1. kehl
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    kehl Member

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    Writing Skill vs. Ideas

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by kehl, Aug 6, 2009.

    I'll preface: I write for an alternative weekly with a purported readership of 105,000+. Bluntly put, I'm an relatively abysmal writer--sure I could out write the average layman, but compared to an actual writer: I can't even hold a candle. It boggles my mind that I have a job. Keep in mind, they actively sought me out after my internship. When I turn in an article, I do so with reddened ears and a blushed face because I know how awful my writing is. I'm young and I have a decent sense of humor--I'm fairly succinct here so I know my humor doesn't show--are my only theories as to why they keep me around. But they edit my work so thoroughly that the structure of my ideas (and some jokes) are all that remains; and it just boggles my mind that they'd go through so much work and never bat an eye or imply that I'm doing a bad job!

    So, with a good editor: are ideas more important than actual writing skill?

    And, hey, if someone wants to edit my post for grammar, I'd be thrilled as I'm really trying to focus on grammar right now.

    Sorry for posting so many threads; I just don't have much to add to others threads until I really know what I'm talking about.
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my opinion, ideas matter little. It is only the skill of the author that sees them through to a successful conclusion. The most banal of ideas can be dealt with skillfully to tremendous effect. Similarly, the best of ideas can be dealt with poorly to unsurprisingly poor effect.

    On a lighter note, surely your writing cannot be that bad! Remember you are employed to write. If you were as bad as you claim to be, your services would no longer be required! Chin up, confidence is a great cure.
     
  3. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with most of what the honorable Mr. Gannon said, and I am sure that you are a better writer than you think.

    Dan Brown is a celebrated author, to put it mildly, he became both infamous and famous because of a silly little book with a very controversial idea. If you actually look at the writing though, I for one was unimpressed. It was relatively pedestrian, what I call airport paperback literature.

    Hes not the only one, I am not particularly impressed with Rowling, Meyer, or King, but thats just me:rolleyes:

    Id take a pointless Bradbury short story over a King chronicle any day. Being a good writer is not necessarily the best thing for commercial fiction, nor is commercial fiction always good literature.

    A story can be poorly written with a good idea or vice versa, and good luck to you and your projects.

    You are the little guy in the trenches making literature history, keep fighting the good fight.:cool:
     
  4. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    As has been already said, writing skills matter more than an idea. That being said, you probably have more skill than you realize. Let me tell you a short story. I have a friend that began writing magazine articles for fun. After his enthusiasm waned, he still found some of his work in demand. He has long lost the interest in the material or even the fire he first felt when he started, but the work he churns out now is actually of a much higher quality. Though he doesn't see it. I submit that it might you are a skilled writer but that either you have found yourself in a similar situation.

    Let me leave you with a quote, "All too often we take our blessings for granted and think mundane what all around us know to be miraculous" - S.E. Gow
     
  5. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's been said that ideas are a dime a dozen. That's probably true, with really good ideas being two for a buck.

    There are two factors that go beyond the idea stage. Actually writing the whole idea down, and then writing it in such a fashion that it is something that others will want to read and keeps their interest (that includes writing well enough that agents and editors will consider representing/publishing it). Those are the real tricks to success in writing as I see it.

    Terry
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I agree with Terry.

    I also agree with those who said you're probably a better writer than you think. Just keep working to improve your writing, pay attention to the edits, learn from them, and don't get discouraged!

    You must be doing something right; you already have a job in writing. The only way to go from there is up.

    Congrats on the success you already have.:)
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Star Wars was just an idea Lukas had. He hired a ghost writer to write it for him. But he thought up the characters, the plot, everything.

    Ideas are gold, IMO.

    Not everyone can be funny. Matter of fact, humor is hard to come by. If I owned a company, I wouldn't care how much editing my editor had to do if my writer was awesomely funny.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great writing without anything good to say is just an exercise of words. Aestethics. Pretty shapes without contents. Like a plastic fork or a designer toilet - beautifully shaped, but still just a fork and a toilet. Anyone can go to school and learn this craft.

    But it's like with visual art - some praise the great craftsman who can copy a photo with his brush, others swear to the painter who shows his personality in a rough piece - and actually has a personality to show.

    To me, well I guess it's a balance. It's sad to see a great idea wasted through poor craftmanship, but seeing great craftmanship alone just bores me.

    Great writing is admirable, but great ideas make my heart race.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Dan Brown is "celebrated" because he courts controversy, most often making up **** to cause a stir. He is not a talented author.

