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Culture Forum

  1. 03 Mar '08 07:03 / 1 edit
    Ever since I started high school, my teachers have sought fiercely to inculcate me with their rule-book to good writing. To name a few of their rules:

    - Avoid "ing" verbs (a rule echoed by Virginia Woolf in Orlando when he/she describe them as "the devil."😉
    - Use more verbs than adjectives
    - Avoid cliches
    - Write in the active voice, not the passive.
    - Vary sentence length

    Can anyone add to or challenge that list? In fact, the more important question is, Is there such thing as good writing? Can we evaluate the merit of any writing-style? Or is good writing relative to the reader?

    I personally think that there is such thing as good and bad writing. Good writers are able to formulate their ideas succinctly and economically; they use words with precision to convey ideas and evoke feelings. If the writing fails to achieve that, then what is the point?
  2. Standard member Seitse
    Doug Stanhope
    03 Mar '08 08:55
    Only ideas matter.

    Words are only a vehicle.

    If the vehicle goes from point 'A' to point 'Z', then it served its purpose.

    Above that, it's snobish. Like saying that a BMW is superior to public transport.
  3. 03 Mar '08 10:02 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Seitse

    If the vehicle goes from point 'A' to point 'Z', then it served its purpose.
    That is beside the point. My argument was that good writing is more effective than bad writing. Although bad writing might "serve its purpose" and communicate ideas to the reader, good writing will achieve that effect better. For example, consider this sentence:

    My brother, with large gum-boots and heavy socks drenched by the downfall of rain on his feet , walked towards the lake.


    The sentence is awkward and clumsy primarily because the relationship between the subject of the sentence and the verb is lost. A long adverbial phrase distances the subject from the verb, and thus obscures the argument. By the time I reach the verb, I cannot remember who has done what.

    A similar jarring expression occurs within the adverbial phrase itself. Because of the adjectival phrase interposed between the object, (socks) and the preposition (on), the referent of the preposition is unclear (I have to wonder, Is it the socks or the rain which are on his feet?)

    To write the sentence more clearly,

    Rain-drenched socks and large gum-boots on his feet, my brother walked to the lake.


    In the latter example, I have condensed the adverbial phrase into a smaller adjectival phrase, and placed the subject next to the verb. I personally find this sentence much easier to read then the other. It is not snobbish to find one version more difficult to read than the other.

    From the above comparison, I can formulate a general rule that it is better to place the adverb after the verb. Although you can convey the same meaning with the adverb between the subject and verb, the meaning will be less perspicuous.
  4. Standard member Seitse
    Doug Stanhope
    03 Mar '08 10:18 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Conrau K
    That is beside the point. My argument was that good writing is more effective than bad writing.
    Are we in the old discussion of the half empty - half full glass?

    The same way a BMW may take you faster than the local bus, "good writing" (whatever that is) may communicate an idea smoother.

    However, let's turn it upside down: Good ideas are more enjoyable than bad ideas.

    What would you pick?
    A good story written in a sloppy way?
    Or a bad story with flawless construction?

    I would pick the first one.

    However, going back at your point: Yes, observing all the 'rules' of
    writing is more 'effective' than not doing it.
  5. Subscriber AttilaTheHorn
    Erro Ergo Sum
    03 Mar '08 13:02
    Originally posted by Seitse
    Are we in the old discussion of the half empty - half full glass?

    The same way a BMW may take you faster than the local bus, "good writing" (whatever that is) [b]may
    communicate an idea smoother.

    However, let's turn it upside down: Good ideas are more enjoyable than bad ideas.

    What would you pick?
    A good story written in a sloppy way?
    ...[text shortened]... point: Yes, observing all the 'rules' of
    writing is more 'effective' than not doing it.[/b]
    A bad story would be rejected no mater how it was written. I would also reject a good story poorly written. If an idea is expressed with good writing, it is far more effective. It remains in the mind; it makes an impression. If poorly written, it is soon forgotten and has little effect. A thought or idea should be expressed in the most effective way one can do so. That means that style is very important, and that is hard work.
  6. Subscriber AttilaTheHorn
    Erro Ergo Sum
    03 Mar '08 13:05
    Of course, if you caught my typo mistake in my previous post and focused on that, then it only proves my point. Good writting, spelling and grammar are important to clear and effective communication.
  7. 03 Mar '08 13:08
    Originally posted by AttilaTheHorn
    Good writting
    😉
  8. Subscriber AttilaTheHorn
    Erro Ergo Sum
    03 Mar '08 13:31
    Originally posted by Nordlys
    😉
    Fair enough, another typo has been caught, but surely that proves my point.
  9. Standard member Seitse
    Doug Stanhope
    03 Mar '08 13:57 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by AttilaTheHorn
    A bad story would be rejected no mater how it was written. I would also reject a good story poorly written. If an idea is expressed with good writing, it is far more effective. It remains in the mind; it makes an impression. If poorly written, it is soon forgotten and has little effect. A thought or idea should be expressed in the most effective way one can do so. That means that style is very important, and that is hard work.
    Style is important, indeed.

