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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
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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
Amos 18 May 03 - 11:08 AM
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Sam L 18 May 03 - 12:59 PM
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Frankham 18 May 03 - 03:34 PM
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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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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 18 May 03 - 11:08 AM

Bowing down to Wittgenstein was an error in judgement.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peg
Date: 18 May 03 - 11:32 AM

well, this writer is coming late tot he thread, and hasn't had enough caffeinated libation this morning...but I do want to say I have enjoyed this immensely over the last several days.

I want to echo a point made earlier and try to get under its skin. I personally love that feeling that sometimes arises when one is reading a great piece of writing (usually a novel) wherein I am simultaneously appreciating the writer's craft, and also remaining drawn in by the story and eagerly anticipating the next place it will go.

When the writer errs on the side of overdoing the verbal gymnastics or technique, or manipulates that moment too far, I am lost. It is a VERY fine line...I am sure others hear woudl agree. But that fine line of course differs for all readers.

I think I notice this most with novels because this form can (and is designed to) sustain one's interest for an extended period. This also makes the potential dive into showboating more likely...although I also want to say the short stories of Elizabeth Bowen create the same pleasurable, thrilled reaction in me. Such grace, art and finely-tuned emotion...

Novels (off the top of my head) which I have enjoyed for the reasons stated above:

Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Perfume by Patrick Suskind (translated from the German)
Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
In the Land of Winter by Richard Grant
Children of Light by Robert Stone
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Friends and Family by Anita Brookner (though lately her books bore me to tears)

I do NOT enjoy the overly-literate, footnoted, postmodernesque style that seems in vogue just now, the sort of hyper-verbose Kerouac-inspired stuff by those guys with three names that are selling big now...a big yawn. Reading shouldn't be so much work...and it's pretentious to the extreme to write this way since the author must know only a handful of readers will "get it" all...I forget the authors' names, but books like Infinite Jest, etc.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 18 May 03 - 12:59 PM

S.R.S., I suppose so, but that so many people disagree as to greatness doesn't really change my idea about it. People are wrong.

   Having an opinion about art is like misplacing a twenty dollar bill somewhere--there's no authority to appeal your case to, no re-imbursement of the value you may feel you've earned.

    It's just a matter of what we find convincing. But the idea I tried to illustrate helps me understand why some stuff continues to matter, despite so many weaknesses, whereas other smoother and cleaner stuff passes with fashion. The meanings in greater works are more deeply rooted in the form and conception and raw material of the work, and not simply talked about in whichever form and manner was adopted, uncritically, as the way an artist is "supposed to do it". In great work, what the work actually is matters more than whatever it says. I suppose I'm a formalist.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 18 May 03 - 01:12 PM

Above a certain (pretty low) threshold we can't spare anybody.



This leaps out (in my view) as a really Great Thought, Clint. Thanks!


A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 18 May 03 - 01:44 PM

I had (mis)remembered this as a Mark Twain quote, but a Google search corrected me:

Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.   
-Samuel Johnson-


Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Frankham
Date: 18 May 03 - 03:34 PM

Rick,

I think there's a connection between great writing and great music. Now that doesn't answer the question, what is it?

To me great music and great writing includes great editing.
Everything that needs to be said is said. Nothing else.

A walk down a path..interesting scenery (maybe something you've never seen before)...makes you feel something...it's memorable...makes you think..and doesn't have distracting trash.....

Great words paint great pictures. A character comes to life with a few word-strokes.

Example: (EB White. Great writing.)

Warning on bottle: What's considered great in one generation may not be so in another.

A word is like a note or a chord. In great writing, each means something special.

My 2 cents

Frank


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Rapparee
Date: 18 May 03 - 03:49 PM

When people started communicating with others, whether to provide information or entertainment, I suspect that embellishments crept in. Not "the sun came up" but "rosy fingered dawn" since it made the tale more appealing to the minds of the hearers.

There's nothing at all wrong with making a good yarn entertaining (and/or informative). Perhaps greatness is just something achieved by the very best tale-tellers.

