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BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?

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Rick Fielding 16 May 03 - 08:11 PM
Rapparee 16 May 03 - 08:36 PM
Bill D 16 May 03 - 09:36 PM
GUEST,Q 16 May 03 - 09:47 PM
Rapparee 16 May 03 - 10:05 PM
Bill D 16 May 03 - 10:18 PM
Amos 16 May 03 - 10:22 PM
Stilly River Sage 16 May 03 - 10:54 PM
Stilly River Sage 16 May 03 - 10:56 PM
Amos 16 May 03 - 10:59 PM
GUEST,Q 16 May 03 - 11:07 PM
GUEST,Sorch 16 May 03 - 11:25 PM
Cluin 17 May 03 - 12:08 AM
GUEST 17 May 03 - 12:44 AM
Mudlark 17 May 03 - 12:49 AM
GUEST 17 May 03 - 01:02 AM
catspaw49 17 May 03 - 01:11 AM
Little Hawk 17 May 03 - 01:31 AM
Jeri 17 May 03 - 08:08 AM
Peter T. 17 May 03 - 09:31 AM
Amos 17 May 03 - 10:03 AM
Rick Fielding 17 May 03 - 11:07 AM
Clinton Hammond 17 May 03 - 11:24 AM
saulgoldie 17 May 03 - 11:33 AM
Sooz 17 May 03 - 11:38 AM
Little Hawk 17 May 03 - 11:47 AM
Jeri 17 May 03 - 11:51 AM
Stilly River Sage 17 May 03 - 12:14 PM
Amos 17 May 03 - 12:27 PM
GUEST,PEGLIGHT 17 May 03 - 12:44 PM
GUEST 17 May 03 - 01:05 PM
dick greenhaus 17 May 03 - 02:03 PM
Cluin 17 May 03 - 02:43 PM
Stilly River Sage 17 May 03 - 03:13 PM
katlaughing 17 May 03 - 04:16 PM
Uncle_DaveO 17 May 03 - 04:27 PM
Peter T. 17 May 03 - 04:33 PM
Little Hawk 17 May 03 - 04:56 PM
Amos 17 May 03 - 05:43 PM
Sam L 17 May 03 - 06:11 PM
GUEST,mudcat member wants to stay anon. 17 May 03 - 06:59 PM
Amos 17 May 03 - 07:02 PM
GUEST,wants to stay anon 17 May 03 - 07:17 PM
Amos 17 May 03 - 07:25 PM
Rapparee 17 May 03 - 09:02 PM
GUEST,Clint Keller 17 May 03 - 09:45 PM
Rapparee 17 May 03 - 09:57 PM
Stilly River Sage 18 May 03 - 01:59 AM
Rick Fielding 18 May 03 - 10:22 AM
Peter T. 18 May 03 - 10:38 AM
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Subject: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 16 May 03 - 08:11 PM

A friend of mine (well it's Peter T) sometimes talks about writing in absolutes. This always confuses me.

What makes good writing to YOU?

Is Moby Dick neccessarily great writing because you were told it was when you were a kid? Is something riveting, exciting and impossible to put down.....that sells a tonne....neccessarily bad writing?

One of my favourite writers is Edgar A Poe. Likewise Davis halberstam, but I've never seen their names together in the same list. Might I be right in thinking that a person who loves Poe might never have even heard of halberstam?

Any thoughts on what makes "good" writing?

Rick


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rapparee
Date: 16 May 03 - 08:36 PM

Let's first make a distinction between "good" writing and "great" writing. "Great" writing is that which lives forever, and my great writers might well not be yours.

Good writing, on the other hand, simply needs to communicate an idea or ideas clearly. Good writing doesn't hide ideas behind jargon or create new words when perfectly valid ones already exist. Good writing doesn't obfuscate.

"The brave men, living and dead, who fought here have hallowed it far beyond our poor power to add or detract."

Good writing!

"The courage of those who endured, who gazed into the blood-red face of Mars and did not flinch from their duty, nay, who hallowed this ground with their very life's blood, have done far, far more than we ever could do to consecrate this small parcel of sacred earth."

Lousy writing!

Good writing is direct, says what it wants to say, and quits.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Bill D
Date: 16 May 03 - 09:36 PM

"
Good writing is direct, says what it wants to say, and quits."

