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What makes for good writing?


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#1    pantodragon

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Posted 06 July 2013 - 03:30 PM

I often receive adverse criticism of my writing on internet forums.  Sometimes it is merely that my pieces are too long, but often the criticisms are, essentially, comparing my writing to the kind of standards of good writing laid out by the likes of Michael Gove.  And as much as I ignore these criticism they keep coming…………time, therefore I think, for a counter-attack…………

I shall resort to an oft-used (and oft misunderstood) ploy: an analogy.

This time I shall use the film The Slipper and the Rose.  It is a musical version of the Cinderella story.

In this version the essence of the story is that the Prince is determined to wed for love while his parents are determined he should eschew love and make a marital alliance for the good of the state.

When the Prince tries to persuade his parent to his opinion, they reply with:
“What has love got to do with getting married?
Why should love enter into it at all?
Love can make you quite emotionally harried when you're married;
It's pedantic and romantic falderal.
Find a mate, dear boy, find a mate --
Princess Susan, Princess Karen, Princess Kate.
Find a mate, dear boy, find a mate;
Love will have to wait.
What has love got to do with being married?
Being married is a problem all its own.
Love is highly overrated and makes marriage complicated
When the bed is elevated to the throne.
Find a mate, dear boy, find a mate.
Pick the proper princess, prime to propagate.
Find a mate, dear boy, find a mate.
Love will have to wait.
There is many an eligible maiden
Of good family with title of her own,
Who would come to us bountif'ly beladen
With an army that could fortify our throne.
What has marriage got to do with being happy?
Being married can't compare with being royal --
Being royal you engender every luxury and splendor,
While a marriage can get overripe and spoil.
Find a mate, dear cousin, set the date.
Why procrastinate and stay the hand of fate?
Find a mate, dear cousin, set the date.
Happiness can always wait.”



To make this analogy work, you have to think of a person getting ‘married’ to their ‘work’, or hobby or interest.  Then the choice is either getting married to your hobby for love or getting married to it for gain/security/whatever.  I will assume that most people will see that it is desirable to love your work/hobby/interest rather than just doing it for gain etc.  To do a hobby for gain is like making a loveless marriage for gain, and you end up with something cold and empty that you have to drive yourself to maintain.  In the film the Princes’ father, the King, tries to give advice to his son on how to deal with marrying, like he himself did, for reasons of state: “when I took your mother,” he says, “I closed my eyes and thought of Euphrania (his kingdom).”

So far I rather suspect that most people are with me and will agree that the ideal situation is to love your interests/hobbies/work (though I can imagine an interjection here along the lines of self-sacrifice but not for personal gain.)  Anyway, the next step is to consider the implications as regards the WAY one writes. (or does anything else for that matter.)

There is always a ‘rule book’; whether it is for writing or anything else, there are standard ways of doing things and they are laid out in ‘instruction books’, text books or the like.

In the context of the film, the rule book is Forms of Address for Royal Occasions by De Lyon. The song that goes along with this speaks, not about rules, but about PROTOCOLS, and why they are so valuable:

“Yes, we must be protocoligorically correct
Good form must never suffer from neglect
The rules and regulations we respect
Must be treated circumspect
Else the kingdom will be wrecked
We've a system to protect
Checked and double checked and protocoligorically correct
When it's army is battered and broken
And back to it's borders it crawls
To what clings a tottering kingdom
If not to it's protocols
And when the treasure is tapped of it's treasures
Are the tapestries stripped from the walls?
No, the court carries on with it's pleasures
Inquisitions and banquets and balls
But they must be protocoligorically correct
Good form must never suffer from neglect
The rules and regulations we respect
Must be treated circumspect
Else the kingdom will be wrecked
We've a system to protect
Checked and double checked and protocoligorically correct
If the daughter of the Duchess of Snodden
Were to be seated by the Countess of Sneed
For this breach of decorum to Snodden
The invasion of Sneed would proceed
And seek the heiress to the barony of Neuburg
By the side of her hated cousin, Gwenn
Oh, how quickly the armies of Neuburg
Would deploy to destroy us again
So we must be protocoligorically correct
Good form must never suffer from neglect
The rules and regulations we respect
Must be treated circumspect
Else the kingdom will be wrecked
We've a system to protect
Checked and double checked and protocoligorically correct
So we must be protocoligorically correct
Good form must never suffer from neglect
The rules and regulations we respect
Must be treated circumspect
Else the kingdom will be wrecked
We've a system to protect
Checked and double checked and protocoligorically correct
Protocol! Protocol! Protocol!
Above all! Above all! Above all!
Makes a kingdom rise or fall
So we must be protocoligorically correct
Good form must never suffer from neglect
The rules and regulations we respect
Must be treated circumspect
Else the kingdom will be wrecked
We've a system to protect
Checked and double checked and protocoligorically correct!”


