Aside from the talk of style, another ingredient in good writing is content. Sometimes it adds the perfect amount of flavor, and other times it can be a dull spice that needs other ingredients to pull out the flavor. I know, that was a ridiculously cheesy metaphor, and I will do my best to not revisit it (No promises though.
Every story has a basis, every time someone picks up a pen; they do so for a purpose. That purpose? To share the sprout of an idea, to expand upon it, and to engage the possibilities of it. What the writer has to say is the reason for them to be writing, usually.
One of the most important aspects of writing, and reading, is the connecting of author and reader. Readers find themselves connecting to an author, especially one with the content to really pull them in and get them to join in on the story. Content is the glue that binds reader to writer. Not all glue works though; you wouldn’t use a glue stick to fix a broken banister, would you?
Writing is essentially the composing of some idea. A good writer will take this idea and expand on it. A good writer will develop this idea into something simply captivating. In fact, content may be completely necessary for good writing, but what that content is may not be. I know, this sounds contradictory of me considering I just told you content is the glue. But seriously, it would take good writing to turn some iffy content into something pretty nifty. Telling a story, even if it’s a dull one, can take a lot of practice and keen insight into style, language, and presentation to create captivation out of an otherwise mundane concept.
But then, I think to myself: what is the purpose of writing if the idea isn’t worth sharing? The detail to style and comprehensive editing is all in vain if it isn’t for something that people will give a damn about, right? A good writer is like the Energizer bunny, and the content is the battery, supplying the writer with the means of writing. Sometimes, the writer can utilize all the important aspects that go into writing to fully accentuate the content.
Glue has a purpose, to join things together and make them stick. There are different kinds of glue for different kinds of uses, so you wouldn’t use simple glue stick for a heavy duty project, would you?
Although, I have seen a simple glue stick do some pretty spectacular things..
Sometimes, all you need to recognize good writing is recognizing a fully functioning and formulated style. A good writer will no doubt have a specific style. This is my first key ingredient to understanding good writing. Style is different for everyone; some writers will write with a very seemingly detailed orientation while others will write with a purposefully secluded presentation of their story.
There are certain elements to determining a writer’s style: tone, language, and sensory details. A writer’s style deeply depends on tone, most importantly how the tone is carried out and portrayed throughout the piece. Stephen King’s literary style is deeply rooted in the tone in which he presents his stories, inevitably evoking a sense of utter discomfort and suspense as he drags out the story’s actions through his keen appeal to figurative language and sensory details. Language is just as important; a writer’s style can be found within the word choice they use in their writing. Some writers may use simple language in order to get their idea across while others may choose to use heavy word choice in order to create a specific tone. Attention to details surrounding and enveloping the story is, yet again, also very important. Sometimes a writer may choose to give deep metaphorical purpose to these details, others may use them simply to gauge the environment that the story is told in, purposefully indicating the essence of the story itself.
Style is definitely individualized, but individuals will belong to certain groups. We’ve seen several writing style movements through the ages, each one of them discovered for a purpose. The Russians emerged with a realistic style to engage and recreate a world that is as close to real as possible. This style emerged as the necessity to tell readers how the world’s gears really turned. There were also those who believed that good style involves the use of details and mental associations to elicit emotionally subjective and sensory impressions. Regardless of how or why style waves were created, they serve their purpose, exploring writing through a means of stylistic productivity.
I see style like I see wine; it gets better as it ages. I mean, the more work and the more one writes will inevitably dictate their inherent sense of style. Some writers will have a remarkably serious tone, which will give the readers the right feel for the story, others may be incredibly sarcastic allowing their readers to take what they write with a grain of salt. Style literally allows the story to be told in such a way that the writer intends it to be, so having a good sense of style present in the writing will make what the writer has to say even better and more compelling.
But good writing isn’t about style alone, there are other factors that are deeply involved with the writing process that determines the quality and functionality of the written content itself. Stay tuned for more!
Here is something I’ve been pondering: what makes writing, well, good? We all have those authors that we thoroughly enjoy, and then there are the ones that we don’t enjoy as much, but others do. This thought prompted me to really question what makes writing good. I’ve heard that good writing is like good art, you can’t explain it but you know it when you see it, but I refuse to believe that. I mean, yes, sometimes I wonder how some bestselling authors got to their position, but I can understand why good writing is good. But, it isn’t something that is set in stone either: understanding good writing is a discussion, not a fact. However, I do understand a couple of things necessary in order to have good writing.
