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Style of writing or Bad writing?

Discussion in 'The Authors' Café' started by RoflLuxRay, Dec 17, 2012.

  1. RoflLuxRay

    RoflLuxRay Pokemon Physiologist

    Big question here, it's been troubling me for weeks now.

    I've been a writer for quite a while, since I was 16 or something (I'm 21 now) but wrote mostly in Spanish. Ever since then, I've read other work and tried to learn from it, but I always end up critisizing a particular part of it, being the lack of description or any other small detail that jumps to me. But then I notice that the book I'm reading is a tremendously famous book acclaimed by thousands across the world.

    I'm not trying to put myself above great writers such as Gabriel García Márquez or Octavio Paz, but this really troubles me whenever people point out that either I'm giving too much of something or too little, i.e critisizing my writing "style" when other people made it to the top with a "style" somewhat similar to mine.

    Is that a reader prejudice? Do different readers have different styles they prefer? Or am I just overanalyzing this and should get back to writing?

    I would love to hear opinions regarding this subject.
  2. Kutie Pie

    Kutie Pie 桜咲くこの坂を今も上っている

    It's most likely just an individual preference those particular readers have. We all have them. Unless you really can't write proper grammar or proper sentence structures, there's no real right-or-wrong way to write. You can be a bad writer if your characters are one-dimensional, if all but one character (usually the main character) is flat, if there's plot holes everywhere, if the story makes no sense, if you don't have a great climax, if you're honestly making things up as you go along (which paves the way to a story that's all over the place and inconclusive), there's a lot about a story structure that can go wrong that makes the writing bad. Choice of how much description you want is more of a personal thing, though you can get too wordy, or have too little description depending on what your describing. Generally, if it's important to the story, you describe it as visually as you can--though with as little words as possible, too (this is more towards screenwriting than when writing a novel, but I think it applies to it as well).

    You can write however you want to write, because that's what you're comfortable with, whether it's being not very descriptive, or rather descriptive. The readers, unless they're giving reasonable explanations and showing examples from the story, are most likely just being nitpicky unless you are having trouble with telling a story and they're trying to show you how to fix it. We fan fiction writers are all amateurs, there's always room for improvement, and finding/experimenting with styles.
  3. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me Staff Member Moderator

    Some points:

    - Books can be acclaimed without being perfect in every way as far as those who acclaim it are concerned. Maybe it's acclaimed for being a strikingly realistic look into pre-Victorian society with extraordinarily vivid characters, or for exploring the theme of death in an original and heartwrenching way, or whatever, with a subpar writing style being a detriment but not sufficiently so to seriously bring the book down.

    - You may be missing some crucial difference between your writing style and theirs. There can be a world of difference between two works that could both fall under the label of "lacking description" - one may merely minimalistic, leaving non-vital details up to the reader's imagination, while the other is a summarized mess whose prose is so dead as to lack any impact whatsoever. Those famous authors may be able to do it, but perhaps you just aren't doing it well enough.

    - People often learn "rules" of writing that really just aren't - like when people are advised to not use the word 'said'. Someone who has had that beaten into their head will look at a classic that uses 'said' all the time with scorn, wondering how it can be so acclaimed when it fails at something so basic, but in reality, using 'said' just isn't actually bad writing. Maybe you could call this personal taste, but I would argue in a situation like this one, the anti-'said' person is simply wrong.

    - The book may in fact be grossly overrated. In theory an author could get very far while constantly making grammar mistakes (editors generally make sure this doesn't actually happen with professionally published books, but it happens all the time with popular fanfics, for instance), but that doesn't mean grammar is just a matter of personal opinion and you shouldn't bother with correct grammar.

    - Yes, some aspects of style really are matters of opinion, but you should always be careful with deciding something a reviewer says about your work is just a matter of opinion, so this thread rings a lot of alarm bells in my head. It feels like reaching for a justification to dismiss critics. A lot of advice regarding style has good reasons behind it; maybe you have even better reasons to do it the way you're currently doing it, but just going "that's your opinion" gets you nowhere.
  4. Mrs. Lovett

    Mrs. Lovett Rolling writer

    I've thought about this too, and right now it seems to me that it all comes down to the difference between fanfiction and actual published stories.