In other words, instead of calling the rules of writing ‘rules’, one calls them, ‘protocols’, then one is getting to the reason for why there ARE rules for writing at all.  I mean, we do not actually NEED rules for writing, as we do not need them for speaking.

Protocol, above all, makes a kingdom rise or fall: rules/protocols are about competing, they are about being someone, about public success, about fighting (Rules of Engagement), about power………the last thing they are about is ‘love’.  They are about making a marriage for reasons of state, for advantage, not for love.

So the reason I will not be persuaded to obey the protocols of writing is because I write for the love of writing, not for gain, not to impress anyone etc.

To answer my own question, what I consider to be Good Writing is writing that comes from the heart, not writing that is honed and polished to achieve some standard that is laid out in a book of rules.  That latter kind of writing is dead, lifeless.  Writing that comes from the heart is fresh and alive.

As to communication: I do not myself any longer draw any distinction between poetry and prose……… as far as I am concerned it is all ‘creative writing’, and creative writing is subtle and communicates all sorts of things in all sorts of ways at all sorts of levels.


#2    rimbaudelaire

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Posted 06 July 2013 - 07:14 PM

For starters, it is primarily about content/substance, but never dismiss the importance of grammar, vocabulary and syntax. Buber (I think) once said, "Make familiar the unfamiliar, and make unfamiliar the familiar."


#3    markdohle

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Posted 06 July 2013 - 11:39 PM

I thilnk you write well and I get your point, at least I think I do when I read you post.....don't usually agree with you, but enjoy your prose.  Of course if you ever want to publish, you will need an editor.

peace
mark


#4    Insanity!

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 02:32 PM

Writing online is sometimes a tedious and fruitless task. I've joined writing forums and my work has been picked apart like a rib-cage at a cannibal party, but you have to realize that nobody is perfect. Good writing is writing that you enjoy and what other people enjoy to read. No amount of nitpickery, analysis, or breakdowns can make you better. Only YOU can make yourself a better writer. Writing grunts will tell you to stick to grammar, syntax, and while it is all important, the key thing to remember is that there's method in the madness. Study the basics, improve them, and never doubt yourself because that is the first step to failing.

Edited by Insanity!, 07 July 2013 - 02:32 PM.


#5    GreenmansGod

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 06:52 PM

When I write something I try to keep it simple. If I have to read something twice you have lost me. I do my best with grammer, but school was a long time ago. I write how I talk. I have lived in the Southern US for over 30 years. I have picked up a speaking habits and grammer flew out the window a long time ago. I have found sometimes less is more. To make a long story short....

"The moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible." Salman Rushdie

#6    Still Waters

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 07:14 PM

Not forgetting, depending where the writer is from, spelling can vary and might appear to be wrong when in fact it isn't.

For example : colour & color, both spellings are correct.

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#7    scowl

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Posted 07 July 2013 - 07:35 PM

Read Orwell's "Politics and the English Language".

The most important thing to me is to write what you mean, not what makes you look smart. Communicate with only as many words as necessary.

For example what is "adverse criticism"? "Adverse" is a terribly imprecise word. It can mean anything from negative to hostile to obstructive. Words get this way because people use them so often that they lose their original definite meaning.


#8    Beany

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 01:41 AM

Hemingway said he tried to write the truest sentences he knew, so that's a start; he also said writing was easy, all the author needed to do was sweat blood. He used short, simple sentences, pared everything down to say a lot with few words. While that sounds easy, it's actually very difficult to express one's thoughts & ideas with a minimum of words. Hemingway said writing was easy, all the author needed to do was sweat blood. That's my issue with Stephen King. I think he writes as if he is getting published in a penny-dreadful. The man is in serious need to a stern editor.

What I look for in essays are demonstrated good critical thinking skills that validate reasoning & conclusions. I also look for indications that the writer has depth and breadth of knowledge and understanding of the subject. Rules of writing  and protocols aren't necessary, but but unless one has the talent of, say James Joyce or ee cummings, or Marquez,or is writing for personal pleasure, rules/protocols can provide a framework for authors wanting to reach an wide audience. And I have a confession to make. I've tried reading One Hundred Years of Solitude half a dozen times, and magical realism just doesn't work for me. I'm willing to admit that's probably my shortcoming, and not the author's. Was Marquez the first to write in that style? It makes me crazy. Only in The Milagro Beanfield War did it work for me.