    Rowling is a good childrens' writer, to be fair. Her standard of writing isn't perfect, or even particularly brilliant, but it engages wonderfully and immerses the reader in her world particularly well with younger readers.

    Meyer's writing I can't stand. I think the woman is awful, but she does appeal to the teenage girl demographic.

    King can write, in my opinion. His problem, though, is that he waffles, and writes pages and pages of rubbish that could (and probably should) be cut.


    That is, of course, my opinion, but I think that really a good writer needs a combination of skill and ideas- if you have the skill, but no ideas, what are you going to write? Conversely, if you have the ideas, but can't write them, then it's going to flop.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I think Dan Brown runs circles around King, honestly. No King novel has kept me turning the pages like Demons and Angels, and DaVinci code. The movie are, bleh, though. But, wow, what fantastic novels. Very few authors have kept me turning the pages like Dan has.

    I read DaVinco Code in two sittings. Any book that can keep me that interested, is awesome, IMO. I would have read it in one sitting if I wasn't so tired.
     
  11. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I think it really depends on what you want to achieve. Some news writers which CNN employs are drab and boring. Others are more interesting to read.

    Really, I think the greatest skill a writer can have is the ability to convey what you mean to convey (emotions, ideas, thoughts)

    If I can create the emotion in you that I want you to feel with my writing, then I am a good author.

    The next part, of course, will be the skills required for planning and organizing all of your emotions, ideas, and thoughts into a cohesive work.
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Imagine a creative team of two.

    One of them a fantastic writer, a true master of prose.
    The other a visionary genious, so stuffed with ideas you could bottle them.

    Which one would you rather be?

    The one who makes the stuff up, or the one who has to type it?
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I would rather convince them to work as a team.
     
  14. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I would rather them both work for me!
     
  15. jonathan hernandez13
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    jonathan hernandez13 Contributing Member Contributor

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    me too, I am very practical about writing, its not just to be famous, but as the joker said in the Dark Knight

    'if youre good at something, never do it for free!'

    'I write to escape, to escape poverty' Edgar Rice Burroughs:)
     
  16. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess it also depends on where you imagine ideas to end and writing to begin. A book could be seen as one general idea with alot of writing around it, or every paragraph could be seen as an idea. Even a single line of dialogue could be seen as an idea, stated in a few words. I guess it's hard to define where one stops and the other begins.

    I'm thinking about Fight Club as an example. That story is nothing but ideas on a long chain. Original, outrageous, funny and true ideas. That's what makes it special.
     
  17. Brode
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    Brode Member

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    Hi. I wasn't going to say anything until I read a few of the responses, but frankly, I cannot possibly in good conscience allow this thread to just snowball into a mass of people telling you that it doesn't matter what you say so long as you say it pretty.

    Ideas are your lifeblood. Ideas are why you write. Ideas are what separate the greats from the trash that no one will care about or even remember in ten years. You do need both, understand; ideas cannot be well conveyed without writing skill, and writing skill is empty and worth nothing without ideas. However, ideas do not follow writing skill. You can write brilliant nothings for ages and never develop a truly magnificent idea. But if you have ideas, the writing skills will come. You can always learn to write brilliantly; thinking brilliantly is quite a bit less common.

    That is all.
     
  18. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There seems to be an argument of this sort among writers and critics. Writer A might be critical of writer B because while B may have an excellent plot/idea, his writing is mediocre. In the other case, B might not like A's writing because nothing much happens in A's book, and A is instead more focused on the quality of prose more than anything else. Critics sometimes have the same problem when reviewing a book. Sometimes you'll see a book with a very good plot which receives negative reviews. I tend to lean towards good prose rather than a good plot. Some of the books we admire have very little plot when compared to something like Harry Potter. I guess sometimes writers like to write a piece showcasing their mastery of prose, and I don't really see anything wrong with that. After all, a great idea without great writing is nothing.
     
  19. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^ I agree. I mean, if you've got great ideas but can't put pen to paper, then you've got nada. Conversely, if you've got a talent for prose, you can at least do something (literary-wise) with that talent.
     