(I've always said that there are no good books in a library, 'cause nobody reads a bad book, so all the good ones are always checked out.)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST
Date: 18 May 03 - 06:31 PM

Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the writer's end, Since none can compass more than they intend, and if the means be just, the conduct true, applause in spite of trivial faults is due. Pope


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 19 May 03 - 12:37 AM

Fred,

I'm enough of a postmodernist to resist the lost $20 analogy about judging art. Much of what a reader understands about a work is based on what they already understood before they even picked up the new book. What they bring with them to the text means that every book can be subjected to many different readings, and that while some people understand a great deal, others might miss much of the action.

"The song is very short, because we understand so much" is what Maria Chona told Ruth Underhill, when anthropologist Underhill asked Papago Chona about the songs she was singing, and why there was so little to them. The cultural literacy and/or baggage makes a difference to understanding songs or novels. Some things are best when aimed at the lowest common denominator, others suffer for it.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 19 May 03 - 12:42 AM

Rick-
As I'm sure you realized, I think that good writing, good guitar playing, good painting and good any other artistic endeavor have similar considerations. In any of these, there's a component which is an art and one which is a craft. "Good" anything is when the craft is adequate to express the art; "Bad" is when there's too much or too little of the craft.

That said, the ideal proportions of "art" and "craft" depend upon the one who's reading, or listening or looking. I suspect that in most works you encounter, there's too much craft and not enough art.

As far as "Great" is concerned, I suspect the language would be better off if the word were banned. Something like "very".


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 19 May 03 - 01:27 AM

I'm, like, "Great!", Dick! Like, I hear what you're saying and its reeely reeely very very good, like. I'm like, ya know??? I'm like, there!


A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Doug_Remley
Date: 19 May 03 - 04:01 AM

A gallery manager who was quite intelligent mentioned that Mark Twain had said (though I am not sure)..."strike out every third word." It certainly does help readability.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Hrothgar
Date: 19 May 03 - 05:25 AM

SRS, that Nevil Shute book is "The Trustee from the Toolroom" and it was a boat that was wrecked, not a plane. Good yarn, though.

Some of Shute's stuff is magnificient, like "Round the Bend" and "A Town Like Alice." A lot of the rest of it was far-fetched garbage - IMHO.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: John Hardly
Date: 19 May 03 - 10:20 AM

Good writing wins Pulitzer Prizes.
Great writing gets chosen for the Oprah book club.

Good writers hardly ever use bugger or fart humor.
Great writers never do -- except for Dave Barry.

Good writers occasionally write happy endings.
Great writers never do.

Good writers masterfully disuise their cliche's.
Great writers invent them.

Good writers walk among us.
Great writers are dead.

Critics suck.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 19 May 03 - 10:40 AM

John, I disagree about happy endings. Great writers do write happy endings, but the journey to the end is usually fraught with chaos.

Moby Dick is probably not a good example, as it was a colossal failure during Melville's lifetime. His own audience didn't consider it great writing.

What constitutes good writing to me is, whether or not I believe what the author is telling me. Tolkien makes me believe that hobbits and elves and black riders are all Real. Anne Rice, on the other hand, does not at all convince me of the existence of vampires. I know she is a Popular Writer but quite frankly, I think a high school senior who knows the difference between a noun and a verb could do just as well.

I have a dear friend who is a writer and an English professor, and once he wrote to me, "The creative act is a holy thing, and God asks only that you speak true and honest."

I believe it's that honesty in a writer that makes for great writing. It's very evident when an artist of any type lets their spirit shine through their work. I know for me, it's the sincerity of that spirit that draws me in.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: John Hardly
Date: 19 May 03 - 11:56 AM

disguise. Omission of letters -- mark of a poor writer!

Kim, I was only half serious about happy endings (and less than half about the rest of my list) ;^)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 19 May 03 - 12:59 PM

Well, I kinda figured that, but what the heck. It makes for good conversation!

Leaving out letters is the mark of a poor typist - not necessarily a poor writer! ;-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 19 May 03 - 01:21 PM

Both good and great writers learn the importance of proofreading, if not by themselves, then by knowledgeable proofreaders. Or preferably both! And THEN mistakes almost inevitably show up.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 19 May 03 - 01:41 PM

I don't know. F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn't spell worth shit. He never seems to have learned. yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 19 May 03 - 03:38 PM

I am currently reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron, and while I am enjoying it, and finding it helpful, I can't help but notice there's a TON of typos in it! ;-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 19 May 03 - 07:02 PM

Typographical accuracy is the result of a totally different sort of training and thought than excellent craft in writing. It is quite possible to master both but they really are different ways of being before the page. And thereby hangs a great tale -- "Ten Years Before the Page -- A Writer's Confessions", which i shall ask Peter to write.


