Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Qualities of Quality Writing

This afternoon, I enjoyed a good discussion with my fellow English teachers about the characteristics of good writing.  I want to open the question up for contributions--what do you think makes good writing GOOD?  Whether an essay, research paper, article, story or something else, what sets good writing apart?  Please list characteristics and/or examples in the comments section!


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  3. There are many ways to describe good writing, but in a nutshell I think good writing grabs you and won't let you go until it's done.

  4. This is more an outcome of good writing than a property of the writing itself, but I've found that really good writing is writing that makes you sound stupid when you try to explain it. I mean, who would want to read a book about some short people who are on a mission to throw a magical ring into a volcano? Or about a group of schoolboys going insane on a stranded island? And pretty much any poetry fits here too - if you try to describe poetry without quoting it, you will sound like a fool. ("So there's this poem I reall like about a guy and his impatient horse looking at a forest on their way home...") You have to actually read the story/poem yourself, in the author's own style, to appreciate how good it is.

    So I'd say that good writing (and this also applies to good speaking, for that matter, and perhaps to any form of art if you change the terms a bit) is writing which not only expresses new ideas in a unique voice which can't be replicated, but ties the ideas to the voice in such a way that if you try to isolate one from the other, you lose everything. It's a gestaltic configuration in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

  5. Examples:
    * "Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl." (First line of Little Bee" by Chris Cleave. Who could stop reading after that?)
    * "'Indian girls,' she spat. 'What kind of man would chase after that? A corn-eater will never be any more than she is.' The dancer were butterflies. From a hundred paces Salome could see the dirt under these girls' fingernails, but not their wings." (A character, a setting, a story, a whole world of inference in 5 lines. Love, love, love anything--fiction or non-fiction--by Barbara Kingsolver.)