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Sanderson's First Law

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kelise, Apr 22, 2012.

  1. Shockley

    Shockley Maester

    As to whether or not I'm being elitist, well, there's nothing inherently wrong with being elitist. It's just how you personally interpret that label.
  2. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I don't know what you mean. I'm only saying, if you can make a value judgement about what features are considered good writing, we can develop objective metrics about which groups agree that a writing posses those features and to what extent. From that evidence, we can draw objective conclusions about the quality of a book.

    About T2, we can determine whether the movie is considered to be artistically bad, and whether the experience of watching the movie was still enjoyable and why. You still have to make a value judgement as to what of that matters for whatever the question at hand. But the qualities can be measured.
  3. If you're trying to define "good" objectively, then you're making a mistake. A given piece of food might taste like manna from heaven to you, and taste like dog crap to me. A given Fellini film might be transcendently beautiful to me, and a boring snooze-fest to you.

    Does this mean it's not okay to seek out Bourdain instead of McD's? Of course not. But what you're trying to find out is not which food is good; what you're trying to do is find out which food you will enjoy.

    Neither of us is wrong. Neither of us is right. Rightness and wrongness cannot be applied to taste.

    What you can do is statistically analyze food and movies, but even if something is popular, that does not make it good. "This [food | movie] is good" is synonymous in all cases with "I like this [food | movie]."
  4. Ah, but you are axiomatically declaring that certain features are "good" writing. Why do those features get to be called "good" and others don't?
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I agree with what Benjamin has stated, above.

    As for delegating the task to the "elites," however you want to define them, anyone who has spent any amount of time around academia can tell you that you can't even get close to a unanimous verdict on such issues by people who have extensive training and exposure to the field. I'm not saying there are no objective elements, but when it comes to these sorts of issues they are vastly outweighed by subjective preferences.
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I'm not. I'm saying that however you define "good," those qualities can be measured. It's like saying Boston is a "big city." It's subjective, until you define "big."

    However, once you break down the data, you will probably see clear trends that will redefine your notion of good and bad writing. For instance - and I'm just guessing, based a little on other discussions - you might find a "plain" main character reaches more people because a more distinct one is unrelatable to many people. If you realize that a book is being received poorly because the main character is too distinct and original, you might decide, "This factor doesn't seem like it should matter as to whether the book is artistically sound in and of itself, so we can factor that out and see whether the work holds up against our other standards." Even though that factor might be a huge consideration when it comes to the business side of whether it will sell and be received by audiences.

    I'm not making a decision about whether the book is good or not, I'm saying that it's possible the conversation can be moved to an objective measure of the various qualities a book possesses.


    For instance, this is a testable statement.

    Market Research can determine whether and how much Harry Potter appeals to people based on their lack of familiarity with the fantasy genre. With that information, you can then decide for yourself whether that, along with other factors, makes it a good book by your standards.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2012
  7. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Just popping in to add that what's determined to be good and bad can be cultural too. A movie like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is considered really good in the west, but in China, not so much. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Why has it flopped in the east? | Film | The Guardian

    The discrepancy I believe is because of the existence of what people call "High" and "Low" context cultures. It affects communication written and verbal. High Context vs. Low Context Communication
    High context culture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Low context culture - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    my two cents.
  8. I agree with what you're saying here, as long as "reaches more people" is not a synonym for "is objectively better in an absolute sense." Reaching more people is not always (usually, but not always) what a writer wants.

    Agreed. If we're all in general agreement about what makes a book "good" (that is, we accept the same underlying axioms about what constitutes "good"), then we can focus on those qualities and figure out how to quantify them.
  9. Phin Scardaw

    Phin Scardaw Troubadour

    This makes me think of the scene in Dead Poets Society where Mr. Keating has his students tear out the introduction to their books on appreciating poetry which instructs them to judge the qualities of a poem by a graph.

    There are methods to writing essays that we learn in school, and how to bring about and develop the points we'd like to make in the writing. The same can be said for writing fiction. There are effective methods and techniques, and others which are not, like the DEM, which is what we were all initially talking about. Soft magic versus hard magic.

    I think that writing is like magic. There are rules. There are definitely rules. Some can be bent, and others can be broken. Some remain vague and enigmatic, while others are plain and easy, like the rules of grammar.

    The hardness in a poem like the one Crowley included is the rhyme and meter: these are quantifiable. Easy to follow, and easy to spot when it's spoiled.

    The softness is the inexplicable manifestation of the perfect word, snow, in exactly the place that it is needed. The moment when that happens - and I believe we have all felt this - we feel we have been given a gift. Maybe from a muse, maybe from part of our psyche, - who knows; but the mysterious quality of the Source is enchanting and unquantifiable. The more a writer has faith in the story, the more the story will inform him or her and allow these brilliant connections to occur. Genius occurs in art as someone rides the line between skilled control and faithful surrender.

    I feel like I have a very basic rating system in my head with which I appraise the material I encounter: books, music, film, friends, conversation, etc. Maybe we all do this, assigning numbers or stars to the stuff that we deign to be worth such attention. Obviously, the things that I consider truly brilliant get the highest rating - and these are the works that have blended all the aspects of the art into, quite literally, a masterpiece. In a story this means compelling and complex characters, a fascinating plot, a heady style and a powerful use of language, mythic progression, and emotional invocation to a powerful catharsis at the climax.

    It doesn't happen very often that I encounter literature that is truly mythic, crafted by the hand of a poet, with the eye of a visionary. There are a few pieces that I've analysed over the years to see why they are so effective, and it's a marvel because I can't conceive of any way to improve them. They are perfect, and they fill my heart with wonder and my eyes with tears.

    Some of the books and films I enjoyed in my youth were "shallow" and there's nothing wrong with that; but since those days my tastes have become more sophisticated so that I gravitate towards pieces that are more satisfactory. Any connoisseur in any field will choose more elevated creations if they can. But these things aren't necessarily "better"; they're just more created with more skill - and ultimately one will find more nourishment in a meal prepared by a gourmet chef than they will in a Big Mac.

    I believe the qualities of a piece can be identified and judged individually on their effectiveness. That is why I say it is objective: I believe that a system can be created, if it hasn't already been. To do so would be exhaustive, but that is what we expect of ourselves and those we chose to edit our writing, is it not - to ferret out the flaws and find ways to more effectively convey our ideas so that our writing approaches perfection.

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