A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 19 May 03 - 07:07 PM

S.R.S., I'm not sure I meant that the way you took it. I just mean that although there's not any objective way to support it, one can still give themselves permission to feel sure of a few things. It may just be your opinion, still you can maintain it, wholeheartedly. We're all grown-ups, except for the kids, and don't have to always mouse around with open-ended evasions and polite shrugs.

   Many people prefer some kinds of art, which they don't really care very much about anyway, to other kinds of art, that they actually hate. Given this, it's not such a bad deal to validate your own values, despite that people may disagree. At least it introduces some charged positive energy into things.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 20 May 03 - 12:37 AM

Hrothgar, yes, that's it. I think I read the novel 30 years ago at least, so I was doing pretty well to remember any of it. The guy was a tinkerer with minature engines.

Fred, forming opinions is what we all do, and we form opinions about things we like and from there figure out what we dislike. How we refer to what we dislike is the question here--whether we see the like/dislike comparisons as total opposites (binary) or by degree. I think the binaries exclude and/or include too much, so I prefer the sliding scale for comparison. I don't want to try to extend this out any further--I have certainly expressed my likes and dislikes over the years via Mudcat--and it's easy enough to contradict yourself in regular conversation, let alone in a site where it is all archived!

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 20 May 03 - 09:40 AM

What I want to know is, what constitutes good poetry? How does someone get to be a "poet"? How is modern, non-rhyming poetry different from prose, aside from the fact that it's written in lines instead of paragraphs? Why would I, a songwriter, be in such a quandary about poetry, when songwriting is a cousin to it? (some people may say it's the same, and in some ways it is, but in my mind it's different)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 20 May 03 - 10:00 AM

I'm not much of a reader of poetry, usually prefer fiction, but one respectable point of view is that metaphor is the main element of poetry, and that rhymes and meter and all else are secondary. There isn't really a hard line between prose and poetry. I 'found' a poem once in the clues and solution to a jumble-puzzle. But the intent of a poem signals that it's meant to be read with aesthetic attention, the way a book of fiction signals that it's not a history or memoir or something. I think the intent is all one can go by. usually.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 20 May 03 - 10:29 AM

"Day One. At sea." (repeat ad infinitum) (Two Years Strapped to the Pen).

Curious reversal, Kim. I couldn't write a song to save my soul, but poetry comes pretty easy (i.e. incredibly hard, but it makes sense doing it).

Poetry is like the shift from graphite to diamonds. It requires a lot of pressure (the pencil of the great poet is 100H), from the stanzaic form, or the need for a rhythm, or just the recalcitrance of words. There are poems that I have written that are absolutely perfect except for one word which will not come, and for which English does not provide. Drives you crazy. (Auden said poems are not finished, just abandoned).

That being the case, non-rhymed verse (actually the bulk of verse in humankind)is very, very hard to write, much harder than rhymed verse, which gives you a default system of pressure within which to work. Just putting down words does not "signify" anything. In non-rhymed verse you usually are trying to "foreground" something that is not usually paid attention to -- for instance in stance -- as soon as I split the word "instance" up it foregrounds the strangeness of the word's elements, which your eye passes over the first time around. A poet can do this with all elements of language (e.g. concrete poetry made up of punctuation marks). Doing that while making a larger statement is where you edge into good poetry, rather than just futzing around.

Ezra Pound was pretty good when he said that poetry is news that stays news.
yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 20 May 03 - 10:53 AM

Poetry has places it wanders where no song could survive, where prose just buckles and collapses, and where no-one knows music yet.

What makes it so is a certain fling with insanity or at least wildness, maybe divinity, that knows how to break the machinery of minds in order to let some light into their innards.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 20 May 03 - 11:39 AM

You might want to peruse this thread for some appreciation of poetry. It's the discussion of sonnets.

