Saturday, November 6, 2010

Good and Bad Writing

I feel like blogging today, so I pulled up this week's BTT. And it's a tricky one:

Suggested by Barbara:

I’ve seen many bloggers say that what draws them to certain books or authors is good writing, and what causes them to stop reading a certain book or author is bad writing. What constitutes good writing and bad writing to you?

Good and bad writing is so hard to define. But I think in a lot of cases people agree on what it is. There is a co-worker whom I admire very much that can make any turkey of an assignment interesting. If her article is boring, you know it's the fault of the topic. She's good at bringing out what's important, even when she's been assigned to write about a spaghetti dinner at some church.

She'll find a way to make it interesting. She'll track down some of the people who've benefitted from the funds raised at previous spaghetti dinners and talk about the affect the church's programs had on their lives. She'll manage to make you feel that even though there are a million spaghetti dinners in our coverage areas every week, this one matters.

Bad writing is a lot easier to define. It's clunky. It trips you up. It's cliche-ridden. It's boring. Often, it's not honest. It kills even an interesting subject, like when you read something that's allegedly a celebrity tell-all, and you know the person's had multiple arrests and stints in rehab, and it's very short on details of that to talk mostly about how they found Jesus.

It dwells on all the wrong things, which was my main complaint with The Swan Thieves. And, incidentally, which is the main complaint about another co-worker, who has a penchant for attending a town board meeting where both a rezoning for a McDonald's is approved and a department head is fired for getting caught having sex with a 19-year-old employee on his desk...and guess which one her story will focus on?

Good writing has the power to make you care passionately about things you may not have even known about. There was a segment a few months ago in the New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" section about bats. ZZZZZZzzzzzzZZZZZbats, right? The segment talked about how bats were dying in record numbers from some sort of fungus. The author went with some bat researchers who do a bat census every year and described in vivid detail how unexpectedly quiet the cave was. The last line of her segment described how they walked out of the silent cave, with tiny bones crunching underneath their feet. I had tears in my eyes after reading that. I guess that's what good writing does.

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