What defines a good piece of writing? (2)

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What defines a good piece of writing? (2)

I reached the bottom of the original 'What defines a good piece of writing?', glanced back up at the pinhead of light that marked my entrance point, and decided it was time to start digging a new hole.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and I tell people all the time. (Tis an disgruntled excuse for my shabbiness and not fitting in with the modern social perception of the attractive male figure.) But what I mean to say is, I think this applies to writing too, largely. And all kindsa stuff.

I mean! The two pieces that have been cherry-picked (meaning, particularly enjoyed,) by the editors are ones I considered amusing anecdotes from a bigger volume, jotted down in a matter of minutes, while my carefully composed fantasy/satirical fiction and epic allusionary poems creep past them unnoticed.

Now, what pleases me about this cherry-picking is that, if I understand the accompanying email correctly, it is in no way an attempt to place a mathematical value on a piece, like professional critics (oo! I hate critics!) do when they give something a two or five star review. It's only meant to guide the reader so far as, "This is what the editors liked." More like a friend recommending something to you than an authority telling you what the best stuff is. Good, good. Me like.

Where was I going? Yes. It's all very well saying we value these things about stories, but I find much of what I like is intangible. Much as I might admire character development, originality, depth of feeling, pretty form and structure and all that, I much prefer the disjointed, silly, scattered works of Kurt Vonnegut to the majestical tapestry of Dickens. So it goes!

I think our personal tastes accounts for a lot more than our sense of logic or system of values, and that is in itself summat to be much valued thank you and bye!

Anonymous's picture
Why the hell would you want to objectively rate a piece of literature? (or for monsieur Philosophe Pendantique, reach a 'subjective consensus' much in the same way as we do for the semantics of our language) Surely literature derives its richness from humanity, subjectiveness, the conditions of 'I', 'We' and 'You'. I mean, you can start to define successful strategies for delivery, such as vocabulary, cadence, and miscellaneous oratorial (is that a word?) sleights of hand, but ultimately people tend to respond to stories by how they make them feel. We've all had the experience of finishing a short story and just feeling totally overwhelmed with emotion. Rounding on a work with a flurry of ratiocination is liable to do exactly what you want it to do; reduce the piece to logical, tangible, 'knowable' entry. In other words, to kill it. Dickens was brought up in a school system where grammar was still rigorously modelled on the Latin, and thus considerably less flexible than the hybrid model we have today. I find his tales trim and well-ordered, like algebra, but often witty and inventive, not like algebra. Take the opening of Bleak House, for example, where the scene is painted without any finite verbs. Clever, but has it got soul? For my part, I just like stuff that touches parts of me I thought I'd lost, parts I'd forgotten I'd had. I like writing that shows me new options, that humbles and confuses me. I love pieces that legitimise my dreams, and introduce me to new ones. Jung conjectures about what would happen if a mind could in a single moment glimpse a simultaneous picture of everything it is capable of imagining. Zen Buddhists might see his description as being similar to satori, or enlightenment. I, in my own quirky way, see literature as the rickety plank bridge that leads me across a chasm towards such a state. Every story that knocks out a preconception, every poem that enables my mind to embrace a little more than it could before... I humbly submit that they deserve the epithet 'good'.
Anonymous's picture
Of course, not everyone will agree with a cherry-rated piece either. The cherries depend entirely on the editor's perception of what you are trying to convey as well as their own personal taste. I suppose it will also depend on which genre they prefer - for instance, the Western genre does not appeal to my personal tastes. However, I enjoy reading horror stories. Maybe they don't have fantastic character deveolpment or intricate little sub-plots, but they entertain me. And, after all, isn't that what writing is all about? Every time an author posts here or on any other site they are looking for an audience - someone to offer constructive criticism or to laud and priase their work. Having said this, obviously some writing is intended to convey perhaps a political or moral message to its audience, but again in a way that will entertain them. Otherwise we would all be stuck reading textbooks our entire lives - not the most enthralling of prospects. For example, George Bernard Shaw wrote the highly successful play and subsequent musical 'Pygmalion'/'My Fair Lady' as an argument against social prejudices based upon language. Back to the main point (apologies for rambling). I believe that if an essay entertains someone - anyone - then it is a good piece of writing. How 'good' something is is unquantifiable and undefinable. It is all entirely subjective.
Anonymous's picture
Entirely subjective? I disagree. There are a large but limited number of criterea we may rationally apply to any piece of work, with varying degrees of objectivity, the ordering of which is entirely subjective. Which may be exactly what you meant by entirely subjective, but I think it is best to be clear on these things. But then again I do study philosophy, so I think it is safest to ignore me and hope I go away.
Anonymous's picture
I don't know if I can define a good piece of writing; cetainly don't know if I can write one. But there is definately some kind of quality that sets some writing aside from other writing. Something that you just know inside makes it a good piece of writing. Everyone seems to be different here. Like to be honest, I've read stuff that people say is great, they really admire it, it gets loads of praise; and when I read it it bores me to death man, and I don't really think much of it, it doesn't really do anything for me. So for what it's worth - for me a good piece of writing, keeps my attention. It doesn't matter what kind of genre it is story/poem/novel etc. It's anything that doesn't make me want to put the book down, or click 'back' on a browser. Anything that doesn't make me lose concentration halfway through reading it, so that I start thinking about something else. Anything that pulls me in as a reader and keeps me pulled in. You have to have my interest and keep my interest. It's got to be something addictive, a book you can't put down, or can't wait to get back into; when you've finished doing your daily chores etc. If my mind starts wandering, and I start thinking about what I want for my tea - then you've lost me.. ussually them kind of books get left on the side and never touched again, or those stories get 'back' clicked. In my opinion, it's not a good piece of writing if it does that to me.. basically it's anything that isn't a chore to read, anything that doesn't bore me to tears. It's the art of keeping the reader involved. You kind of want to give something to the reader - in return for their time. A good piece of writing leaves you feeling something at the end of it. Entertains you in some way. Creates a memory, that stays with you. A lasting impression maybe..
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