....ahhh, like "Finnegan's Wake"!


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 16 May 03 - 09:47 PM

Rapaire's example of good writing reminded me of a paper I saw years ago and have tried to find again. If Lincoln had submitted his address to his teacher as a school assignment, what corrections would have been made? Pencilled in were the usual obfuscations, clarifications and grandiosities of the average political speech. It was an excellent illustration of the differences between good and bad writing.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rapparee
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:05 PM

"Finnegan's Wake" is an example of great writing. So is "Ulysses." So is "The Canterbury Tales." So is "Cien annos de soledad." So is "Don Quixote de la Mancha."

Danielle Steele is NOT an example of great writing. She isn't even an example of good writing.

Besides, I never said that brevity was the soul of good writing.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Bill D
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:18 PM

ok, ok...*grin*....but I thought Joyce was NEVER gonna quit in "Ulysses".

"Moby Dick" is also great writing, but "The Old Man and the Sea" is merely 'decent' writing. Why? Because it reeks of **Hemingway** and I doubt it would ever have become so famous if written by 'Joe Schmoe'...whereas Melville made his opus reflect humanity without the personality of the author imposed upon it.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:22 PM

I think, with Rapaire perhaps, that there really is a divide between the good and the great. I disagree about Danielle Steele -- she's, well, "adequate" where Stephen King is actually good. But I re-read East of Eden a wehile back and it reminded me why Steinbeck is a great. IMHO.

IMHO the division between the good and the great has to do with an order-of-magitude difference in mastery -- the ability not to exposit but to craft richly. Adequate writing can bring many rhetorical devices into service. In good writing the rhetoric is admirable. Great writing makes rhetoric is as natural as love breathing, and wholly transparent.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:54 PM

There are some writers who have such a gift with words that I find myself occasionally pausing to back over passages just to admire how they are put together. Some of those authors are Edward Abbey, Louise Erdrich (she will take your breath away), Shana Alexander. An eclectic list, I know, and not all fiction writers, but these are a few I can think of.

Mark Twain had the same ability. Louis Owens. Leslie Silko. Edith Wharton. Harper Lee. William Faulkner. Charlotte Bronte. As I said, eclectic!

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:56 PM

Yes, Amos, how could I leave out one of my favorites? Steinbeck's short stories are to die for, and his novels are marvelous.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 16 May 03 - 10:59 PM

SRS:

Me too!!

I recall doing that often with Robert Penn Warren's fiction. The art was so invisible and powerful, I would have to go back and see what just hit me in the head!

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 16 May 03 - 11:07 PM

Not every work by 'great' writers, like those of artists in other fields, achieves greatness. "Huckleberry Finn" is a great book but others by Twain are good. "Heart of Darkness" and "Nigger of the Narcissus" by Conrad are great.
Choices are personal. One must ask, what does it mean to me?


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Sorch
Date: 16 May 03 - 11:25 PM

Good writing=clear, conscise, to the point with good grammer and puntuation.
Great Writing=Open to personal opinion.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Cluin
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:08 AM

Good Reading.

Cain't har'ly have one w'thout t'other.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:44 AM

If great writing = concise and to the point, then GWBush's speeches are masterful. Short, to the point, nothing not on the teleprompter. Whereas Huckleberry Clinton wandered all over the map with his speeches. And his speeches were better. So brevity's not the be-all and end-all of verbiage. Hundred Years of Solitude vs A Farewell to Arms. Thomas Wolfe vs haiku. Which is 'better'?

Wouldn't good writing be the ability to get your point across? And if your point is mundane, no amount of artsy language will make it less mundane. But if your point is great and urgent, it would tear through the barrier of words, no matter what crappy shape the words were in. Just like in cinema, you have style vs substance. Sometimes through skill or happy accident a nice balance of the two is reached, and maybe that is a 'great' piece of work.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Mudlark
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:49 AM

In fiction, particularly, I think the writer's ability to make characters and settings come alive constitute great writing, as opposed to good or competent writing, in which the plot alone carries the reader along. Steinbeck is a good example. So too, among contemporary writers, is Barbara Kingsolver (her Bean Trees is a wonderful romp and her Poisonwood Bible incrdibly rich), or Matheisson's At Play in the Fields of the Lord (please don't see the movie), or his Far Toruga. These books allow the reader to empathise, to connect, with protagonist(s) in a profound way.