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 20 May 03 - 11:54 AM

I am impressed by the talent liberated by the form on that thread, SRS.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 20 May 03 - 11:57 AM

Amos, I agree! In particular this one by local Mudcat talent!

SRS


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 20 May 03 - 01:19 PM

I pretty much abandon most of my poems. But here's the last one I wrote, just for fun:

Pie are square, a noble man
Once cleverly opined
But I don't see how that can be
As pies always look round to me.

Behold the cobbler! Bubbly and hot,
Baking in its juice -
Usually cooked in a pan that's square
Or otherwise rectangulair.

Pie are round, cornbread are square,
Or so I've heard it said.
Although, cornbread may oft be found
To have been baked in a pan that's round.

Pie are square! Still they insist,
And so on till infinity;
So round or square, whate'er your choice
Let us now the humble pie rejoice.

2003 - KFC


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 20 May 03 - 01:29 PM

LOL, Kim :>)


A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: M.Ted
Date: 20 May 03 - 04:22 PM

Bad thread, Rick. You're a musician, and entitled by your trade to act as if you were semi-literate. Never go against that, or people will start showing you their poetry.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 20 May 03 - 04:39 PM

Don't you like pie, Ted?


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 20 May 03 - 10:05 PM

Good writng? That's when you buy the burger, when you're gongier than a clock, when your innards jump to "Yes!" position before you've issued any such orders. Good writing leaves you done brown and poked in the eye, and nuffin can be done about it, is all. It catches you crying in the sun, never mind who's there. Pow!!

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: JennyO
Date: 21 May 03 - 06:05 AM

Kim C, you'll be happy to know that in Oz, we have square pies (as well as round ones). Big Ben pies are famous for their shape here, and of course they say it is a square meal.

Sorry for the thread drift.

Jenny


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 21 May 03 - 09:38 AM

Ha! So pie ARE square - at least in some parts of the world!

I agree with Amos. I think that's about the earthiest and most accurate answer to the question I've heard yet.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: M.Ted
Date: 21 May 03 - 04:06 PM

Sorry to disappoint you, Kim, but"Pie", according to my informants, is light verse. It has rhymes, meter, and is both amusing and brief. I have been told that all of these things are terribly out of fashion in poetry.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Amos
Date: 21 May 03 - 04:57 PM

Doggerel is alive and well in the hearts of men I am sure! It seems to spring from a never-ending source...kinda like rubbing sticks together.

A


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Frankham
Date: 21 May 03 - 08:45 PM

What constitutes good anything in art? Opinions. Either your own or someone elses. Are there such things as educated opinions? Maybe unless wisdom has been destroyed by education as in the case of some critics.

Frank Hamilton


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 22 May 03 - 12:31 AM

Good writing at MudCat - is short.



Sincerely,

Gargoyle


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 22 May 03 - 12:36 AM

Melvil was genius - so was Shakespeare.



Both escape the comprehension of 95% of the English speaking population.



Their works are "offerings" presented to a sacred few.



Sincerely,

Gargoyle



What people lack in one area    they frequently make up in another.....Rick stick to your lyrical guitar.....literature, and love are not your forte.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 22 May 03 - 11:39 AM

Well, I liked "pie", and my sources tell me it's always in fashion to be out of fashion. Stuff matters more than Modernism, Post-Modernism, Puff Daddy P. Diddy Dang Doofusism, the intellectual armatures formerly known as Art.

   Simple and timeless observations don't of themselves make great art, but there'd be nothing great without them.

Robbe-Grillet's observations of how people stand as if paralyzed on escalators. I can't repeat the sentences.

Antony and Cleopatra planning to go out that night to "note the qualities of people".

James Joyce's observation of a woman who bent over to reach the hem of her skirt, and with slow care, detached a clinging twig. His interesting uses of the word "disappointed".

Faulkner's description in The Sound and the Fury of that sound ships make--which I always quote backwards no matter how hard I try not to.

Chekov's glinting bottle glass, which indirectly shows a moonlit night.

Cordelia's desperate appeal to the "unpublished virtues of the earth" which strangely and vividly paints the fields of plants and rocks and weeds.

Proust's 30 pages about going to sleep, and his memory of the smell of the stairs.