There are a lot of characteristics that go into writing, making each individual writer different than the rest, and at the same time similar to others. One major category is style: style defines how the content is written. The main concern with style is whether or not you can sense it. A good writer has a good sense of style. Another major category is content: what does the writer have to say? Intriguing content is the backbone to good writing. The trick to good writing is combining these categories in such a way that completely captivates your readers. Good writing doesn’t mean the inclusion of overly embellished metaphors, incredibly tedious detailed images, or over abundantly dramatic material.
Good writing is simply doing it what it takes to give your readers something to occupy themselves with. It’s about creating a story for the readers to become a part of. While there can be good writing, there must also be good reading. What I mean by this is that readers need to be able to let themselves enter the story without any reservations. It takes two to tango and, likewise, two to convey and understand good writing.
This is the first blog in a series over good writing. It’s not something that is set stone, but we know it when we see it. What is it, though? This blog series will touch on exactly that.
BOB - It’s a real shame that novella don’t get much play with traditional publishers these days. Some of the best things I’ve ever read were in this short format. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea introduced me to one of America’s best authors. However, the incredibly difficult story format has seen little emphasis in recent years. Even literary heavyweights like Stephen King have to package several novellas together, as in his Different Seasons, or in a short story collection. If these feature some of King’s most tightly written prose, why are they not further emphasized?
The issue is in financial risk for traditional publishers. The cost for editing, binding, promoting, and distributing print editions of books is astronomical. When you factor in that novellas are frequently an experiment for the author that falls outside their usual storytelling methods, the risk increases for publishers. If they stake money on a small book (such as Stephen King’s recent Blockade Billy, which did okay) and it does not perform well, they are on the hook for a large sum.
Thankfully, though, the development of digital publishing makes novellas less of a risk for publishers. Stephen King himself saw great successes with his Amazon Kindle exclusive Ur. Other authors have shared their novella attempts to more successes with the growing E-reader market.
The risks are greatly lessened for all parties involved with digital publishers; readers, authors, and publishers alike have more to gain and less to lose. This diversity of form in writing can only bring better things for everyone, and heralds great things to come for literature in general.
BOB - Countless people have experienced the thrill of seeing a favorite book adapted by Hollywood to a full-length film. From the critical successes of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the recent Hunger Games blockbuster to the sleeper choices such as Fight Club, Hollywood has found the mother lode of all source material for its films: bookshelves everywhere.
However, there is something to be said for the length of this page to screen adaptations. Aspects of books will never work on screen continuous narration can only become so much internal monologue, as seen in Fight Club or Blade Runner; lengthy descriptions can only serve as a guidepost for sets, as seen in the Lord of the Rings. The most difficult part of adapting a story from one medium to the next, however, is length.
It invariably takes far longer to read a book than to watch its film adaptation counterpart (just ask all those crazy kids who watched the version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter featuring Demi Moore). The descriptions are richer, the narration (typically) reveals more, and there are more scenes. However, we’ve seen film adaptations of books swell in length until it sometimes feels as though they outweigh their framework.
Fight Club runs just under 2 hours and twenty minutes. The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers each feature run time a few minutes shy of 3 hours. (The extended cuts each extend to well over 3 hours long!) The epic conclusion, The Return of the King? In theaters, it ran 3 hours and twenty minutes long, while its extended cut is over 4 hours!
Even more recent choices, such as The Hunger Games runs about as long as Fight Club, while The Deathly Hallows part 1 & part 2 run about the same. It’s uncertain how long the first half of The Hobbit will last, but if history (and Peter Jackson’s directorial style in general) tell us anything, it will clock in at well over two hours long.
The question is, how long is too long for a film adaptation? At what point does the pacing outweigh the necessity of including as much as possible from the source material? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Great Gatsby, but if the movie plods along slowly and lacks some of the frenetic energy of the novel, I will be sorely disappointed.
What I’m trying to say is that these film adaptations are far from anemic. Indeed, at times they seem to be gluttonously overfilled with scenes and details that serve more as fan service than truly moving the story forward. The issue is that directors miss the point of their medium when adapting books to screen: Film is a visual medium, one in which it is better to show then tell. Overfilling the lean films with gratuitous amounts of detail from the book is a well-meaning, but ultimately misguided effort. These are adaptations, not the visual experience one imagines while reading a book. Portions should be adapted in order to play to the strengths of the medium, not directly translated.
