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ABOUT BOOKS AND READING > What makes good writing, for YOU personally?

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message 1: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments What makes good writing? I'm sure many books have been written on the subject, but for YOU, personally, what makes good writing?

We can turn the question around too and ask what makes bad writing, for YOU personally?

Or, to put it more simply, what kind of writing do you like and what kind of writing do you not like? Perhaps it's better to leave out the words "good" and "bad", since they are judgemental words.


message 2: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 14, 2011 04:55PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments I'll need some time to think about the answers to my own question. :)


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments I can think of negatives much easier than positives.

No preaching & I don't just mean religion. I don't like it when any point gets made over & over. It can be a theme, but don't beat me over the head with it.

No long descriptions. I need something to hang it on, a reason to pay attention. Pure description is just boring.

At least one character that I can empathize with. If I dislike or don't care about any of the characters, why should I bother reading the book?

Logic. I don't mind far out ideas, but set the rules & stick to the internal logic.


message 4: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments I agree about the preaching, Jim. I also agree about the long descriptions. My eyes glaze over when I see them. I too need to relate to the characters in some way. I like to feel empathy toward them.

I can't stand it when too many characters are introduced at once without any character development. I also don't like being flooded with proper names and places. I especially have trouble with names which are odd or hard to pronounce. (The foreign names in _The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo_ were annoying. I realize the writer was Swedish and the setting was Sweden. So the foreign names are to be expected, but I find they make the reading harder for me.)


message 5: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments I completely agree about too many & odd names, Joy. If I can't pronounce them properly & hang them on something special, they just confuse me. I've seen some books where they list names & places in the beginning or an appendix/glossary, but I've never cared for that either. If the writer can't introduce the characters slowly & memorably enough, I think they're not doing their job properly.


message 6: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 15, 2011 07:06AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim wrote: "... If the writer can't introduce the characters slowly & memorably enough, I think they're not doing their job properly."

Jim, I wonder why writers don't realize that. I get ticked off when I think about it.
After all, that's their job.


message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments I wonder if it has to do with their writing process? They start out simple, add more & more layers, then they have a very complex story which they know very well.

Later they decide that Tom, Dick & Jane aren't nifty enough names, so they change them to T'angjja;kfjd;ajk, Diaofjdsoskfj & Jajk;lfdj;a with a search & replace function.

The editor says the book starts too slowly, so they cut several thousand words off the front...

By the time we see it, we just feel lost & stupid.


message 8: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 15, 2011 12:34PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim wrote: "I wonder if it has to do with their writing process? They start out simple, add more & more layers, then they have a very complex story which they know very well.
Later they decide that Tom, Di..."


Jim, that's a plausible theory. The editing process, if not done carefully, can be like taking the foundation blocks out from under a building. Soon the whole thing collapses under its own weight.

Also, as you suggested, the author knows the story so well, that he loses sight of what the reader knows about the story. The author fails to explain things thoroughly. He can no longer see the story from the readers' point of view. Sometimes I think that some authors don't even care if a book is comfortable to read. They are too preoccupied with creating something different ... and also with impressing the sophisticated critics. For some reason, density is equated with profundity. Some people think that if something is hard to understand, it is deep and profound... when, in actuality, it may be just poorly written.

I truly believe that.


message 9: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments two things to watch for concerning bad writing; a bogged down middle of the story. It starts with a bang and the end is satisfying; both of these are essential, but if the middle doesn't do much and it presents a hump to get past, the good parts don't usually make up for that problem. The other thing it is a writing sin to fragment the body; i.e. her head bobbled, her eyes shot out of her head etc. More later, nina


message 10: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Yes, Nina, it's such a disappointment when a plot bogs down. It's as if the writer ran out of ideas.