Tolstoy describing farm work. The mushrooms that seem to be mentioned whenever people fail to make connections.

The maid in Kafka's metamorphasis, slamming all the doors of the house.

Andre Bely's use of the semi-colon, as in "Ivan entered the room and saw; a chair.

Great and inspired details.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 22 May 03 - 12:26 PM

A quite topical poem I revisited today: "The Lie" by Raleigh (here it is at Bartleby and here are a few notes about it. ("The Lie" rhymes with Pie--and is also what "a noble man once cleverly opined. . .").--SRS

THE LIE

by: Sir Walter Raleigh

GO, Soul, the body's guest,
Upon a thankless arrant!
Fear not to touch the best;
The truth shall be thy warrant:
Go, since I needs must die,
And give the world the lie.

Say to the court it glows
And shines like rotten wood;
Say to the church it shows
What's good, and doth no good:
If court and church reply,
Then give them both the lie.

Tell potentates they live
Acting by others' action,
Not loved unless they give,
Not strong but by a faction.
If potentates reply,
Give potentates the lie.

Tell men of high condition
That manage the estate,
Their purpose is ambition,
Their practice only hate:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell them that brave it most,
They beg for more by spending,
Who, in their greatest cost,
Seek nothing but commending:
And if they make reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell zeal it wants devotion;
Tell love it is but lust;
Tell time it is but motion;
Tell flesh it is but dust:
And wish them not reply,
For thou must give the lie.

Tell age it daily wasteth;
Tell honor how it alters;
Tell beauty how she blasteth;
Tell favor how she falters:
And as they shall reply,
Give every one the lie.

Tell wit how much it wrangles
In tickle points of niceness;
Tell wisdom she entangles
Herself in over-wiseness:
And when they do reply,
Straight give them both the lie.

Tell physic of her boldness;
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and school reply,
Give arts and school the lie.

Tell faith it fled the city;
Tell how the country erreth;
Tell manhood shakes off pity;
Tell virtue least preferreth:
And if they do reply,
Spare not to give the lie.

So when thou hast, as I
Commanded thee, done blabbing,--
Although to give the lie
Deserves no less than stabbing,--
Stab at thee, he that will,
No stab the soul can kill.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,JTT
Date: 23 May 03 - 07:36 AM

May I suggest that good writing is writing that fulfils its function?

So Finnegans Wake is good writing - it fulfils its function as a playful linguistic comic novel. John Le Carre's The Constant Gardener is good writing - it fulfils its function as a moral thriller, dragging the reader along by the heartstrings, wringing him out, keeping him reading, thrilling him, breaking his heart.

Good writing is exact, wether it's terse or prolix. It's deep: it gives a rich experience of the scene and the story. It's disciplined: the story has nothing unnecessary, but has everything necessary, and it is told in the right order. Its structure and exposition support each other: the scenes build in the best way to tell the story, and the way that the story is told - the descriptions, the dialogue, the characters themselves - support the scenes.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 23 May 03 - 09:03 AM

JTT, I don't know, doesn't it seem to level everything in a circularly utilitarian way? What IS the function of a playful linguistic comic novel? And the idea that nothing is unnecesary runs counter to my feeling that great artistic writing always has something extra, something uncalled for, something that remains opaque to any functional theory.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 23 May 03 - 09:15 AM

Fred, GUEST JTT, if you re-read, was talking about GOOD writing. (S)He didn't use the word GREAT.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 23 May 03 - 10:16 AM

Aw Ted, I ain't ever been worried much about being in fashion! (not since about 1995, anyway) If I recall correctly, Ogden Nash made an entire career of "light verse." But for those of you who got a smile from my humble "light verse," thank you. :-)

I just started reading a book called "Laughing Stock," the autobiography of a now largely forgotten Southern writer named T.S Stribling. It is what I would consider great writing. It is better than just Good. He wrote three novels, won a Pulitzer Prize, and didn't write anymore novels after that. Anyway ---- his books are available from the University of Alabama Press, whose warehouse is in, of all places, Chicago.

And now I have a hankerin for some cherry pie and ice cream...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 23 May 03 - 10:49 AM

Kim, I loved it and am also hankering after some pie, as long as it doesn't have to be square.:-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 23 May 03 - 11:41 AM

Thanks Kat.... I am supposed to take a dessert to a friend's house on Sunday, and now I'm thinking about making a square pie, just for fun.

