It Was A Dark And Stormy Night ....

Discussion in 'Education & Personal Growth' started by sokanasanah, Feb 28, 2017.

  1. sokanasanah

    sokanasanah IL Hall of Fame

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    I am starting this thread in response to the clamor of millions - errr well, if you absolutely insist that we be precise - in response to an offhand request from one, perhaps two, gentle readers and yes, writers. An invitation from the first may be found here, while the second insists on remaining incommunicado.

    I would not set myself up as a teacher of English to any but the most abecedarian journeyman, sometimes materializing in the form of a non-native speaker, usually Asian. I wish I could say, twisting Robert Bolt, that "... in the thickets of the law (of writing), oh, there I am a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there ...", but I would not be so presumptuous. The sentence immediately preceding that quote would be more true - “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager", at least not on the seas of language.

    So, this thread is more of an invitation to reflect on writing. For me, more of a 'writing to learn' rather than a 'learning to write' venture. So, anyone who would not have this thread be stillborn, come share your thoughts on good writing. What is it? How does one recognize it? How do we cultivate it?

    The trigger linked above, and quoted below, can serve as a guide, but we can range as far as we dare.
    :icon_writing::icon_pc::BangHead:
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2017
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  2. sokanasanah

    sokanasanah IL Hall of Fame

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    The title of this thread is of course an homage to bad writing. It is often so much easier to recognize, and make fun of, atrocious failure, than it is to work out why a piece of writing works. The line is from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the 1st Baron Lytton who, in addition to this immortal opening line (thank God, he did not really add " .. a shot rang out"!), also came up with the bon mots "the great unwashed", "the almighty dollar" and "the pen is mightier than the sword".

    In full, the line reads:

    "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

    This line has become emblematic of bad writing, so much so that it has inspired the "Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest". You can read on that page many prize-winning examples of deliberately contrived bad writing. Perhaps an occasional visit will serve as an inoculation; and as we say at the end of yoga class: "the terrible writer in me bows down to the bad writer in you. Namaste!" :lol:
     
  3. sokanasanah

    sokanasanah IL Hall of Fame

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  4. Gauri03

    Gauri03 Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    I think good writing isn't hard to identify. I know it when I read it, but I'd be hard-pressed to say why. Obviously, mastery of the fundamentals: vocabulary, grammar, and the elements of style, is key to good writing. However error-free writing alone does not a good writer make! If I had to formulate a definition of good writing, I would list flow and precision above all other definable traits. Good writing has a discernible narrative. Ideas flow logically from their precedents. One can tell that the writer had a clear structure in mind. Every choice the writer makes -- ideas, words, phrases and sentences, come together like an intricate jig-saw puzzle to render the writer's vision. Precise writing is the kind where something is said exactly the way it ought to, using just the right words in just the right order. In short, precisely what I find myself unable to achieve. : ) Being able to say exactly what he/she thinks, no more and no less, is in my opinion the hallmark of a great writer.
     
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  5. Gauri03

    Gauri03 Moderator Staff Member IL Hall of Fame

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    I came across this brilliant piece of writing on writing well --

    “This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

    -Gary Provost

    I think I am most fascinated by the way my mind responds to the cadence of the words!
     
  6. sokanasanah

    sokanasanah IL Hall of Fame

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    Yes, I have seen that 'five word' example before. Provost has published many books on writing, so it is appropriate to invoke his memory early in this thread!

    Here is another little one sentence exercise:
    "She told him that she loved him".
    Now insert the word "only" anywhere in the sentence, you get a different sense.
    And you can hear the slight difference in cadence with each placement!
     
  7. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Perhaps your plan is to touch the subject of comma placement a bit later.
    Apologize if I am ruining it.
    @sokanasanah 's exercise of word placement to change the meaning of a statement, reminded me of comma placement also.

    Let's take the sentence:
    "Come let's eat grandpa"
    Placing the comma after only "Come" would make us cannibals.
    "Come, let's eat grandpa."
    Correct:
    "Come, let's eat, grandpa."

    Another one,
    "Let's cut and paste kids."
    Correct:
    "Let's cut and paste, kids."

    Another--
    "My interests are cooking my family and my dog."
    Correct:
    "My interests are, cooking, my family, and my dog."
    Conclusion: Commas can save lives ! :)
     
  8. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    Another humorous one on punctuation:
    Students in a class were asked to punctuate the following sentence:
    "A woman without her man is nothing."

    All the men in the class wrote:
    " A woman, without her man, is nothing."
    All the women wrote:
    "A woman: without her, man is nothing."

    The power of punctuation! :)
     
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  9. kkrish

    kkrish IL Hall of Fame

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    There, a fine example of lack of clarity.
    Though "I " before the "apologize" is implied, the statement sounds as if I am asking for an apology.

    Sorry OP, I meant, "I apologize if I am ruining your plans."
     
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  10. sokanasanah

    sokanasanah IL Hall of Fame

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    There was a book published some years ago dealing with this theme. It was a major hit, and also attracted entertaining follow-up.
    See: Eats, shoots & leaves.
    You're not. I haven't got around to the thread housekeeping posts yet, but in any case, I prefer that the thread range wide.
    :beer-toast1:
     
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