Edited by Beany, 08 July 2013 - 01:44 AM.


#9    rainstone

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 02:06 AM

Personally, what makes good writing to me is when I no longer notice the writing.  In other words, in a fiction novel, when I get lost in the story and forget it is a story.  The plot has to be fluid, no extra long descriptions and create characters that readers care about...even the antagonists..  I had a long time away from reading fiction and only read nonfictoin books nonstop for a couple of years.When I went back to fiction..instead of going back to my favorite authors, I branched out and tried some new ones.  I went through some newly published writers who had potential but needed development and others who were a pleasant surprise and I was glad took some chances.

My point is,,,writing is like any other skill.  Practice.  I write as a hobby and I am not brave enough for critics as yet (except from my professors!) so opening yourself up to criticism is great.  However, there's a difference between criticism and just being critical.  IMO, picking apart someone's piece is critical and, more often than not, downright mean.  Some people feel they have the authority.  The only authority to your writing should be you.  Write for yourself and your readers.  Know the rules so you can break them if needed.  But above all, keep writing and practicing your craft.

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#10    scowl

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 03:59 PM

View PostBeany, on 08 July 2013 - 01:41 AM, said:

Hemingway said he tried to write the truest sentences he knew, so that's a start; he also said writing was easy, all the author needed to do was sweat blood. He used short, simple sentences, pared everything down to say a lot with few words. While that sounds easy, it's actually very difficult to express one's thoughts & ideas with a minimum of words.

As Orwell pointed out that's one of the problems with the written language. When you try to express your thoughts, ready-made phrases that sound smart just pop into your head even though they don't really express what you're thinking. This is what he based Doublespeak on in "1984". It's important to read what you write from the perspective of a reader and ask yourself "Is this really what I meant to say?" Even Orwell said he had to rewrite "Politics and the English Language" because he found he had fallen into the traps he was describing!

Authors tend to use big words and verbiage to make themselves appear smart to readers.

Oh wait, that sentence didn't sound very smart! Let me try again...

Methinks authors feel compelled to incorporate lengthy words within their prose in order to establish a scenario in which the readers mistakenly conclude that the author's intellectual superiority is an established fact.

Obviously I'm the Mayor of Geniusville!


#11    pantodragon

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 04:05 PM

View PostBeany, on 08 July 2013 - 01:41 AM, said:

And I have a confession to make. I've tried reading One Hundred Years of Solitude half a dozen times, and magical realism just doesn't work for me. I'm willing to admit that's probably my shortcoming, and not the author's. Was Marquez the first to write in that style? It makes me crazy. Only in The Milagro Beanfield War did it work for me.

I think magic realism originated with Borges.  I found magic realism took me to a whole new level of understanding.  To achieve this I had to decide to believe everything I read.  In other words, for example, if the writer talked of flowers falling out of the sky, I have to believe that he is telling the truth --- at least, as he perceives it.  So, I moved to a position of accepting that reality can, to some extent, be different for different people.


#12    pantodragon

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 04:10 PM

View Postscowl, on 08 July 2013 - 03:59 PM, said:


It's important to read what you write from the perspective of a reader and ask yourself "Is this really what I meant to say?"

I used to write like that.  I didn't do it consciously but through trying to achieve what is considered to be good writing, I just kind of established an imaginary reader in my head who would question every argument, assess every sentence for its lucidity.  That imaginary reader was very tedious. I have moved on, but I have had to train myself to ignore the imaginary reader.


#13    scowl

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Posted 08 July 2013 - 07:38 PM

View Postpantodragon, on 08 July 2013 - 04:10 PM, said:

I used to write like that.  I didn't do it consciously but through trying to achieve what is considered to be good writing, I just kind of established an imaginary reader in my head who would question every argument, assess every sentence for its lucidity.  That imaginary reader was very tedious. I have moved on, but I have had to train myself to ignore the imaginary reader.

So now you write like no one is going to read it?


#14    pantodragon

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 01:46 PM

View Postscowl, on 08 July 2013 - 07:38 PM, said:

So now you write like no one is going to read it?

I write for myself according to my own likes and dislikes.  If I happen to want to write something that is very clear and simple, then I can do so judging for myself just how clear and simple it is.  If I wish to write discursively in a more poetic voice, then I can do so.  I can adopt whatever voice I choose, but it is I who am the judge of my writing and it is MY likes and dislikes that rule.


#15    third_eye

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Posted 11 July 2013 - 02:37 PM

Good Readers are important too ... nowadays ... they makes or kills a title ...


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