cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Roar for Powerful Words

A couple of days ago lauredhel tagged me for the Roar for Powerful Words meme:
The idea is to list three things the taggee believes are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour.

Talking about writing is something I find hard to resist, so of course I'm playing. But I have a tradition of not on-tagging with memes, so to those I mention, please don't feel obligated to do this meme if you don't wish to.

Three Essentials of Good, Powerful Writing
Just three? Okay, if I have to pick just three, they are:

  1. Have a Point
    Writing that has no point = boring. Even a drabble can have a point, and even an academic essay can be missing one. If you don't know what you want to say in a story or essay, believe me, your readers can tell.

    Writing with a purpose sounds so simple, doesn't it? And yet the single most common criticism I make of the writing I read (or watch -- tv shows and movies often have the same problem), is that it has no point. I'm left asking, "Why did I read that?" and feeling none the richer for the experience -- I've been on no emotional journey, learned nothing new, been offered nothing thought provoking, and had no reason to admire the writing style.

    I'm actually not that hard to please in this regard: if there is one good, strong point and it's decently made (by which I mean on purpose and not by accident), I can forgive a piece of writing almost any other fault. And yet, I would guess that over half of everything I read has no point, not even something writer-centred like a writing exercise (which is a totally valid point!).

    Finding your point can take some practice, but that's where re-writing comes in. Something I learned when writing university essays was that I often didn't know what I thought about my topic until I'd started writing; I knew the main ideas I wanted to explore, but they were foggy and unrefined. Once I'd banged out a first draft, I re-read it to see what I'd said: whether it made sense, whether I agreed with it. The re-write was all about teasing out the foggy ideas until they were as clearly expressed as I could make them.

    That's still how I write, and it's not a lesson reserved solely for non-fiction. There are often plot-holes and unclear paragraphs in the first draft of my stories too, and I hone them in the same way. This is something any writer can learn.

  2. Less is More
    Pithy writing is powerful.

    I love long, plotty epics as much as the next person. The Vorkosigan saga, for instance, is an all-time re-reading favourite of mine. In large part that's because Bujold's novels are abrim with interesting ideas, and always have a point. The series may be long, but it is not length for its own sake.

    When I read, if long passages go by without a sniff of a point then I stop deep-reading and start scanning until I hit something interesting. If I find I'm scanning more than reading, I stop altogether. I close the book, or shut the browser window. That's it. The end.

    Fandom, with its usual eye for pithy jargon, has a name for this kind of overblown writing: "tl;dr" or "too long; didn't read". I think it's one of the funniest acronyms ever -- it's so perfectly ironic and exactly how I feel about long, boring fantasy series (a particular peeve of mine).

    In short: writing can't make an impression if it's so boring it's not read, so make each paragraph count.

  3. Grammar is Your Friend
    Yeah, so, I couldn't have a list like this without at least one technical thing on it. :)

    I've played around a fair bit with grammar, especially in my early writing. What I found was that there are some great effects that can be achieved by judiciously breaking the conventions of grammar, but for the most part weird grammar is much less effective than other techniques, such as unusual imagery or clever plot twists.

    That said, this is a lesson I think every writer must learn for themselves, so don't take my word for it. Do your best to break the English language -- I'll be the first one to clap if you succeed in a brand new and interesting way.

Five Powerful Blogs

  • At the risk of seeming recursive, I find lauredhel an interesting blogger. Her posts are topical, link through to debates I might not otherwise have seen, and always have a point; she also does a good job of warning and cutting so that people can easily skim or read more deeply.

  • At ephemeral traces, Kristina Busse discusses fandom, academia, and women in a style that is personal but thoughtful and insightful.

  • thefourthvine writes the most wonderful reviews: funny and enticing, with a good amount of information salted through so that it's easy to choose what to read, and yet she manages it without major spoilers.

  • I very much enjoy paceus's essays on writing, word use, and fandom. They are rare but thought-provoking, and her emails are even better.

  • Science Made Cool by Dianne Kelly and James Cambias has pithy, fascinating, and sometimes gruesome science news. It's very easy to waste time on this site. :)

Okay, enough from me. If anyone decides to answer the meme -- and that includes anyone on my flist, even if I haven't explicitly mentioned you in this post -- please do come back and leave a link. I'd love to read your thoughts on what makes writing powerful.
Tags: discussion, essay, links, writing
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