Great books, in my estimation, are written by authors who are willing to risk all, expose themselves with candor thru their charactors. A good book is a happy escape. A great book will stay with you forever, the characters a part of your own inner life.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 May 03 - 01:02 AM

Davis halberstam, ?????



It is obvious, its meritorous examples do not reside within tonight's thread spawned by an open MudCat tap at the local Friday Night Happy Hour.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: catspaw49
Date: 17 May 03 - 01:11 AM

Strong visualizations. That's pretty much what Mudlark just said and I agree. I find a good schlock writer that can do it well and they are worth more than the "greats" who cannot.......just an opinion.

Spaw


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 17 May 03 - 01:31 AM

Great writing is fueled by great ideas, allied with great ideals, and delivered with great passion, in a way that powerfully inspires or moves the reader. And it's very subjective as to which piece of writing may seem "good" or "great" to any particular reader, isn't it?

I agree that "Huckleberry Finn" is a great book. "Tom Sawyer" is a very good one.

"Watership Down" is a great book. "Shardik" is just so-so.

And by the way: darned good idea for a thread.

- LH


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Jeri
Date: 17 May 03 - 08:08 AM

I'm not going to cite examples. Frankly, I used to read a LOT but haven't in recent years. I DO score writing on tests taken by school kids though, and yes, there have been some examples of great writing by kids. Some have been at least as good, if not better, than current professional writers.

The thing that does it for me is perhaps the same thing that works in art or music. The writing is effortless. The writer OWNS the language, and skillfully uses it to lead the reader somewhere WITHOUT the reader becoming conscious of being led. If the effort shows (ooh - look at the big words I know and all the complicated sentences!), the writing is difficult to read.

Writing I don't like and think is not good is similar to a minimalist painting or a song with too many words and little meaning. Those things are meant to make you stop and think "oh, how clever" - about the artist. I'd rather consider the work itself and think "oh, how beautiful" or "how powerful/sad/right/etc."

The really, really bad stuff makes you think "huh?"


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 17 May 03 - 09:31 AM

"Finnegans Wake" (has no apostrophe).

Contrary to what Rick Fielding says, I only speak in terms of relative absolutes. I think it is pretty clear what good writing is like when you come across it, but the whole process of writing and reading remains mysterious. For example. I just finished reading Jean Ritchie's Singing Family of the Cumberlands, which is a perfect example of good writing. The writing is often transparent, like a pure stream (the metaphor is unavoidable) -- as a reader one has no idea one is reading words, you just go into the space created by the author -- you are just up in the mountains as a part of her family -- and forget you are reading; and then every once in a while, the author "heightens" the prose, which creates a different space, during which the reader is both carried along by the prose, and also knows that the writing is working on a higher level. This is quite an extraordinary thing, when you think about it. The mind simultaneously enjoys being lost in the writing, but also has a similar enjoyment at the technique of how it is being done. Great music does the same thing, and it is no less strange. It is this simultaneity, when it is carried out well, that makes for good writing. Related to this is the feeling that you can relax in the hands of the author -- you know, like a horse knows a good rider, that you are being manipulated properly, and that the author knows what she is doing.


The difference between a good read and good writing is in this -- a good read (like most competent novels) is something you can get lost in. The writing is designed not to get in the way of your ability to get lost in it -- that is its task. Good writing has that something extra that compels appropriate attention to the writing without being intrusive. It is the mystery of style.

yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 17 May 03 - 10:03 AM

Listen to the man, folks. He's one of the best writers in North America today.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:07 AM

Interesting to hear the opinions here. I'm thinking that there's also a category for just how vehemently you tout your favourite. Are some folks considered great writers because their supporters are so convincing?

Thanks for the responses.

Rick


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Clinton Hammond
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:24 AM

" What makes good writing to YOU?"

Good writing and personal enjoyment do not necessarily have anything in common... Just because you like something doesn't make it 'good'... it makes it enjoyable...

This of course assumes an obective standard of good and bad somewhere...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: saulgoldie
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:33 AM

Not as erudite or insightful as other posts, yet I can't resist posting this here:
(I found them just by "Googling" these words: writing safire.