Haven't heard about the "writing" sin you mentioned. What's that all about?


message 11: by Nina (last edited Mar 15, 2011 12:45PM) (new)

Nina | 3099 comments As I mentioned earlier one of the sins of writing is fragmenting the body; her head ran around in circles, , her eyes popped out of her head, her arms flung outward away from her etc. It is using parts of the body as objects away from the body which in real life is impossible; therefore, poor descriptions. You might notice this now that it is pointed out to you. Also, when metaphors are used sparingly they often seem almost poetic; same with similies. But, the overuse, which is common in romance novels, it is tiresome. Agree? nina


message 12: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 15, 2011 01:04PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments I see what you mean, Nina. Is it OK to put our foot in our mouth? :)

I agree that similes can get tiresome. However, Raymond Chandler was famous for his similes because so many of them were very clever. I once compiled a list of them, all from one book! (lol) See the list below:
=======================================================
SIMILES from The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler:

"...her face fell apart like a bride's pie crust."

"She ran off down the hall as gay as a thrush."

"His cigarette was jiggling like a doll on a coiled spring."

"...his pale eyebrows bristling and stiff and round like the little vegetable brushes the Fuller Brush man gives away."

"...as lean as a rake and as hard as the manager of a loan office."

"The voice was as stiff as a breadstick."

"She was so platinumed that her hair shone like a silver fruit bowl."

"Her eyes were the blue of mountain lakes."

"She brought the glass over. Bubbles rose in it like false hopes."

"Her breath was as delicate as the eyes of a fawn."

"The sunshine was as empty as a headwaiter's smile."

"The boy stood glaring at him with sharp black eyes in a face as hard and white as cold mutton fat."

"The incident [is] closed...as tight as a vault with a busted time lock."

"Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness."

"There was a dry click, like a small icicle breaking."

"I hung there motionless, like a lazy fish in the water."

"The purring voice had an edge, like sand in the bearings."

"The purring voice was now as false as an usherette's eyelashes and as slippery as a watermelon seed."

"The fist...went through my spread hands like a stone through a cloud of dust."

"Blood began to move around in me, like a prospective tenant looking over a house."

"Her mouth looked like the prelude to a scream."

"It looked as dismal as a lost dog."

"She walked as if she were floating."

"...a smile as wide as Wiltshire Boulevard."

"He looked hard, not the hardness of the tough guy. More like the hardness of a well-weathered horseman."

"Seaward a few gulls wheeled and swooped over something in the surf and far out a white yacht looked as if it was hanging in the sky."

All the above are from The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler, the master of the simile.
=========================================================


message 13: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments Yes, if they are good, like your copies, they add so much. It is when they are used over and over describing a person or place that it gets a bit much.


message 14: by Arnie (last edited Mar 16, 2011 06:08AM) (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments Puts me in mind of the fascinating, yet nearly un- bearable Howard Cosell saying during a Monday Night Football game, "... and the mist is rolling into the stadium like the fog in a Thomas Hardy novel."


message 15: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Hi Arnie. Howard Cosell was a colorful character. I suppose they've even written a book about him. :)

Speaking of fog, you've reminded me of something else which annoys me in some writing... and that is ambiguity. I never could tolerate ambiguity. Below is an apropos quotation:
================================================
"With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
-Bill Watterson in his comic strip, "Calvin and Hobbes"
================================================
See the actual cartoon at:
http://blog.sagrader.com/2011/01/11/c...


message 16: by Arnie (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments Just finished "Vive La Revolucion", a humorous but informative history of the French Revolution. The author si Mark Steel, a British historian, humorist and activist.

I tried to read Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow", which I know some consider one of the great books of last century---I couldn't get past eleven pages trying to figure out what was going on.


message 17: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 16, 2011 10:02AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Arnie, check out the following post of a GR reviewer about Gravity's Rainbow:
The post is at:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
=================================================
Excerpt from above link:
"Below is my advice on how new readers can get over the hump. Trust me, it's a small hump, and the masterpiece that lies on the other side is worth the effort." [Then the reviewer gives four specific pieces of advice.] "The second piece says: "Accept that you won't understand everything*...Don't be concerned if you can't follow the many digressions or keep track of every minor character that pops up."
==================================================
* Hmmm, that would be hard for me to do.

