you peruse amazon right? Come on, like me you must. its a virtual treasure trove for the word-lovers and story-eaters amongst us. art on tap – and you can steal a little bit, like stealing grapes when you’re going round the supermarket.
Amazon know this. They use this. They’ve set up comfy chairs and reviewers are like rabid debaters at the pub table. I avoid getting sucked in but I love to lurk. One of my favourites at the moment is the Quotes Hall of Fame. You know where people can highlight lines and passages that particularly moved them?
I’m always interested in what people actually think of as ‘good writing’. My family are what some would call philistines. They want a good yarn and don’t much ponder over the wool you use – the proof being in the finished product. I can still remember in my early days, around 11, writing a ‘descriptive scene’ and getting my sister’s esteemed opinion. Goes on a bit.. was it. In entirety.
Thing was, though a bit disappointed, I agreed. I was at that stage where I was copying what I read, what I thought I was supposed to write but I didn’t like it. it was a boring, rather repetitive mess of words – lots of swirling and twirling. And most importantly it didn’t say anything.
Illuminate. Its a too-often used word that doesn’t carry much weight anymore. But that’s how I regard good writing. It makes you stop and think, yes. Yes, that’s what I feel, that’s how I have seen it, known it. You connect to what they are saying, even if you’ve never experienced it yourself, you can still feel as if you have through their words. Course, the very best writing doesn’t achieve this by constructing a sentence, but through constructing a character, a scene, a world with many sentences. Still now and again, a few simple little words will sum it all up and ring across your soul like a bell on a clear day.
It rarely involves big words, even rarer strange configurations or those messy proliferations I indulged in as a kid. Nothing fancy, nothing that requires a degree to decipher, but something in them made me want to read and read again. Here’s a few I think constitute good* writing
It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen
– the book was perfect, but the prose never achieved – in fact I wonder if any ever will again – the brilliance of that first line. It’s a story in a sentence.
I shudder at the thought of men….
I’m due to fall in love again
– Dorothy parker is the queen of simple lines. Every one she ever wrote could be placed here. but I love the contrast – love and pain and self torture. I identify far too much.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past
– I never cared for the book. Fitzgerald was not a storyteller, but he was a writer and when he wanted to inhabit a feeling, a vision, he wrapped you in it. This line is so misleading. Its a simple evocative image but its the onomatopoeic quality of the structure and words that really makes it work. That’s writing above the mortal man.
You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies
– the beauty of this the rhythm and the way it can flow so smoothly yet carry such harsh and bitter spit at the same time. Grassic Gibbon wrote music, but he put it in books.
I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room
– now this man was a storyteller. Feel the character, the frustration, the quiet jaded humour, the moment lives in his words.
What is your idea of great writing?
*sublime, supreme, breathtaking..