Yes, I know, the mind boggles. ;-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: JennyO
Date: 23 May 03 - 01:53 PM

Kim C, here is a place that makes square pies! click

Click on "Home Page" to get a better view.

Yay, My first blue clicky!

Jenny


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: M.Ted
Date: 23 May 03 - 02:41 PM

KimC,

Mr. Nash was one, Mr. Guest, too. I'll have to think a bit to remember the others. I often regret that there seems to be no place for them in the contemporary Literature. I think that I would have enjoyed your little opus even more if I'd discovered it in a magazine somewhere and been able to attached it to my refrigerator or the old cork bulletin board in my office for idlers to read. I suppose I could print it out, but a printout just isn't the same as a clipping, and everyone seems in such a hurry these days that they wouldn't read it anyway.
Presumably, Mr. Stribling was a humorous writer--on your advice, I'll look him up, he sounds great.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 23 May 03 - 03:07 PM

Mr. Stribling's autobiography is humorous - I haven't read his other books but I assume they are probably written the same way. And knowing my friend Howard - who actually wrote the introduction to said autobiography, and recommended this book to me - I'm sure they are all worth reading. After all, Stribling did win a Pulitzer Prize once upon a time. But he was around in the days before Oprah, so he never got chosen for the book club.

Now Ted, if it's a nice printout you want, PM me with your e-mail and I'll send you a real document of it, complete with a little picture of pie. :-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,JTT
Date: 23 May 03 - 04:54 PM

Maybe I wasn't clear. What I meant was that when writing fulfils the function it sets out to fulfil, it's good.

I was listening to Stackalee tonight, for instance, and thought the writing in it was fabulous: Stackalee is described goign to the bar and pulling out his .44, and saying: "Nobody move". Then Billy says "Stackalee please don't shoot me, please don't take my life - I've got two little children and a very sickly wife."

Then Stackalee shoots him - "He shot that boy so bad" - that the bullet goes through him and breaks the bartender's glass.

Now, that's good writing: vivid, direct, emotionally engaging. It fulfils its function.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 23 May 03 - 05:32 PM

But define "fulfilling the function." When I read Anne Rice's "Blackwood Farm" at the suggestion of a friend, I didn't believe this novel fulfilled its function. I thought it was preposterous, ludicrous, and above all else, poorly written. There was enough to keep me entertained, yes, and I read the whole thing because I wanted to know what happened next. However, I was pretty disgusted with the whole thing by the time I was finished. I didn't gain one thing from it, and it cost me $30 to boot.

And then..... and then there's The Black Flower. I loved this book so much I wrote a song about it. Then I read it three more times. I will probably read it again, although now I am a little bit biased because the author is a personal friend. But I didn't know him the first two times I read the book, or when I read his second novel, The Year of Jubilo. Both are fantastically written and - unless you are completely devoid of any human emotion whatsoever - guaranteed to suck you in. Just read 'em.

I just finished Susan Isaacs' "After All These Years" and enjoyed that very much.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 23 May 03 - 06:39 PM

Kim, you said, But define "fulfilling the function." When I read Anne Rice's "Blackwood Farm" at the suggestion of a friend, I didn't believe this novel fulfilled its function. I thought it was
preposterous, ludicrous, and above all else, poorly written.


Okay, you said it. NOT good writing, then. It told its story, presumably, but, being poorly written, as you say, the poor writing got in the way of the story, so that it didn't achieve its purpose with you.

I'll buy JTT's description of "good writing". GREAT writing requires that, plus having an outstanding vision of some kind to communicate, and then it needs adequately good writing to communicate that vision.

Of course we won't all agree what vision or message we would call great. Seems to me that a great vision can even result in a great book when the standard of writing is (relatively) low, so that the FULL potential impact of that communication is not achieved. And thus we have various levels or degrees of greatness in both the underlying vision and in the communication of it.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,JTT
Date: 24 May 03 - 04:59 AM

Fulfilling the function: well, depends on what its function is. Finnegans Wake fulfils its function of playing with language to the nth degree. Stackalee fulfils its function of telling the story with utter realism.

