The Oxford Dictionary defines writing in two key ways – a sequence of letters, words, or symbols marked on a surface, and the activity or occupation of composing text for publication. The two go hand-in-hand; rarely does someone write for it not to be published. However, that isn’t what this mini-essay is about, we’re here to talk about writing.
When we talk about writing we usually think of writing novels, poems, screenplays and other traditional media. However, it still applies to contemporary media; we write up posts for our social media, messages and even blog posts such as this. They all follow the same two rules – they’re markings on a surface and they’re going to be published. Everything that is published first needs to be written – writing is just a way of classifying pieces that have already been published.
So now we know, briefly, what writing is. But what makes it good? Or, potentially even more useful advice, what makes it bad?
Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite authors, says that all good writing has something in common. That is that it has rhythm. Good writing knows it has something to say and reads in a way that sings out from the page into the mind of the reader. Of course, this has to be built on by interesting, deep characters and a semi-original, clever plot. Without these things, you just have something that reads nicely but has no substance. Take this excerpt from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas;
“After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point. Most of the thousands of slaves in Endovier received similar treatment – though an extra half-dozen guards always walked Celaena to and from the mines. That was expected by Adarlan’s most notorious assassin. What she did not usually expect, however, was a hooded man in black at her side – as there was now.”
– Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass, page 1
This is the first paragraph from the first book of the Throne of Glass series, and it is a show of good writing. It has that introductory rhythm where we’re just learning about what’s happening, yet it’s also setting up multiple plot points and fleshing out our character. Additionally, it doesn’t make a mistake common in writing, especially in fantasy. It doesn’t waffle on details; Maas could’ve easily used that first paragraph to give us everything we needed to know about the salt mines, or Celaena, or anything, but she immediately gets into the action.
In an inverse of that, let’s look at what makes writing bad. If we go off what we just said makes writing good, we can say that bad writing has no rhythm, basic, two-dimensional characters and an uninteresting or unoriginal plot, or a combination of these things. However, it can also come from more than this. There could be too much plot or too many characters – both of these things can bog down a piece and make the writing feel worse than what it is. To best describe this, I’m going to use a somewhat controversial example – George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
I decided to read the infamous ASoIaF series a little after I caught up with the sixth season of the show. I splurge-bought all the books and quickly dedicated myself to reading them. What I didn’t realise is that the books become so bogged down in themselves that they grind almost to a halt. Reading the first few was satisfying enough, but after the Red Wedding scene in book four, the book became so convoluted that it was never satisfying to read. Not to say that I don’t like complex books;
I do. The problem lied in the fact that the book was split into different character perspectives and, subsequently, different stories. And each chapter never stuck long enough to properly progress the storyline of the character – so the rhythm of the book became disjointed and unenjoyable to read. I vividly recall having a second wind when reading book six when Daenerys is describing what the readers know to be Tyrion Lannister performing in the arena. I thought “Finally! Characters interacting with each other! This story is progressing!”. And then Daenerys is spirited away to the middle of nowhere on the back of one of her dragons and I immediately became bored with the books again.
To summarise that, an oversaturation of characters or plot makes writing as bad as having no rhythm. It feels like eating an all-day breakfast – it’s packed with everything on the menu and you know eventually you’ll be satisfied, but you have to finish it first. When a story gets too large, it becomes almost like a chore to read it; and even worse, you can tell when the writer feels like it was a chore to write – the writing becomes uninspired and even worse than before.
In conclusion, writing is more than just putting words on a page. It is about having a sense of rhythm, having something to say and then combining these two things with characters that reflect real people and a concise, interesting plot to create a narrative. And this applies to all writing. Advertisements need a fast rhythm to sell the product, but they use the ‘everyday’ person or a high-status person to market it and a narrative to entice you into buying it. Social media posts are meant to reflect your life, and as such are written to let people know what you’re doing whilst making you still seem relatable. Even this essay has a rhythm – it goes from definition to positive to negative to a conclusion to try and make a point. So if you ever need help with writing something, contact us! We’d love to help you find your own rhythm, or even just add ours in to make your writing sound even better.