William Safire's Rules for Writers:
    Remember to never split an infinitive.
    The passive voice should never be used.
    Do not put statements in the negative form.
    Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
    Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
    If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of         repetition can be by rereading and editing.
    A writer must not shift your point of view.
    And don't start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a         preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
    Don't overuse exclamation marks!!
    Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences,         as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
    Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
    If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb         is.
    Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
    Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
    Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular         nouns in their writing.
    Always pick on the correct idiom.
    The adverb always follows the verb.
    Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable         alternatives.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sooz
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:38 AM

It depends what you like. In my experience great writing is usually in someone else's opinion and probably too clever for me. Good writing, as Cluin says, is good reading.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:47 AM

Agreed, Amos. Peter T. is an amazing writer.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Jeri
Date: 17 May 03 - 11:51 AM

Clinton, I think good writing and somebody's personal enjoyment sure have something in common if we're talking about reading for pleasure. Someone who combines words skillfully with no reader at all in mind is verbally masturbating. There are plenty of good authors I don't like, but somebody does. There are also bad writers I enjoy because I can still see what's behind the writing even if the author can't express it well.

Perhaps it's the ability of the author to create the desired effect upon the reader that's the most important. In the original question - "What makes good writing to YOU?" - my personal enjoyment of the writing is what makes it good. I'd also agree with Peter T. It's like music. You can just listen and enjoy, or step back in awe at what the musician did to make it sound like THAT. I could be oversimilefying here...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:14 PM

To dip into literary theory for a moment, I would point out that in every culture there is a priviledged place for the storyteller. In times past (especially pre written-word) and in other cultures the role has been mixed, with the telling of a didactic story the most serious component, and entertainment value equal or only slightly diminished in importance. A good story can both teach and entertain.

Storytellers can jump to the front of the line in many places; we require many professions to provide some credentials, but none are necessary if the storyteller does their job well. The skill can be handed down in families to add credibility, or spring afresh in the middle of a family where no one else has shown an interest (there is, of course, a musical corollary to this).

If storytellers didn't live up to expectations in the past, they weren't asked to tell any more stories. With today's storytellers, it could be because they simply aren't very good at what they do, or perhaps more likely, they're addressing the wrong audience in a marketplace that doesn't promote books very well. In our modern publishing world, things are turned on their head, and the "lowest common denominator" is often the marketplace marker that is most highly valued. If a storyteller doesn't write well but gets the formula (sex, violence, chase scenes, popular culture elements) right, and the naive reader has never encountered any discussion of how to be a critical reader, then the formula will work and books filled with drek will sell.

It's a good thing to teach one's children, the younger the better. It takes a little work to learn the difference between competent stringing together of sentences for fluff (Captain Underpants) or finding a seriously good book that is wonderful entertainment (Charlotte's Web). My kids read both, but they understand the difference. My kids know they may read any of the books on my shelves (so long as they return them!). I have set aside a shelf of books that I remember enjoying around their ages and I pointed these out to them. My 14-year-old daughter delights in these books. Farenheit 451, Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Love the Bomb are a couple she read recently. We were speaking couple of weeks ago about war in general and atomic bombs, and remarked that John Hersey's Hiroshima was a huge influence on my opinions, and that it was on the same shelf. A little while later, I saw Caroline reading that one. No one is forcing her to read "good" stuff, but when they know that it will engage them and that it will be useful later, they are drawn to good stories. My 11-year-old and I have been reading Frankenstein, and are happily anticipating viewing various versions of the story on film this summer (from Karlof's version to Rocky Horror and Young Frankenstein). This is one of the things I most love about watching my children grow, is how they learn these things and apply them on their own.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:27 PM

(((applause))))SRS(((applause)))).

Hugs to ya, mom!!



A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,PEGLIGHT
Date: 17 May 03 - 12:44 PM

As a children's librarian I have to select books for the children of the community. I also have to answer to the needs and tastes of the community. So I invite you all to read one of the Junie B. Jones books and then one of the series about Captain Underpants. Then tell me how to express the difference between the two.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST
Date: 17 May 03 - 01:05 PM

i like books that give you characters that you could know some where...the ones who could be like your ates in the pub...or yourself...the darker or lighter side...and especially how they face extraordinary events...like the fellows in Nevil Shute's On The Beach or a Town Like Alice...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 May 03 - 02:03 PM

Rick-
What constitutes good guitar playing?