For me, good writing in a news story tells you who, what, when, where and how in the first paragraph and goes on to expand those facts. A news feature adds 'why' to those. And good journalistic writing (a rare thing indeed) is direct, un-cliched and grammatical.

Good writing in popular fiction is journalistic writing to tell a story.

Good writing in literary fiction delves deeper, but still tells the story. Literary writers have a tendency to become hypnotised by the beauty of their own language. I've just bought Autumn of a Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and found flashes of great storytelling and linguistic beauty, but mostly play which wasn't too appealing to me. On the other hand, One Hundred Years of Solitude kept me reading all along, with the twists and turns and play.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: M.Ted
Date: 24 May 03 - 03:22 PM

At least according to himself, JJ wrote "Finegan's Wake" with the intent to confound those who had a mind to interpret and analyze his work--


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 24 May 03 - 06:04 PM

Sure, I know the thread is about good writing, but I enjoy that greatness and pie came up along the way.

And I don't mean to disagree with a utilitarian view, I just don't think it's much fun. It's quite like saying that something is successful because it succeded. That the fittest survive because--look, these things survived, so they are therefore the "fittest" to survive. I prefer to speculate that maybe fitter things are smacked down by chance and mishap, and that great art is often appreciated for reasons accidental to it's intentions, or "functions", if you like. To me it's an explanation that fails because it can't be wrong. It's like walking a tightrope flat on the floor--there's nowhere to fall.

   I like the bits and lines and examples--they don't really explain it either, but it's fun to hear what particularly strikes people, and feels like a fuller explanation, even if it doesn't really explain.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 24 May 03 - 06:56 PM

Now, that's good writing: vivid, direct, emotionally engaging. It fulfils its function.

There are some fine example which meet that criteria, right here at Mudcat. Here are two threads which come to mind:

The Drinking Gourd

Tavern Steamboatin' The Albert Hansell


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 24 May 03 - 07:16 PM

Rick asked about the greatness of Moby Dick in the intro-post, and I can't answer that one. It's not in my personal pantheon. But I do wonder how Stub kept his pipe lit out in that spray.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: mutineer
Date: 25 May 03 - 03:33 PM

I think it is just being able to hang on to the writer's attention. this said, I don't think any one writer could be considered a good writer by anyone- only those interested in the topic he/she is writing about...


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Blind DRunk in Blind River
Date: 25 May 03 - 04:50 PM

Okay like if you wanta defind good wriging I think the eesiest way is to like see some egzamples of ree4ly BAD wriging first sorta liek this...

"It was a darke and stormy night in Blind River. You coudlnt see for shit outside. But I needed a beer bad eh? So I like put on my lumberjacket (thats like a jacket that a laumberjack wears eh?) and I steeped outside. It wass pissing rain like a drunk in a snowstorm. I seen lightnging cross the sky and swore. There wasn't no one in the street escept for me and I hadnt had a drink in four hours. I couild taste yeesterdays pisza on my breath, mixed with the dregs of stale beer and roaches. Ive smelled dogs that had better breath than me after a long weekend. Maybe that was why the chicks had been scarce lately. I swiore again but it didn't help. I pulled my collar in tight and headed for the Iron Horse. I didn't have no cash except for a copulle of loonies but I figured that I could sweettalk the wiatriesses at the HOrse inta givin me a beer or two on credit. Them girls worship me eh? I am a flippin legned in this town."

Pretty good start eh? NOwq that is BAD writing. I expect to become rich and famous soon with this sort of stuff becaouse if I may be frank about it people in North ONtario ain't interested in good writing and they don't buy it. They buy crap. I have a gift for turnin out crap and its gonna make me rich. Then I will marry Shania Twain. That will be very cool.

- BDiBR


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Blind DRunk in Blind River
Date: 25 May 03 - 04:59 PM

Shit. Screwed up the code. Oh well it looks good eh? I am knowen as a bold guy anyway.

- BDiBR


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: GUEST,Blind DRunk in Blind River
Date: 26 May 03 - 10:23 AM

Geez. I gess that said it all eh? Descent! i am planely headed for success as a wreiter of crap cos everhyone else just steps back in awe after tehy read my stuff. Hey thanks for fixin the bold code for me! I woudnt of knowed how to myself eh?

