what is not good, we have to look at books objectively. It can be difficult because style and genre and personal taste gets in the way. Even if something has literary merit, one can dismiss it as self-indulgent, tedious, pointless, or simply not one's thing. On the other hand, the reader who appreciates literary merit might dismiss best-selling authors. But those best-selling authors must be doing something right because their books appeal to the masses. And they drive nice cars.

    Subjectivity drives all creative endeavors. What defines a great band? Is it that they play their instruments well? That they sound like no other band? That they write catchy tunes and appeal to the masses? Or maybe they're pioneers in a particular genre.

    Heck, you could argue that, as artistic merit rises, the audience shrinks. And like you mentioned, classic novels are dismissed as drivel. Each of us can define what is good and what is not, but it's impossible to draw a universal line.

    There's no accounting for taste.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is a very difficult question to answer. I believe that good and bad are ultimately subjective. While it's true that people who've spent their lives studying literature have a better grasp on literary theory and concepts, that shouldn't automatically negate the opinions of average readers. Plus, it's possible to appreciate something but not like it (for example, I love the way Marcel Proust writes, but the things he writes about bore me). Also, one's experience will determine what one likes and doesn't.

    As far as reviews and critiques go, I think more than anything you're hearing an experienced person's opinion. My guess is that readers tend to read reviews by like-minded critics. So you're essentially getting the opinion of someone who has the same tastes and has read a lot more than you have. It's a good way to find new books to read.
     
  13. Tella
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    Tella Member

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    I like your point about identifying.

    When I was in high school, there was a kid in my class who once said "A good book is a book that I enjoy, and if I don't enjoy it, it simply isn't a good book."

    I felt a bit of indignation at that. I can't agree with that logic. I was at humanities back then, and one of my most favorite things was spending hours wrapping my head around philosophical Greek texts. Now English is not my mother tongue, and listen, I SUCK at my own language, into which the texts were translated. I'd spent whole days checking words I didn't know, then tried to grasp the impossible language of Plato and Socrates, and then to get the points they made. It was grueling, and I loved every minute of it.

    One could say I "enjoyed" the experience, but it was not pleasure, it was satisfaction.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In a word, yes. Not every style or tone or take is going to please or connect with every reader. It's not possible. Hence, the shelves are lined with books of many style, tones, and takes.
    This could easily be argued about pretty much anything in life. To some, the appreciation of red wines is an art that has its own language and inner world and critics and so on and so forth. To me red wine, all of it, tastes like shit. As far as I'm concerned, learning to "like it" - since I'm told it's an acquired taste - is just learning not to spit it out as cack. Neither view is wrong.
    For me (which I know automatically negates the point of the question) it's seeing that the writer knows how to use words effectively. There are no rules, only guidelines and suggestions. I cannot explain to you what I mean in a diagram or a chart, but I know it when I see it. Writing with deliberation sets itself apart from writing randomly and without regard for the tools themselves, which in this case are words. And even then, this doesn't mean I will enjoy it or feel that it was worth my while. I've ready many stories written by hands that knew how to use the tools, but didn't seem to know what they wanted to do with them.
     
  15. Tella
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    Can you portray those "guidelines", because I think they hold relevance to my words: "general quality considered good."
     
  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I may have asked you about Snowpiercer. I actually avoided that film because the reviews said exactly what you did. The Counselor was like this too. I hate those movies as much as the next guy.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Which is empirically untrue, given that I knew Ph.Ds in Women's studies and Biochemistry, J.Ds, and M.Ds, both men and women, who were all into the Twilight books.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Which doesn't mean the underlying opinions are more correct, just that one person is better are more intelligently articulating the reasons for theirs.
     
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  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, I can't, because what I mean by this is: Every rule you've ever heard about writing, don't use semicolons, don't use adverbs, don't filter, don't this, don't that, all those rules are not really rules because every single one of us can pull out handful of terrific reads that break all those rules. They are only guidelines and suggestions, and most of them are really only the first few words of a larger conversation about each thing that most people are too lazy to get into.

    • Semicolons have a use. They link two complete sentences that have a close connection of ideation. It's easy to think that every two sentences in a row are connections of ideation; thus, one starts to see a proliferation of places to use a semicolon and little need ever of a full stop, so, have a care in using them.
    • Adverbs have a place. Not every spot is a spot for "show". "Show" can slow down the pacing, and too much "show" starts to sound magniloquent. Adverbs serve to quickly give the modifier in a manner that permits quick pace (if that is what is intended) and move on to the thing that really is important.
    • Sometimes we need filter verbs. Sometimes the action is the point of focus, not the thing the action regards. In that case, a filter verb is perfectly appropriate.
    And these are just a minuscule example of what I mean by writing with deliberation. These are "rules" at the smallest representation of the fractal pattern. That pattern grows, made of smaller versions of itself, and we discuss other concepts like theme and mood, and still these are things that answer to when to use, not whether or not to use.