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Cluin
Date: 17 May 03 - 02:43 PM

When nobody gets hurt.

Oh! You mean the other Rick?...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 17 May 03 - 03:13 PM

Nevil Shute wrote some wonderful novels. On the Beach goes along in its Everyman way and scares the shit out of you! I read a wonderful little novel of his about a tinkerer who goes to the South Pacific to retreive an airplane being flown by his sister. They had converted their money into diamonds. The plane crashed, he had to go retrieve the engine because the money will go to their child who is still in England. Along the way, he has these marvelous minature motors. I don't remember much more about it, but it was fascinating.

What goes around comes around--my practice with my kids is what I experienced as a child. My parents were both voracious readers; my mother was a fan of Nevil Shute's, and had the novels there in the house. I think she told me he was good, but left it to me to discover his magic.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 17 May 03 - 04:16 PM

Shute's best book is Round the Bend, IMO. Here's a blurb about it:


Tom Cutter, tired after World War II and the loss of his wife (he blames himself for her suicide), comes to the Persian Gulf to begin a small-scale aviation business. He throws himself into the business and makes a success of it. The business really takes off after he hires childhood friend Connie Shaklin as chief engineer, and soon after, Connie's sister Nadezna, as his secretary. But Cutter soon notices--Shaklin is giving semi-religious talks as he works, which are attracting attention and support not only from his co-workers, but from the Arab population, as they previously did in Cambodia, and when Shaklin is forced to go to Indonesia, again, he attracts attention and support, somewhat to the confusion of Cutter, who nevertheless is unfailing in his support of Shaklin, who seems to be beginning a religion that crosses religious boundaries.

Shute's most thought provoking of novels, as a new prophet arises in the form of an aviation engineer who adamantly denies he is a prophet, somewhat to the confusion of his friend and his sister.

Even the small characters (a gunrunner who, in seeing Shaklin and his work, is reminded of the small town and church in the Midwest where he grew up, for example) are finely drawn. And Shute often gets rather subtle--Cutter, whose first name is Thomas, three times denies Shaklin's divinity in a talk with the British officer, Captain Morrison.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 17 May 03 - 04:27 PM

Good writing: The Hobbit,   (Tolkien)
Great writing: The Lord of the Rings, Leaf by Niggle, and many others by Tolkien.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 17 May 03 - 04:33 PM

Interesting. I would have used The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to argue that a book like The Hobbit has a kind of excellence by limiting itself; while the Lord of the Rings is pretentious and a failure. The movie of the Lord of the Rings, so far, is superior to the book, because at least you don't have to read the thing, and can concentrate on the story.br>
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 17 May 03 - 04:56 PM

Oh, Peter, you have done it now! :-) Watch out for bricks through your windows and stuff like that...

dick greenhaus: This is what constitutes good guitar playing...

Equal parts of both technique (being in tune, picking and chording accurately and smoothly, controlling volume, etc.) and feeling.

- LH


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 17 May 03 - 05:43 PM

Any art must perfect its technique to the level needed to communicate. Technique beyond the need of the intended communication -- no matter how refined it gets -- is techica gratis technica, a non-starter. IMHO.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 17 May 03 - 06:11 PM

I agree with the idea that good and great are qualitatively different, not points on a grey scale of goodness. Great art often contains dirty details, poor work, unclear muddled areas, sloppy bits. But I think of the difference not in passion about ideas or ideals or worldly opinions, but in terms of seriousness about the art itself.

A great artist is serious about what they are doing, not about what they think everyone else in the world ought to do. A minor artist can accept that we write made-up stories about made-up things, and do a good job of it, within an accepted frame of reference. A great artist has to concern themselves simply and directly with why we do it, how we do it, and what if anything is worthwhile in it. And their work has to try to seriously try to answer those basic questions, in the way they make a story.

   If you look at Shakespeare's really great pieces, the first thing that happens is what the thing is all about. A guard comes to take the place of another, a king took the place of another, an actor takes the part of someone else, these upstart actors take the place of the older troupe, we're digging up old bones to bury the new dead, the entire kindom is replaced by another. It's all about the same kind of thing--signs, symbols, substitutions, language, writing, acting, art. It's so centered and fundamentally direct that it would take a quite a lot of messy details, bad writing, and dirty folios before it ever burned out as an engine of artistically significant meanings. Great artists are concerned with art itself before other matters. It's the job.