PS-At Wiki, I found this:
"The novel's title is a reference to the parabolic trajectory of a V-2 rocket (the 'rainbow-shaped' path described by the missile as it moves under the influence of gravity..."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity%...


message 18: by Mary JL (new)

Mary JL (MaryJL) | 396 comments Jim took all the good ones is message #3.LoL.

I will widen to no preaching--do not overdo ANYTHING.

Writing a murder mystery? I expect some violence then--but I do not want to be soaked in gore.

Doing a romance? Fine, but I do not need every intimate detail. Let me use my imagination.

I do not neccarily need a likeable character--but I need one character at least that I can understand. Even is the character is an anti-hero, if believeable, I will enjoy reading about him or her.


message 19: by Arnie (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments Thanks Joy.

I know reading classics sometimes takes a lot of work, but this one seems like too much unpaid overtime.:)


message 20: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Arnie, I agree. Unpaid overtime indeed! :)
Like walking up a hill with a big bag of stones. :)


message 21: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 16, 2011 01:08PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Mary JL wrote: "Jim took all the good ones is message #3.LoL. I will widen to no preaching--do not overdo ANYTHING. Writing a murder mystery? I expect some violence then--but I do not want to be soaked in g..."

Mary JL, I agree about the gore and intimate details. They're not needed. About the anti-hero, I'm not sure. I guess it all depends on the character.


message 22: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments Interesting today when I tried to find,"Gone With the Wind,{ in our large metro area(over a million population) the only one at all is in a library of an all Afro-American school library. Here in Johnson CO I was informed they took it off the shelves. What is your opinion of this? nina


message 23: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments They took Gone With the Wind off the shelves? Why?

Damn fools.



message 24: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments When I tried to find GWTW on our library's shelves, it wasn't there. Don't know if it was out on loan or not. There should be lots of copies. Anyway, I reserved it online and then borrowed it when it came in. I got the large print version which came in two heavy volumes. The books are like new. They're paperback.


message 25: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments You can get GWTW free on Project Gutenberg.
http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m...


message 26: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 16, 2011 06:45PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim wrote: "You can get GWTW free on Project Gutenberg.
http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m... "


Yes, Jim, but the Gutenberg version of GWTW isn't laid out for comfortable reading, IMO. I don't like scrolling and besides, the lines are too long. (I can't seem to "restore down" to where I can bring in the margins.)
http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200...
That's what's wrong with the Gutenberg online books.


message 27: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 16, 2011 06:47PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments PS-Jim, see this sample Google eBook of GWTW. I love the layout... very comfortable for reading, like turning virtual pages. And I can view it on my computer (no complicated downloading).
http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader...

Of course it's only a sample and gives you only up to Chapter 5 free. But I wanted you to see the layout. (You can hit the f11 toggle key to get more text on the screen.)

For some books in the public domain, Google eBooks will give you the entire book free, like _The Magnificent Ambersons_.


message 28: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments No one commented on the fact that the only copy in the metro area of GWTW is in a library in an all black school. nina


message 29: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Nina wrote: "No one commented on the fact that the only copy in the metro area of GWTW is in a library in an all black school. nina"

How do you, yourself, feel about that fact, Nina?
As for myself, I'm surprised it's not in ALL the libraries.


message 30: by Nina (last edited Mar 16, 2011 08:06PM) (new)

Nina | 3099 comments I agree, I think it is a sad fact that only the librarian in this all black school recognizes the fact that, altough, fiction, this is the STORY of the Civil War. Personally, I think it should be required reading. But, I think that too about Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird. Don't brush past offenses under the table. Read and grow with the understanding of them. That's how I feel. I was upset when I started all this but so far I haven't heard the ending. I will fill you in when I pick up the book. nina


message 31: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments GWTW certainly stimulated MY interest in the Civil War.
Another book about the Civil war which I read fairly recently was The March by E.L. Doctorow. While reading GWTW lately, I've often thought of Sherman's march through Georgia. It was brutal. The GR description of _The March_ says:
=======================================================
"... Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, ... marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle and crops for their own, demolishing cities..."
=======================================================


message 32: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments Another really good book about the War is, "March," which is the fictionalized version of the story of the father in the March family of LIttle Women. I recommend it. nina


message 33: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 16, 2011 08:30PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Yes, I've heard about March by Geraldine Brooks. I have it on my GR shelf to keep in mind. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner. GR says: "Brooks follows March as he leaves behind his family to aid the Union cause in the Civil War."


message 34: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments Joy, I have no trouble reading the Gutenberg books or getting them to fit. They're especially fast & handy to put on my Sony ereader. If Google books work better for you, by all means use it. I don't like reading on the computer that much, though. I do that too much as it is. I prefer the ereader's epaper or real paper whenever possible.