    And then we come to the whole item, the whole novel, and what the writer was trying to say with it. Was it a reflection on the human condition? Was it a gripping retelling of the events? Did the author really know, him or herself, the answer to that question?
     
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  20. Tella
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    I didn't say there weren't any men who liked Twilight, but I hardly imagine them being the majority, both from pure speculation and from checking out the statistics. But from checking it again now, at least by the movie statistics, 95% are women 25 years old or more.
     
  21. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Me personally. I think the premise of "It is all subjective!!!! OPINIONS!" is just plain stupid. Ironic ain't it? lol.

    To give my reasoning.

    I think there is an objective measure of quality in skills. Look at the writing workshop. See a post you can't understand, and read one that makes you cry an tell me these pieces are equal and only your opinion makes you like the other one. If you do? We are done. I am not gonna argue anyone that believes that. But if that is true. Why do we try and improve? If there is no measure of quality, than there is no such thing as improvement.

    I think the mistake is this. People misunderstand quality and personal taste. Liking something doesn't make it good. Disliking something does make it bad.

    Let me give some examples.

    I like the movie The Swan Princess. Is it a good movie? No. I still like it. The elements in the movie don't work from an objective stand point. But I see what they wanted to do, and I like that, and I like parts of the movie. So put the movie on, and I will enjoy it.

    Now take The Sound of Music. I hated that. I was bored as hell. Yet, I don't recall anything wrong with it. I actually am pretty immediatly turned off by vampires. So I pretty much don't like any movie with Vampires. Yet, that doesn't mean I think all vampire movies are bad.

    Lastly, take Pitch Perfect. I hated that movie AND I think it is a horribly bad movie. But these two things are not related. I don't think the movie is horrible because I hate it. Though I guess I might hate this movie in particular because I think it is horrible. lol. I am half tempted to read the book it is based off. Because the entire movie I felt like a story was trying to break through the pile of horrible jokes. I don't think as a story any of the themes worked. So as a structure of story elements I think it failed. I don't think the movie supported itself. So I think it is bad. And I didn't enjoy what they did. So I didn't like it. This is where swan princess because notable. Because this movie like swan princess both failed as good stories. Yet my personal taste led me to enjoy swan princess, but not pitch perfect. But I don't think either are good movies. See, personal taste and objective rating are not the same thing but commonly mistaken as being the same thing from what I can see.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Male or female isn't the point. The poorly-drawn stereotypes are. Humans by nature are tribal. In addition, some people are insecure. Those two facts explain most of what you need to know about this sort of sentiment as it pertains to books, movies, gaming, etc.
     
  23. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Those are pretty funny.

    There can't be consensus on this sort of thing, nor should there be. There is what we like, as individuals, and that's about it (above a certain baseline, as I mentioned above). I didn't care for Twilight (though it got my daughter into reading, so it's a score in my book), didn't particularly enjoy Hunger Games, and I thought the author of Eragon made Stephanie Meyer look like a genius. But so what? I know plenty of people who like all three of those who are smart and well-read.
     
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  25. Tella
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    I can totally get you. However, let me note the irony:

    Pertaining tears, let's ask ourselves, why is one attempt at emotion more successful than the other? It is owing singly to the boring-ass quality of one of them? To the intriguing nature and precision of the other? Let's ask a greater question: could you cry at something you have absolutely no identifying with? Perhaps the description of the intriguing one was more appealing to you, while another person found a waterfall of sentiment in the other, for all its boredom.

    In that regard, we could call it less a matter of opinion and more a matter of personality, or of personal fuck-upped-ness. I'll explain. I think that tears of sympathy, excluding ones of joy, are an expression of knowing yourself the object of pain which is manifested in the scenario. If you are an alien to a specific emotion, you could not possibly understand another's sensing of it. That does not mean you can't relate, but in order to do so you must find a roundabout tie.

    For example: A friend had lost a family member, you have lost a dog. You could not possibly relate to the pain of lossing a member of your family. What you could relate to is the feeling of loss, and in particular the loss of a living being with whom you had a connection.

    Now let's look at it in terms of taste. The movies you thought good or bad, neverminding the aspect of your own enjoyment, are judged from a standpoint of a certain agreement with rules. You agree that it was well-made, hence it followed a line of rules with which you have agreed. Agreeing is an opinion.

    So technically, logic is the item of distinguishment. You could not say that 1 + 1 = 3, that is NOT a matter of opinion. That said, another person could come who does not agree with your logic. In the essence of their personality, they belive or know, or have been educated to see a different logic, by which 1 + 1 = 3.
     

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