BOB - For the past three years of my college career, I’ve taken a creative writing workshop every spring. Each course has come draped in the usual trappings of the workshop design – writing exercises, assigned stories to read, classroom discussions, and group critiques. My professor has always stressed the importance of “reading like a writer” but I never fully grasped the concept until this semester.
I think the root of this technique goes back to our infancy, when learning how to speak, walk, and feed ourselves. How did we learn this? Through imitation. We watched how those more experienced than ourselves went about their daily routines, paying close attention to the way in which they executed simple tasks. Through a combination of imitation and trial and error we eventually toddled our ways toward an apparently drunken way of moving through our homes. The same methodology is applied to creative writing.
Think back to your first written works. It doesn’t matter if they’re poems, stories, articles, essays, or some as-of-yet undiscovered form of writing. Chances are they were clunky, choppy, and roughly hewn. I know mine were (and some still are!). Don’t look upon these creative pieces with disdain, though. You were unfamiliar with the form and had not yet familiarized yourself with how to skillfully craft sentences and stanzas out of carefully selected words. These early pieces can be a benchmark for how far you’ve come.
But those awkward first writings were just the beginning. As you grew and explored your favorite genres, certain writers grabbed hold of you. For me, Ernest Hemingway, Chuck Palahniuk, and Stephen King’s styles of writing and subject matter have always fascinated me. As such, I’ve worked to combine their writing styles with my own tendencies through trial and error into a sort of literary mash up. I’m still working on developing my voice and tightening the style, but I know I’ve come a long way.
The key to reading like a writer is to do it constantly. Eventually it will become second nature and you’ll look for techniques and style from which you can borrow to accentuate your own writing without having to make a conscious effort. Find authors whose writing you admire and read them. Branch out and read authors others recommend. It’s all part of the process to strengthen your own writing.
BOB - When Hollywood isn’t busy remaking Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte films for the 17th time or churning out another Nicholas Sparks adaptation, they’re busy harvesting plots and characters from your bookshelves. Films are frequently “inspired by” or “based upon” novels and short stories, contemporary and classic alike.
Several recent films have drawn upon well-loved and familiar characters from classic literature. Maybe you saw a little film called Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr., or its sequel A Game of Shadows. The two summer blockbusters were very successful in drawing basic elements from literature and placing them in the separate context of the films.
While they have little to do with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories outside of character names and basic plot elements, they’ve helped introduce a poorly-read audience to a classic collection of stories and characters. While some of the creative liberties taken on screen may be questionable, Doyle himself said of Holmes “You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him,” when working with William Gillette on a stage adaptation.
An interesting development in the adaptation of detective fiction from page to screen is on the way for this summer. The Raven, starring John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, looks to move into some interesting and vaguely meta-fiction plot devices.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film, the trailer is available here. The general crux of the period piece, however, is that a murderer is leading the constabulary in a game of cat and mouse. When it becomes clear that the murders are based upon the works of Edgar Allan Poe, the writer himself is brought on to help pursue the killer. It’s an interesting commentary about an author’s relationship to his or her works. It looks as if the police force in the film holds Cusack’s Poe partially responsible for the murders, which begs the question “Can authors be held responsible for fallout from their works?” Should Salinger have been held responsible for Mark David Chapman’s actions? Hopefully the upcoming film will delve deeper into this commentary and not turn it into a straight thriller.
BOB - March 29, 2012 – When I found a fresh copy of Ernest Hemingway’s latest work, I was beyond excited. The publisher had obviously worked hard to make the book appear vintage, as its cover was dog-eared, spine broken, and pages yellowed and aged. I guess this is their way to justify charging close to $20 for a paperback book. While I can appreciate the efforts to make it “vintage” (but why then, was it humbly ensconced in the shelf of a used book store?) I think simply binding the book and allowing the words within to speak for themselves may allow for time to be better spent elsewhere, such as realigning their aging business model. But, I digress.