  20. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I've read both (as most people probably have). Bret Easton Ellis' ideas are generarlly simple (guy goes home for 10 days, love triangle on college campus, wall st yuppie/serial killer, etc) and the stories relatively uneventful, but they are elevated to dizzying heights by his prose, his style. Few can compete with him at his best.
    On the other hand, there's something like 1984, another of my favourite books, which is so full of incredibly imagined, brilliantly original ideas supported by great writing (but not writing so amazing that Orwell would be remembered for his prose above anything else).
    Either way, they're both just means to an end. Judge them for the experience they deliver, not the way it was delivered. (although of course, if you judge it to be an experience worth analysing, you should go back and see how it all works, but still shouldn't judge one way to be better than another, just different).
     
  21. sukumar
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    sukumar New Member

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    how much time?

    i agree both idea and prose are important. But, i am wondering how much should we dedicate to the thinking process and the writing process...
     
  22. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    But still, I find Orwell in the number one slot of several "Top 100 Books of All Times" lists.

    Most of the books that are never forgotten are the ones that hold great wisdom and ideas about the world. Stories that stay with you are stories that change you - I think an idea can change a person. Rhetoric helps, but you better be saying something really good with it or its just hot air.
     
  23. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I've noticed a lot of Dan Brown hate in these boards. He's one of my favorite authors, personally, although the ending of "Angels & Demons" was atrociously unbelievable. (They fixed it in the movie, thankfully.)

    Most people I know who read "Da Vinci Code" found it to be a page-turner, exciting and entertaining. I found that I wanted to know what happens next, and kept reading anxiously until the conclusion. What I especially like about that book, besides that I enjoyed it (and I read it before it became controversial) was that it got a lot of people reading who don't always read. That can never be a bad thing.

    Most people I know who despise the "Da Vinci Code" feel that way because of the controversy -- because, how dare Dan Brown suggest anything unorthodox about my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? They rarely object to the writing -- they don't like it because, according to their evangelical beliefs, it's a product of Satan.

    I was interested in alternative Christian theory before reading the "Da Vinci Code." I had already read Elaine Pagels "the Gnostic Gospels," the translated "Naj Hammadi Library," and Burton Mack's "Q Gospel" before reading the Da Vinci Code. Those are all nonfiction books that cover the ancient noncanonical gospels (such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene) referenced in the Da Vinci Code.

    I must point this out, in reference to this quote:

    I obviously disagree about his being a talented author. That's an ad hominem argument.

    All fiction writers make things up -- that's why it's called "fiction." Fiction is, by definition, made up. His critics seem to be upset that the very things he claims are fiction aren't real! Of course they're not real -- his novels are fiction!

    The existence of the Gnostic gospels are real however, and it's true that many people in the early centuries believed that Jesus had a relationship with Mary Magdaline. He didn't make that up. He took liberties with the text in the Gnostic gospels (or rather, his character Leigh Teabing did) in that, many of those gospels portrayed a more godlike Jesus rather than a less godlike Jesus (the sayings gospel of Thomas being an exception, a text which did not imply a single miracle, but suggested a sagelike human as Dan Brown's character suggested.) The liberty in the case of Mary Madgaline was not the relationship -- that was there in the Gnostic gospels, exactly as Dan Brown suggested, including that he loved her and that they kissed -- but that there was a marriage with children, which is not implied by the Gnostic gospels, but instead, was suggested in the book "Holy Blood / Holy Grail," which he admits was part of his inspiration.

    I think this book did a service by bringing to the public's attention the reality that alternative views of the nature of Jesus exist, and have existed since the very beginning. The orthodox church view is just one of many, and an open and inquiring mind may be interested in exploring that history. It's a conversation, I think, the public should be able to engage in, without getting heated or angry.

    The anger that Dan Brown's opponents have, perplexes me. The reality is that some believe that Jesus had a relationship with Mary Magdalene, and some do not. This was true before Dan Brown, and it will always be true. There are some who believe Jesus was God, some who believe he was not, and some who believe he never existed. Why would it anger anyone, that there are those who have an opinion that is not also his or her own? We do not all need to think alike on all matters to be worthy individuals, or for that matter, good authors.

    I personally think Deception Point was Dan Brown's best book, by the way, but that one never gets any of the attention.

    Stephen King's novels and I have an odd relationship. Back in high school, he was my "gateway author." When I had long lost interest in reading, I got back into it by reading "The Shining" and "Night Shift," and soon, I had read all his books (except "Cujo," which for some reason never held my interest.) I think I stopped reading them with "Needless Things," which I found... needless... but have since started reading them again.

    Today, I find most of his books unnecessarily wordy, some of them utterly pointless, many of them have atrocious endings, but somehow, they hold my interest. I think he has a talent for character creation and his books have a distinctive personality that is sometimes appealing, but his plots are sometimes peculiar and he has a tendency to go off onto tangents.

