Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Define It.

Lately I've been coming across discussions and definitions of what writing is and it has made me wonder about my own definition of writing. 

I think everyone believes 'writing' involves grammar, punctuation, word choice, sentence variety, lyricism, pacing and similar mechanics. But is that the sum of writing?  Is it only about commas and word choice?  Or does writing also include story, plot, characters? 

There are many times when we say at writers "I like the story but the writing wasn't very good." or "The writing was amazing, but I couldn't connect to the characters." does writing include making your characters relatable (obviously there is still room for personal preferences here as not every reader will like every character no matter how well written) and making sure your plot has a beginning, middle and end? Or is that story telling? 

The fact that writing is defined differently by different people is one more reason the whole industry is so subjective and we sometimes feel there are no straight answers. 

For me, writing includes the line by line mechanics, grammar, word choice, smoothness, etc, but it also includes the whole; whether or not the story makes sense, multidimensional characters and such. I don't differentiate between "writing" and "story telling".  They're all part of the same thing. 

How do you define writing? Do you differentiate between the two?

39 comments:

  1. This is such an interesting question. I think writing goes a little beyond storytelling, because writing includes poetry, and not every poem tells a story. It also includes nonfiction, which doesn't always contain a story. I think writing includes the genres, but isn't limited to one or the other. When I say something is written well, or that I liked the writing, usually I'm referring to the turn of phrase or the imagery that made me feel it couldn't be said any other way.

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  2. Good question, Sara. I think writing is more than a sum of its parts--grammar, etc. and story, etc. It encompasses that metamorphosis of telling a story that reads as well for multiple readers. And it's kind of mystical when it happens.

    And that's a clear as mud, isn't it. ; )

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  3. I think the writing is both the grammar aspects and the storytelling aspects, like character and plot development. And I so agree with you that it is all so subjective.

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  4. Strangely, I've always thought of it as story-telling. Or maybe that's because I think of myself foremost as a storyteller. The writing has always challenged me. Putting the words together to form the story I experience in my head is painstakingly difficult, yet very rewarding. But I'm a little strange anyway. Great question, Sara.

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  5. I think of writing as communication. So if you're communicating a story, your writing will reflect characters, theme, setting. If you're communicating facts or memories, your writing will guide readers to understanding or an ability to relate. Poetry is also a form of communication where words are paint and the writer is using brushstrokes. Journalism is a very unique form of communication and writing, meant to carry facts without (supposedly) embellishments.

    Since writing is communication, doing it well-- with proper grammar, punctuation etc. ensures that the message you want to convey will be understood, relished, savored and carry meaning.

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    1. I love your definition of writing as communication. I do believe proper grammar, word choice, etc is essential to writing. People won't get the story/message/emotion if they don't understand or are too distracted by the poor grammar.

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  6. Great question. Writing is story telling first and foremost. Then leave it to the developmental editors to sweat out other stuff :)

    Nas

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  7. There are two standard schools of thought: the literary school and the speculative school. The literary school believes that writing needs to be flowery, poetic, and structured. The speculative school believes that writing needs to be complex, spontaneous (to varying degrees), and engrossing. I belong to the latter camp. Beyond that, writing is about emotion. My goal when I write something is to cause my readers to feel something.

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  8. I'm more along the lines that storytelling and writing are two separate entities. Most of us are stronger at one than the other. The best books are the ones that are a combination of both. But when it comes down to the emotion of the story, it's both entities that comes together and give us the emotional read.

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  9. That's funny because I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately. I have been involved with judging manuscripts from a novel marathon. Most of my fellow judges chose what seemed to me to be boring, boring stories. To me, evidence of good writing is when you can't wait to turn the page to see what happens next. That's all that is important. Not grammar. Not spelling... but the story.

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  10. I actually do sort this out in my mind a bit. I think of writing in terms of voice, which for me has to do with the actual words, sentences, etc. Does it flow? Do I enjoy that part? The plot and characters are a different beast for me. I've read several books with crappy writing but great plots, and vice versa.

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    1. I've read some books like that too. I'm beginning to think they should be separated.

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  11. Oh man... I've gotten to the point where it has to have BOTH, lol... I need all aspects of the story there. I can't read it if the writing is bad and I can't read it if the plot/characters are bad... so...

    ...that's probably why lately I have a lot of unfinished books on my kindle!

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  12. I think it's all that and a little bit of magic, too ;)

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  13. Yo S.P.!

    All I think of writing is an intimate shared experience between the writer and da reader n'stuff. As for grammar, formulation of sentences, my human aint worked that out. The dude might be inclined to over use the conjunction word "and" and end up doing a run-on sentence and that is something I wouldn't do and you know dat be true and suddenly I gotta' go. The garden is a callin' me...