If you expect much character background from the outset of For Whom the Bell Tolls, you will be sorely disappointed. The author (who is allegedly quite the drunken rabble-rouser) begins in a style that is apparently known as “in media res,” leaving readers to piece together information from subtle hints in his prose and dialogue. The protagonist begins as a faceless soldier who slowly comes into focus as the story moves forward. This “Robert Jordan,” with whom readers travel throughout the entire novel, is an American expatriate fighting against the ruling government of Spain. To make matters worse, he is ordered by a Russian general to demolish a bridge alongside a merry band of drunken rebels.
Let’s stop for a moment and reflect on this. We’re expected to empathize with an American who has interloped into international politics attempting to overthrow the ruling government of a sovereign nation? I’d buy that if this took place during the Vietnam War, but Jordan takes his orders from a Communist general. I’m not sure how I should feel about a “hero” who associates with Communists.
But back to the bridge. The entire book hinges upon a plot to destroy a bridge in the middle of Spain. Jordan meets up with a group of guerrilla fighting rebels who associate themselves with gypsies and society’s other cast offs, including the beautiful and vulnerable Maria. Jordan is attracted to her, though she is timid and shell-shocked from her rape at the hands of the ruling government’s soldiers, and eventually takes advantage of her wounded mental state to make her fall in love with him. His lighthearted treatment of this exploitation only shows how inhuman he is. However, there is justice in this novel. An allied rebel group is wiped out by the ruling Fascist government and Jordan is forced to implement his plan with improvised explosive caps after the guerrilla fighters’ leader bravely steals them and flees. As they retreat up the mountains after destroying the mountain, Jordan is wounded beyond help and stays behind to face his certain and just death, struggling to buy some time for those he took advantage of. While this may be repentant, it does not excuse his other actions throughout the novel.
By far my biggest issue is that no bell ever rings in this book! What sort of misleading title is that? I know that you are to “ask not for whom the bell tolls” but I really wanted to know. So in addition to a communist exploitative rebel fighter who essentially commits suicide, we also have a misleading title to accompany the plain prose that doesn’t really tell us much. This is obviously a cautionary tale that Hemingway saw fit to provide for us. The moral of the story, you ask? Don’t take orders from Communists, or else you will die.
Today on Look Inside liloQui we introduce Brett Davis, our application back end and network security guru. Brett’s seen the Cloud, and wants to make it more secure.
Brett Davis was born in Noblesville and graduated from Purdue University, where he met our lead developer Christopher Miller. They’re in a band you should check out. Brett lives in downtown Chicago where he works for West Monroe Partners. Alongside band-mate and fellow liloQui developer Chris, he has helped develop the security tool Filelocker.
When he’s not working, Brett enjoys a nice gin and tonic and bands such Third Eye Blind, Foo Fighters, and Fleetwood Mac. He hopes to get a master’s in digital forensics or network security and work for a government agency.
Q: Tell us a little about what you do.
For my portion of liloQui, I’ll be working on the backend site design, which means that I’ll be laying out how all of the data about different published works is stored, making sure that the site performs well and scales up as we get more users, and also to make sure that proper security is implemented to keep user data safe so that people feel confident when they’d like to purchase a work through us.
Q: Why are you excited to be a part of liloQui?
I’m extremely excited to be part of the liloQui team because all of the people in the team are so profoundly talented and passionate about this project. I’ve worked with Chris on numerous projects before, and having gotten to know Ryan and Josh over the past couple of months I feel confident that we’ll be able to put together a truly exceptional product.
Q: What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card (for the 3rd time).
BOB - What do missing cats, unfaithful wives, psychic prostitutes, and morbidly curious teenagers have in common? They are all central to the wandering, dream-like plot of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This lengthy translation from the original Japanese tells the story of Toru Okada, a 30-year old everyman unemployed by choice. Lacking direction in his life, his wife eventually leaves him, setting him on a tumbling, illogical path of self-discovery and exploration.
This is not an easy read, but the wandering prose is always rewarding, with deep insights into the human condition and what propels us drunkenly forward on a world that seems to careen out of control. Murakami’s characters are memorable and his attention to detail is astounding. Jay Rubin’s translation does well to retain these aspects of the novel, which at times is overpowering and confounding. While not always well-paced, the story is captivating and, at times, horrifying. The personal harms caused to each of the characters can be felt through the story-telling, which lends a very real weight to a book that is at times reminiscent of a murky dream. This renowned book, which nearly escapes description, is well worth the initial effort it takes to read.