   But when it becomes merely intellectual, art musing about art, it's just a dead exercise. People may disagree about exactly when that happens.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,mudcat member wants to stay anon.
Date: 17 May 03 - 06:59 PM

Perhaps this, taken from a letter to me, about a small book of mine from an older, well-read woman might be one answer?

When I started reading it, I was unable to put it down...then, I decided I should make it last; so now I'm finishing it by reading when I take my breathing treatments. They are every four hours so don't know if I gained much or not, but believe me, I am thoroughly devouring every word. You have a tremendous command of words. I feel as though I'm right there with you.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 17 May 03 - 07:02 PM

Dear Anon:

Well. I'm just jealous. High praise indeed. But it doesn't answer the question, as it seems to be as much about you and your art as it does about the book. I do not mean this unkindly -- I am jealous. :>) But I hope you will forgive me making this slight but important distinction.


A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,wants to stay anon
Date: 17 May 03 - 07:17 PM

One supposed the comments about one's writing might suffice as one answer, as it was about the writing and its effect; which in this case was obviously considered good.

One realizes it is not a comment on the nuts and bolts, yet this one, at least, prefers the reader to be transcended beyond such minutiae.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 17 May 03 - 07:25 PM

One reels.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rapparee
Date: 17 May 03 - 09:02 PM

Mastery of an art, it seems to me, also requires discipline. Discipline of self, of technique, and of what is desired to accomplish in each work. Undisciplined, self-conscious, ennui-ridden art of any sort might have a vogue to a brief time, but without discipline it won't last.

This is true for both great art and good art.

At least, in my opinion.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Clint Keller
Date: 17 May 03 - 09:45 PM

someone said that the talented artist makes the best of all his abilities, but the genius does what he must. And the genius, presumably, does the great work while he talented does the good work.

I don't know that that's much help, but there's something to it.

On the other hand, there's the Great Works -- Lear, Finnegans Wake, whatever you choose-- but we'd be poorer without the Shooting of Dan McGrew and the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Above a certain (pretty low) threshold we can't spare anybody.

clint


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rapparee
Date: 17 May 03 - 09:57 PM

My boy scout days would have been far poorer without "The Cremation Of Sam Magee" recited (correctly) when the fire burned low.

Or Kipling. Or any number of others. Heck, I've even turned my hand to it for the amusement of my neices and nephews (but I don't claim more than that).

Without night, how would we appreciate day? And sometimes the dusk before sunrise or sunset is just as wonderful as the day or night.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 18 May 03 - 01:59 AM

Fred,

I think it must be a sliding scale on which "good" and "great" reside, and a quite nimble scale, because so many people would place different works at varying points of that scale.

To describe the works (or music) as we have on a binary like night or day would set up the argument of good/not good that many of us don't intend to construct.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 18 May 03 - 10:22 AM

Dick there probably are a few good answers to "what makes a good guitar player".....but I'm the last person who should try and answer the question.

A good guitar player is definitely someone who makes ME feel secure that they're not going to destroy a song with some instrumental stupidity.

....and yet there are many here who think it's how fast you play a bunch of notes.

I have a sneaking suspicion that good writing has no "in stone" definition either.

Would anyone (who recognizes the name sans 'google search') think that Harvey Pekar is a great writer? I do.

I'm really enjoying this. Thanks for the response.

Rick


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 18 May 03 - 10:38 AM

Somebody also once made a distinction between genius that is the epitome of an art, and genius that is something unheard of in that art. Not sure about that, but in philosophy, for instance, Bertrand Russell was a genius epitomizing a kind of skill far beyond anyone else's capacity, while Wittgenstein (his pupil) did things that were unheard of. Even Russell bowed down to W.
Tolstoy as a writer is the epitome of a standard kind of style -- vast canvas, extraordinarily detailed descriptions of characters, compelling narrative, etc. Dostoyevsky is like something from another planet, completely undisciplined, hurling you into realms you never imagined, his books are baggy crazed monsters. Both great writers, probably the greatest, completely different in every way. No accounting.

yours, Peter T.


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