    Stay chillin',

    Snoop Bloggy Dog in da Gangsta's Pawadise!

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    1. S'up Snoop?

      I'm not going to embarrass myself by trying anything else.

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  14. In my opinion, you can't have one without the other. They are interconnected to the single letter on the page.

    Sara, you always have such thought provoking posts. Awesome job!

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    1. Thanks! I do think they're interconnected, but it does help to be able to separate them when giving crits.

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  15. Regarding fiction, I break it into the detailed line-by-line stuff (grammar, etc.) and the big picture stuff (characters, plot, pacing...).

    Agree with Julia. Thought-provoking post. :)

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  16. I believe I am more of a story junkie. I can overlook errors and poor mechanics if the story is good. And I absolutely HAVE to like the characters on some level. I've lost interest in excellently written stories that have characters I can't connect with.

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    1. I'm not a stickler for grammar like some people are (I'm sure you can tell by reading my blog. :P) But even I have my limits. For me it's all about the characters.

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  17. I believe I am more of a story junkie. I can overlook errors and poor mechanics if the story is good. And I absolutely HAVE to like the characters on some level. I've lost interest in excellently written stories that have characters I can't connect with.

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  18. A gift for prose and one for constructing a page-turner are two distinct ways to write. It's a wonderful thing when you come across both in one piece. The most satisfying stories, though, are probably the least self-conscious.

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    1. I agree with that. If it looks effortless, if it flows so organically you don't even realize an author put it together, you know the author put great effort into it.

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  19. First, I just wanted to say that I hope your son enjoys pre-K. Busy times for us moms, isn't it!

    For me, writing involves many things, including the sharing of ideas and also the hope that people can interpret my thoughts the way I'd intended them to be interpreted. It frustrates me at times when I write something and my intent gets misunderstood.

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    1. Busy, and sad, but good too.

      It is frustrating when the audience misunderstands the authors intent. But it's good to know so we can fix it. Sometimes we're so close to the story we assume the audience can see what we see.

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  20. Well, there's writing and then there's writing.
    Writing can be defined simply as the ability to transfer your thoughts to a visible medium, paper, monitor, the back of your hand, etc. And really, as long as you can read it, then it's writing.

    But then there's writing. To me, good writing can clearly communicate ideas and emotions to other readers and establishes a connection with them through good prose and good storytelling.

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  21. "Short and spicy." Enough information to make me think.

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    1. Uh oh. Hope that thinking is a good thing.

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  22. I'll have to be honest, I'd never given much thought to pegging down a concrete definition to writing as such. I think Elise put it nicely. "...there's writing and then there's 'writing'." Although I suspect my definition of the latter "writing" differs from her's.

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    1. Well, I think the definition is secondary to the doing of it, but I've seen some discussions of different authors and find that a definition helps. Otherwise two people could be saying the same thing different ways and not realizing it and grand arguments ensue.

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  23. Interesting question. I suppose I do think of the writing and the story as separate entities. Not always, but sometimes. No matter how good a story is, poor writing... i.e. messed-up syntax, misspellings and grammatical errors out the wazoo... detract from the story, especially for those of us with an overbearing internal editor. On the other hand, even the most beautiful lyrical prose (or poetry) needs at some point to HAVE a point.

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  24. Interesting question. I suppose I do think of the writing and the story as separate entities. Not always, but sometimes. No matter how good a story is, poor writing... i.e. messed-up syntax, misspellings and grammatical errors out the wazoo... detract from the story, especially for those of us with an overbearing internal editor. On the other hand, even the most beautiful lyrical prose (or poetry) needs at some point to HAVE a point.

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    1. I don't have an overbearing internal editor but I do notice some things. I agree with you on both points, the need of the craft and the need of story.

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  25. Hi. Sara,

    I'm with you! It's about the total package....

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  26. When I hear the word story telling, I always think of the non-written method - the traditional oral storytelling, where somebody narrates a story to a group hunched around a fireplace.

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  27. I guess I've never really thought about it too much before, but I think writing is just more of something that I *feel* as I do it. If that makes sense. Like you mentioned, the grammar, syntax and nitty gritty details are essential, but those are somewhat afterthoughts that are picked at once the story is down, and the story just sort of comes, you know? Lol, I'm not sure if this is making any sense, but there it is. :-p

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  28. I like your definition, Sara. I try not to define it too much. I start feeling like I'm dissecting it to the point where nothing makes sense anymore! [g]

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