I agree with you in #30 completely, Nina.

I wonder if the libraries just don't have it because it's not read often now? I was surprised that neither you nor Joy had read it.


message 35: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim, this is the first time I've heard of epaper:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electron...

I have nothing but my computer with which to do my ereading (if there is such a term). (Perhaps digital reading would be a better term.) My kids wanted to buy me one of those small gadgets everyone holds in their hand these days, but, to tell you the truth, I'm tired of learning how to use all this new tech stuff. I hit too many stone walls while learning.

My son gave me an iPod several years ago for listening to music. I used it for a while and then stopped.

We have a cell phone but usually use it only between ourselves when one of us is out shopping.

There's a new TV sitcom with George Segal as the elderly father. Last night he referred to the Internet as the "Internets". (lol) Well, I'm one step ahead of him. :)


message 36: by Arnie (last edited Mar 17, 2011 06:18AM) (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments Joy, what did you think of Doctorow's "The March"?

I laid it down after about 50 pages---I acknowledge Doctorow as an important writer, but I must admit I sometimes find his style a bit too desultory.


message 37: by Katherine (new)

Katherine Totten (Katherine42) | 199 comments Joy H. wrote: "GWTW certainly stimulated MY interest in the Civil War.
Another book about the Civil war which I read fairly recently was The March by E.L. Doctorow. While reading GWTW ..."


One of my favortite Civil War novels is Killer Angels by MIchael Shaara. It's a gripping look at the Battle of Gettysburg. Shaara's son wrote Gods and Generals, following up on the Civil War theme, but I didn't think it was as good.


Checked on my library web sire and they have one copy of Gone with the Wind and the DVD.


message 38: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 17, 2011 06:57AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Arnie wrote: "Joy, what did you think of Doctorow's "The March"? I laid it down after about 50 pages---I acknowledge Doctorow as an important writer, but I must admit I sometimes find his style a bit too desultory."

Arnie, _The March_ was a bit disjointed, jumping around between subplots, but I kept reading because it was a selection of our library group. It introduced me to the Coalhouse Walker character, which led me to read Doctorow's Ragtime, where he (or his son?) is a character as well. It also led me to the film adaptation, "Ragtime".

I enjoyed some some of the subplots more than others in _The March_, but all in all, I'm glad I read it.

PS-Here's my review:
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

In my review, I mention an interesting review of _The March_ at CNN. See it at:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/books...


message 39: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 17, 2011 07:07AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Katherine wrote: "One of my favortite Civil War novels is Killer Angels by MIchael Shaara. It's a gripping look at the Battle of Gettysburg. Shaara's son wrote Gods and Generals, following up on the Civil War theme, but I didn't think it was as good.
Checked on my library web sire and they have one copy of Gone with the Wind and the DVD. "


Thanks, Katherine. I took a quick look at the GR reviews of The Killer Angels. One of them says:"I wanted to really like this book in its entirety, but I got bogged down in the specific tactics of the battle of Gettysburg. I tried to study the maps and think about the positions of the various divisions....but ultimately realized that effort was detracting from what was really important to me..."

Hmmm, I don't think I'd like that sort of thing.

