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What does constitute good writing?


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Initial post: 19 Jul 2013 14:55:47 BDT
E. C. says:
"Good" and "bad" writing have been mentioned a lot, so, spelling aside, what makes a book good or bad?
For me, any book that paints a picture in my head, makes me feel for the characters and doesn't leave me with a mountain of unanswered questions, means it's good.

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 15:50:13 BDT
Story, story and story. Obviously, good language skills, characterisation and imagination count heavily but above all: STORY. If we are not taken along for a good ride on the story-train, what is the point? I have no time for pretentious, 'arty' navel-gazing books. I want to be entertained and told a great story.
One of the first ever written books Beowulf had a great story and is a prime example.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 17:08:46 BDT
Good and bad is very subjective but I received a comment from an agent that supports my theory of doom and gloom for the literary industry. After reading the first chapter she said she was unclear as to whose story it was. I found it bizarre that by default she assumed stories must be character driven. This swing is a modern trend, and it explains so much! Personally, I have little or no interest in the mundane lives of random people (fictional or otherwise). I've never watched an episode of big brother. Why would I?

I like clever stuff, wicked plots, alternative views, reader manipulation and deception.

Has anybody seen this Fish Tank [DVD] [2009] ?

I watched it with a friend. Huge argument afterwards! Apparently we saw two different films. She saw a film about a paedophile, and wanted to kill the mother's boyfriend. I saw a film about a confused 15-year old girl.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 17:34:44 BDT
Can you tell me why this is bad writing:

[Adam] started to laugh. "Ha, ha, ha," he chuckled.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 17:51:36 BDT
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In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 19:15:06 BDT
The question was aimed at E.C. If you can't spot bad writing, how can you appreciate well-written books?

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 20:02:40 BDT
gille liath says:
Writing - prose fiction that is - is like acting: if it's good, you shouldn't notice it at all. Writing that tries to draw attention to its own cleverness is rubbish.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 20:04:02 BDT
Last edited by the author on 19 Jul 2013 20:06:19 BDT
gille liath says:
Yes it did - at least there are three individually good episodes - but there's a fair amount of navel-gazing too.

Btw it is one of the earliest 'books' in English - not, of course, in the world.

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 21:47:05 BDT
E. C. says:
well I wouldn't need to be told three times that Adam laughed (the laughed, the ha's and the chuckled) but how can you say that one string of 8 words in a book containing, oh, I don't know, 80 thousand, is a bad book? If it paints a picture for me, and tells me a story that keep me reading and allows me to have feelings for the characters, then that for me, is a good book. I appreciate the fact that not everyone thinks the same - the world would be an even more awful place if we were all the same.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 22:19:29 BDT
Yes, the reader doesn't need to be told three times in eight or nine words that Adam laughed. Repeated throughout the book, this type of repetition would spoil even a good story.

So, bad writing can be detected. Good writing is not so easy to spot because what appeals to one reader may be a turn off for another. In other words, we recognise bad writing when we read it, but we don't appreciate every book that is considered to be well written.

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 22:48:52 BDT
'Good prose is like a window pane.'

George Orwell

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jul 2013 23:03:16 BDT
That's clear.

Posted on 19 Jul 2013 23:21:03 BDT
E. C. says:
You know it's there, but sometimes you see straight through it to what's beyond.

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 02:11:08 BDT
Anita says:
For me it is very simple: interesting vs boring. If I start reading a book and want to go on with it, and (the important part) it has a satisfactory ending, good enough for me. Ending - if it is disappointing, even a decent book sticks in the memory as crap.

Funnily enough, if the author cannot construct sentences coherently, it never gets to "interesting".

Sometimes (but it's rare) the text itself can be very beautiful, so it's a bonus.

I mostly agree with the "STORY!", but not necessarily, there are exceptions

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 07:47:42 BDT
Ethereal says:
Good writing for me makes me think, cry, laugh, startle, admire the prose whether decorative or spare, and stays in my mind after I've finished reading. Sometimes the story does those things, others it's characterisation or narrator. The best ones have it all!

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 09:04:20 BDT
E. C. says:
Exactly what I mean Ethereal. It makes you change your facial expression as you read, makes you say things out loud like "oh no, don't do it ..." And hooks you in a way that means you make time for reading. Book in one hand, stirring the home made curry with a spoon in the other hand.

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 10:08:38 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jul 2013 10:16:20 BDT
Frank Mundo says:
I don't think good writing is simply about having a good story, whatever that is. The bible is said to have great stories and all of the classic writers seem to steal from it, but the writing in the bible is horribly dull in my opinion. And who actually reads Beowulf, a poem, other than those same pretentious navel-gazers the second poster and others tend to demonize? Good writing is completely subjective and has little to do with what we like or what we think we recognize or what limitations we put on it. That's why the only way to answer this question is to start with "to me" or "for me, good writing is ...." But is writing good just because you like it?

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 10:15:26 BDT
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In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2013 10:29:31 BDT
Ethereal says:
I think there is an objective yardstick for good writing that's more about sentence structure, flow, pace, rhythm, voice ... I don't believe all good writing should be 'show not tell', for instance, sometimes it makes sense to tell if the showing would be long and boring, and sometimes repetition is for emphasis or a quirk of the narrator, so these things have to be judged on an individual basis as part of the whole.
I also think it's possible to admire a work without it being to your taste, analyses of the classics often bring these to light. I think if an argument can be made for something there's a good chance it's good writing.
The subjectitvity comes in in the liking or not, and some readers are happy to overlook bad writing in the grammatical sense if they enjoyed the story.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2013 10:43:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jul 2013 10:45:29 BDT
Frank Mundo says:
I agree that there's an objective yardstick, but I don't get to name it -- and even that changes, especially over time. Even my own "rules" or requirements change and don't make sense. In the earlier post, Michael defended repetition and he's right. Sometimes you can use "bad" writing effectively and it's even necessary to be a good writer. In other words, I agree with you but I don't think either of us truly know or can name or measure our own likes against that yardstick of good writing -- at least not consistently or over time.

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 10:46:27 BDT
Good writing can only be judged on merit. Anything else is subjective.
Story and voice are key; if the story and voice are great, good writing will make them explode.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2013 10:47:56 BDT
Ethereal says:
I meant 'disinterested' argument about a piece of writing, not the author or their friends or even those who enjoyed reading the story.
In fact it's probably even more objective to dislike a story while being able to appreciate the good writing!

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2013 10:49:02 BDT
Totally agree. The thing that gets on my nerves are all those novice writers judging the work of others with their little 'how to' books. They bore me by pointing out POV changes, author intrusions. etc . . . and tell you what *rules* you have broken. Surely the only relevant issue is did the writer mean to do *that* and did it work.

Posted on 20 Jul 2013 11:00:27 BDT
"I think Shelagh has it totally wrong. Repetition and over emphasis are important tools in any writer's arsenal."

If a thing is worth saying, it's worth saying twice.

If a thing is worth saying, it's worth saying twice.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jul 2013 11:03:19 BDT
Definitely much better than having to read terrible writing when disliking the story, too. :-)
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  22
Total posts:  73
Initial post:  19 Jul 2013
Latest post:  24 Jul 2013

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