    If you feel like arguing that, I'm not your guy.

    Ideas are more important than style, though.*

    Of course, the predictbale peace-making, mediating, temperate know-it-alls could jump in here, with due reason, and say they are both equally important.

    * At the end of the road, for the best writers the editorial houses
    have the correctors to work those small things on the original
    manuscripts. I have never seen an editorial house with good
    employed writers whose job is to put some great ideas on top of those
    beautifully written pieces sent by the "style writers"
    😉
  10. 03 Mar '08 14:12
    Originally posted by AttilaTheHorn
    Of course, if you caught my typo mistake in my previous post and focused on that, then it only proves my point. Good writting, spelling and grammar are important to clear and effective communication.
    Typo, you must have meant 'good writhing', I suppose? 😉
  11. 03 Mar '08 14:24
    Originally posted by Conrau K
    Ever since I started high school, my teachers have sought fiercely to inculcate me with their rule-book to good writing. To name a few of their rules:

    - Avoid "ing" verbs (a rule echoed by Virginia Woolf in Orlando when he/she describe them as "the devil."😉
    - Use more verbs than adjectives
    - Avoid cliches
    - Write in the active voice, not the ...[text shortened]... nvey ideas and evoke feelings. If the writing fails to achieve that, then what is the point?
    Doesn't sound good for Tolstoy or Doestoyevski by your criteria.
  12. 03 Mar '08 21:29 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by Seitse
    Are we in the old discussion of the half empty - half full glass?

    The same way a BMW may take you faster than the local bus, "good writing" (whatever that is) [b]may
    communicate an idea smoother.

    However, let's turn it upside down: Good ideas are more enjoyable than bad ideas.

    What would you pick?
    A good story written in a sloppy way?
    ...[text shortened]... point: Yes, observing all the 'rules' of
    writing is more 'effective' than not doing it.[/b]
    I did not think specifically about stories, but all genres of writing. On that topic, I tend to favour good writing over good stories. If I have to struggle to decipher the argument of a sentence, I will not bother with the story. To illustrate the point, I read recently a romance novel, Doctor Jane Comes Home; the story was interesting and the idea of romance amid the bloodied department of the emergency ward had a lot of scope for drama. But the style of the author was clumsy; the lack of imagery made each character indistnguishable from the others. I absolutely hated the novel.
  13. 03 Mar '08 21:38
    Originally posted by badmoon
    Doesn't sound good for Tolstoy or Doestoyevski by your criteria.
    I think these rules apply mainly to English writing. For example, the rule, avoid "ing" verbs, derives from the observation that the "ing" termination of a word is difficult to pronounce. We tend to drop the "g" because it slows the word down. Repeated use of "ing" words might also cause unintentional rhyme, and thus produce a comical effect.

    As the Russian language does not have such "ing" verbs, the relevant rule obviously does not apply. However, when Tolstoy uses the Russian equivalent for the imperfect tense (he is walking; he is running; etc.), and therefore, the translator will have to use the "ing" verbs to remain loyal to the novel. It implies no imperfection on the part of Tolstoy or the translator if these rules are broken.

    In Latin, the passive voice is often necessary to reverse the direction of the verb (to make the subject the object of a new sentence.) Therefore, the rule "use the active voice", cannot apply. So, these rules I listed (and which are open to question), are not universal for all languages.
  14. Standard member Sunburnt
    Leopard Girl
    03 Mar '08 23:20
    Originally posted by Conrau K
    Ever since I started high school, my teachers have sought fiercely to inculcate me with their rule-book to good writing. To name a few of their rules:

    - Avoid "ing" verbs (a rule echoed by Virginia Woolf in Orlando when he/she describe them as "the devil."😉
    - Use more verbs than adjectives
    - Avoid cliches
    - Write in the active voice, not the ...[text shortened]... nvey ideas and evoke feelings. If the writing fails to achieve that, then what is the point?
    I had a severe professor once that made me paranoid about semi colons. Ever since, I'm afraid to use them.
  15. 03 Mar '08 23:34
    Originally posted by Conrau K
    That is beside the point. My argument was that good writing is more effective than bad writing. Although bad writing might "serve its purpose" and communicate ideas to the reader, good writing will achieve that effect better. For example, consider this sentence:

    [quote]My brother, with large gum-boots and heavy socks drenched by the downfall of r ...[text shortened]... me meaning with the adverb between the subject and verb, the meaning will be less perspicuous.
    I looked at my brother's rain-drenched socks and large gum boots. "Why are you walking to the lake, when you're already wearing it?"