    It's important to consider that, in the 'real world', works are judged differently than a fanfiction would, posted in an online community. They are judged not only by the quality of their writing, but also by their meaning, and their effect on people. Why, for example, is War and Peace considered great? Whether or not you think that the characters could have been written better, the description done better, etc.,it's valuable because it gives the reader something more than a pretty mental reel of scenes. It gives them a vivid glimpse of a historical event, and of society, of the beauties and tragedies of life, and contains serious, thought-provoking themes that, though they might not be encoded in a writing style that the reader finds pleasing, they are written in such a way that they will reveal themselves if the reader spends some time to think about them. Such a story is like a treasure chest. The case might not be anything out of this world, but if you can open it, then you'll find the real value of the story -- a common element that everyone can appreciate. And once you've found that, you'll realize that it transcends the possible flaws of the actual writing. And then you won't spend time thinking about how this character's emotions should have been 'shown, not told', or how that scene could have been more elegantly described. Because you'll realize that, despite all those things, the writer still got their point across, and it was a valuable point indeed.

    Readers who are able to find this 'hidden' meaning will value the story for something beyond the quality of its text, and if this happens to a large enough segment of society, the work will become famous, and maybe even great. And so, a writer may rise to the top because he/she writes meaningful, relevant things, and has written them in such a way that readers can access them.

    I'm not saying that anyone who doesn't like a 'great' work has somehow missed its point or hasn't thought about it enough. In some cases, the style of writing is enough to turn me away from a famous story, in which case I'll simply set it aside and say that I didn't get the same impression as its fans did. That doesn't mean that the book is meaningless; I just found that my complaints about the writing overwhelmed any pleasure I attained from trying to read deeper into the text. Different people definitely have different tastes, but by no means is your opinion invalid if, say, you see a paragraph that the author could have done better, or you don't find the meaning of the story worth the strain of extracting it from average, or even low-quality writing. It's happened to me, too. I just make an example of writers I like, and write with the style that's best for me and my story.

    Now, on a fanfiction community, stories are judged differently than in the real publishing world. Fics don't usually cast such large reverberations on the fanfiction society (at least, not that I know of) because they're written in a different way. I don't think it's likely that a fanfiction would be praised for its 'beautiful portrayal of Kanto society' or for 'launching a revival of the spirit of pokemon training', because really, those things can mean whatever you want them to mean. Every reader is going to have their own interpretation, their own two cents, and even if someone did want to become the Tolstoy of Pokemon fanfiction, there would be at least one reader who would want to do things their own way, so in the end it wouldn't work out.

    That's why fics are valued for their stylistic aspects, and for the creativity the writer displays when building their own version of the Pokemon world. Judgment is placed especially on description and imagery, and other mechanics of storytelling, because those are your only tools to engage your reader in your version of the Pokemon world. After all, Pokemon isn't something we all share as human beings, and every fic writer puts their own spin on it. No matter how mind-blowing a fic may be, someone else will always find a way to do something different and come up with their own reinvention. And it would be perfectly valid of them to do so.

    So, in short, I believe liking a story is a matter of personal taste, and even when it comes to famous works, you have the right to judge according to mechanics. But sometimes, a story's value can transcend the style of writing, in which case it's all a matter of whether you tried to find it, or whether it's important to you or not.
  5. RoflLuxRay

    RoflLuxRay Pokemon Physiologist

    Wow!! What a variety of opinions!! Wonderful!!

    Indeed. By re-reading some of the work I did years ago (A terrible fanfiction I once posted here) I've realized how poor my style was and improved it. Improvement is the best aim for any writer, but in my career I guess it's kinda necessary.

    Oh, I see your point, but maybe I should have pointed it out before. I'm not trying to avoid critics, but just comprehend those coming my way that confuse me. And I truly appreciate the feedback. I'm always looking to improve myself but it always goes around the two ends of discussion, that's the problem. I guess I need to look deeply into what I'm writing and realize whether the approach I'm taking to my writing is correct or not.

    Mrs. Lovett, your opinion really rang some bells on my head. I could quote your entire post and nitpick it piece by piece, but this last sentence wraps it up.

    My girlfriend just borrowed me a Sherlock Holmes book and I've enjoyed it, despite being a nightmare to understand (It's a translation to spanish, but it's still a nightmare to understand!). My mistake was to assume that people valued fan-fiction the same as an actual book, I guess I must try to build a world of my own instead of borrow Pokémon's, just to test how good I can be.

    After reading all your opinions, my thoughts are that reviews come for a reason, whether it is just a reader not happy with my writing style or a reader pointing out serious flaws in my story. I will meditate about my writing style and find flaws within myself and polish them before exposing them to the world.

    And my sincerest gratitude to you all!!!

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