    King's novels, I think, are good examples of every combination of the OP's question -- some were good ideas and good writing (The Stand, Salem's Lot, Misery), some were good ideas and bad writing (Thinner, Cujo), some were good ideas with good writing but a bad ending (Cell), some were dull ideas saved by good writing (The Girl who Loved Tom Gordon) and some were horrible idea and horrible writing (The Colorado Kid, From a Buick 8.) "The Colorado Kid" deserves a spot on the "worst books ever" hall of fame.

    I have no complaints about the Harry Potter novels except that, save for the last one, they were all rather formulaic. One Harry Potter book was just like the next, which was just like the next.

    But I like a wide variety of novels. The Red Tent by Anita Diament was a favorite. I enjoyed a few of Gore Vidal's books. I've mentioned Tess Gerritson, whos novels I've enjoyed. For a while, I liked James Patterson, but eventually found his books too formulaic and his villains, too shallow and transparent. I love the humor in the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovitch. Dean Koontz, I loved many of his books (but found others just okay) especially the Odd Thomas series. I've enjoyed several of David Baldacci's novels, and found others a bit heavy. I love every novel Brad Meltzer has ever written.

    Good ideas and good writing, I think, are both important. If the idea isn't good, why should a book interest me? If the writing isn't good, how can you enjoy the story?

    Charlie
     
  24. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I think we can all agree that ideas are important, too. . But the argument is that ideas are fairly easy to come up with. Just kick a can of thoughts around until something interesting leaks out.

    SK gets a lot of good story material from his "what if" method. . and some truly awful stuff. . (Needful Things) Anyone can walk around their house and mumble "what if. . what if. . " until a good idea comes.

    "What if my cigarettes could talk to me?" ... "What if my coffee were poisoned? Who dunnit? Why?" ... "What if I spontaneously grew a third arm out of my head?" ... "What if our pets were all secretly plotting stuff? Nah, just my cat. He's a *****!" ... "What if my crazy stepdad is actually right in thinking that when he constantly sees three or more like numbers in a row, it must be a divine message? What are the angels trying to tell him when they shape destiny to show him 333 on a lisence plate or 11:11 on his watch? Are they angels?"

    You have no end of ideas. . and coming up with a good one is a lot like panning for gold. You're going to throw out 99.99% of it, and this is normal. . even for great writers. And consider where/when/how you come up with ideas. For me, it's whenever my brain is free to storm, or when I'm doing/seeing pretty much anything, or. . ya know, pretty much all the time. . .

    On the other hand, I have to really go out of my way to learn how to express them. Over the course of my life, I've probably had hundreds of good ideas. We all have. We just didn't know what to do with em', so now they are lost to us. . .

    Everyone has gold in their brain. But, for the most part, nobody really cares about the little flecks among the gravel in your grimy pan. Refining your ideas and expressing them clearly is key. . . even if, somehow, you are lucky enough to be in a situation where you can just sell your ideas. . you still have to communicate them. Crap communication gives the impression of a crap idea, and you don't get anywhere like that.

    I think the main point is that everyone who isn't mentally crippled has good ideas, but not everyone can write. Writing takes work. Idea generation is one of our primary natural functions. . If you couldn't generate an idea, you'd be a vegetable. And it's inevitable that, if you're a functional human being, which means having literally thousands of ideas swirling through your mind all the time. . . you will have good ideas! You can't really help it; this is part of what defines you as a human being.

    I would liken the idea thing to running/walking. Some people run really fast. That's cool. . . good for them! But we can all walk, and walking is good enough to get you anywhere.

    That's why ideas aren't really all that important. . there is no end to 'em, and we all have 'em. . but until you learn how to communicate effectively, they will forever be slipping away from you, useless and wasted.
     
  25. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Ooo... Kas...

    Can I steal that "What if I spontaneously grew a third arm out of my head?" idea? I love it. ;)

    Charlie

    PS. I knew it was your cat! My dog told me!

    Seriously, I have several really good ideas for novels. My problem is that I can't churn out 250 pages a day like Stephen King, so I don't have to scrape the bottom of my idea barrel. Getting the full manuscript written is the challenge for me.

    That's one thing I have in common with Dan Brown, and a difference between me and Stephen King or Dean Koontz : At least at this point, there's no chance of me flooding the market with several books a year. More like, it's taken me a few years and it'll take a few more, but I will finish my first novel.

    Charlie
     

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