PS-On the other hand, another GR reviewer said: "The story centers around the days immediately prior to, during, and after the Battle of Gettysburg. Instead of just going over historical facts about the battle, Mr. Shaara gets inside the head of several of the main participants in the battle. He puts into words what these men may have been thinking during this particular piece of time, which makes the story of the greatest battle ever fought on North American soil come to life. I really enjoyed his treatment of Robert E. Lee and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlin throughout the book."


message 40: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments I read "Killer Angels" years ago & still have a copy around. (I've been meaning to get around to a re-read.) Shaara is a good writer, on par with Bruce Catton, who is also well know for his Civil War books. My only problem with both of them is I get so bloody confused with who is doing what & where. Back in school, we had topographical maps & did a field trip to Gettysburg, which helped a lot. IOW, I felt the same way as the review that Joy quoted.

This is a place where the Internet could really be cool. Imagine using Google Earth & tying it to a book like that. You'd be able to look around the battle field & see the terrain. An overlay could even change it to what it looked like back then & add in the various soldiers.

Some authors have done this. If you read my review
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...
of Precious Cargo by Clyde Ford, you'll see that he did it with a murder mystery. You get to look all around the Seattle Bay area with points of interest marked. Very cool.


message 41: by Arnie (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments I like the book "Ragtime".
The movie is one of my all time favorites.


message 42: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 17, 2011 08:13AM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim, I hadn't heard Bruce Catton's name a long time. Yes, I remember hearing about his Civil War books.

I read your review of Clyde Ford's _Precious Cargo_. Leave it to you to find a new dimension in reading and writing! (g) I've always loved the way maps orient me. I need a lot of orientation (and exposition too, for that matter). Google Earth takes maps one step further. I hope some day to read a book with the feature you describe.

PS-Jim, would one need a digital reader to take advantage of that feature? I imagine so. Or do they use hard-copy photographs?


message 43: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments I don't think any of the digital readers, except possibly an iPad, would run Google Earth, Joy. No, that would be the time you'd need to sit down at the computer with the book in hand.

Google Earth is or can be made up of a lot of different layers. They have satellite images, Google Street View (they drive a van around taking pictures all the while) plus people can make up overlays. It can get very detailed & fantastic.


message 44: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim wrote: "I don't think any of the digital readers, except possibly an iPad, would run Google Earth, Joy. No, that would be the time you'd need to sit down at the computer with the book in hand. Google Ear..."

I see, Jim. Thanks.
The street view comes in handy lots of times, even when I'm just being nosy. :)


message 45: by Jim (new)

Jim (JimMacLachlan) | 4411 comments It amazes me how many places Street View has gotten. There are pictures of our farm in there from back when we first moved in. You can see my garage being built. The door isn't in it yet. Seriously, I live in the middle of no where, but it's on the Internet. Yikes!


message 46: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Jim wrote: "It amazes me how many places Street View has gotten. ... Seriously, I live in the middle of no where, but it's on the Internet. Yikes!

Heh, heh, you can run, but you can't hide. :)


message 47: by Arnie (new)

Arnie Harris | 185 comments They asked Woody Allen what the most lucrative genre of writing is:

"Definitely, ransom notes!!"


message 48: by Joy H., Group Founder (last edited Mar 17, 2011 01:28PM) (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Arnie, yes, that sounds like Woody Allen. :)

Speaking of funny comebacks, I saw or heard a good one yesterday (can't remember where). A man is asked how he would like to be remembered. He replies: "Tall, well-built, and handsome".


message 49: by Nina (new)

Nina | 3099 comments I agree that it is difficult to "like" the book if you don't like the characters.One exception, I found, was reading "The Divinci Code," as most of my book club didn't care for any of the characters, but we all agreed that book was a page turner;it was definitely plot driven. nina


message 50: by Joy H., Group Founder (new)

Joy H. (JoyofGlensFalls) | 12835 comments Yes, Nina, but after a while I got tired of all those twists and turns in The DaVinci Code. It was overkill. There's a point where you want to stop turning pages and instead, get a little satisfaction.


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Glens Falls (NY) Online Book Discussion Group

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Books mentioned in this topic

The Big Sleep (other topics)
Gravity's Rainbow (other topics)
Gone with the Wind (other topics)
The March (other topics)
March (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

E.L. Doctorow (other topics)
Geraldine Brooks (other topics)
Bruce Catton (other topics)
Clyde Ford (other topics)