- BDiBR


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 26 May 03 - 04:45 PM

I think you'll have to do worse than that.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 26 May 03 - 05:35 PM

Doing my best to do worse...**BG**

It was a dark and stormy night in Blind River when a blind drunk came stumbling after me, stinking of cigs and gin gone bad. My dogs were crying out for soft slippers and a hot soak after slinging hash all night, so I ignored him and walked on against the rain. He stumbled after me until I turned around and yelled, "Leave me alone!" He flapped his arms at me. "What the hell do you want?" I asked. Then it hit me, he was a blind, drunk mime in Blind River on a dark and stormy night.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 26 May 03 - 05:37 PM

Oops, I did mean that as a response to BDinBR, but also the 100 word story, meant to post it there. Sorry..


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 26 May 03 - 06:18 PM

Turning to music and songs often seems to make it easier to unravel ideas about this kind of thing for me.

That's a great guitar.

That's great guitar playing.

That's a great tune.

That's a great song.

That's a great rendering of the song.

That's a great line.


It doesn't need all of those things to make what you listen to memorable.

Writing is communication, and sometimes that primarily means communicating with some kind of vision, and some times it primarily means communicating with a person. There are people so well worth communicating with, and visions so well worth sharing, that you can put up with all kinds of difficulties. And on the other hand, a really clear phone line isn't much use, if the person at the other end hasn't got anything to say that is worth listening to.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 26 May 03 - 11:28 PM

Give him time, Fred. I'm sure he can do worse than that. Nice work there, Kat. :-)

- LH


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: katlaughing
Date: 26 May 03 - 11:36 PM

Thank yew, LH!


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 27 May 03 - 06:05 PM

Good attempt, but still not very bad. I had to review a couple of books of stories once that were so bad I seriously began to wonder if they weren't artistically contrived to be awful. It really rattled me. To find anything to say about them was a nightmare. It was really a deeper experience, philosophically, than I've had with most good books.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 27 May 03 - 06:23 PM

Most people at Joyce-Aylwin & Company didn't like Vance Aylwin very much, but they did envy him. Jennifer had heard him described once as "brutally handsome", and it fit. From the slightly cruel jawline to the steely blue eyes that seemed to peel a woman's clothes off with a glance, he was a certified Beverly Hills stud, and he knew it. And he was rich. More than rich in fact. He oozed money from every pore. You could see it in the tailored suits, the Italian shoes, and the one-of-a-kind silk neckties. Vance Aylwin was filthy rich.

What really burned Jennifer's cookies was she was obscurely attracted to the man for some reason. Was it his arrogance? Was it his corporate power? Was it just his looks? Or was it something less obvious, some mysterious inner quality that didn't show on the surface, but still tickled Jennifer's feminine intuition and kept her awake far too late at night?

It would bear looking into, she thought, examining her cuticles for the nineteenth time and checking her lip gloss in the mirror for good measure. She had a meeting scheduled with Vance Aylwin for 6 O'Clock at the Coocoo Bird Lounge, and she intended to make the most of it...

*** There. How's that for really lousy writing?

- LH


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Sam L
Date: 28 May 03 - 09:11 AM

Oh, LH, I was beginning to wonder why you were telling us this. Bad writing, okay.

   Sounds like Judith Krantz? who I also once reviewed.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Peter T.
Date: 28 May 03 - 09:36 AM

Clearly time for a new thread. yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 28 May 03 - 09:36 AM

Just read the last Anne Rice novel if you want a great example of bad writing.


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 28 May 03 - 12:23 PM

And like BDiBR says "it sells"!!! Sickening, isn't it? It's sort of like bad political leadership, it's ubiquitous.

- LH


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Kim C
Date: 28 May 03 - 05:14 PM

Actually, LH, I think you may have a future in Harlequin romance novels... ;-)


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Subject: RE: BS: What Constitutes Good Writing?
From: Little Hawk
Date: 28 May 03 - 10:11 PM

Ha! Ha! Ha! God, that would be awful...but it could be okay if one developed a good enough sense of humor about it, I suppose. In fact, it could be a lot of fun that way... Hmmmm....

- LH


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