May 31, 2010

Good writing is...? - Saying things with less.

I want to try to update this blog more often, PhD and personal projects be damned! I want to examine what I believe constitutes good writing.  This is merely a matter of opinion, but by exploring what I believe to be good, and the act of writing it down is a method to process what I personally want to achieve in my writing. Good writing is a subjective thing and what one person considers good another might not (says Cpt. Obvious). Some might think good writing is over descriptive and writerly, full of complex words you would never hear of unless you had a love affair with a thesaurus. Others value simplicity, the short and well punctuated sentences of Hemingway. This is about what I like in writing. So that's the end of my disclaimer.

One thing I've become aware of while writing short stories, as well as reading them, is that a lot can be said with a single sentence. The thing with short stories is that you want it tight and compact, you need to pack all the relevant information into the story in 3000 words or less. I read an interesting article called "Hunting down the Pleonasms" by Allen Guthrie which has been an invaluable resource to me. The idea is eliminate irrelevant words which add nothing such as "just, that and actually", and stresses the importance converting the "adverb + verb" to a stronger verb instead.

Clarity in language, using the best words in a sentence to convey exactly what the author intends requires talent and/or a lot of experience. It's easier said than done, especially when one is self-conscious in their writing; I tend to waffle on using as many words as possible to say what I want to say for fear of not being understood. The same goes for excessive repetition I need to keep in check. Compact and tight prose may also be a byproduct of today's "here and now" world, where you're led to believe the average person suffers from a severe case of ADD and we have no time for Proustly prose. Or is it that literature has evolved? Has the style of literature changed to fit the culture around it, history would say yes. Another belief of mine is that a writer needs to either write for their time, or be ahead of their time, not behind. This is a pet hate of mine when I read someone who writes like a nineteenth century writer in the modern era; this is excusable in historical fiction but otherwise I don't see any valid reason to do this.  But this is an entirely different rant I will try not to go into.

I think being able to master the craft of saying more with less is a step in the direction to being an effective communicator and a good writer. It's something I hope that I will be able to do some point in the future.

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