Thursday, May 27, 2010

Good and Bad Writing

Reading thuRsday

I saw an interview in which Stephen King gave sound-bite opinions on Stephenie Meyer's (bad) and J.K. Rowling's (good) writing.

I've always been puzzled by declarations that someone who has been published is a "good" writer or a "bad" (but usually quite successful) writer. Clearly there are people--very few of which have been published--who haven't mastered the basics of written communication and whose writing we could probably all agree is "bad" because it is unintelligible or fails to communicate. But if a piece has gone through an editorial process before being released for public consumption, presumably most of the basic mistakes have been corrected. So when we say {famous author} is "good" or "bad" we must be talking about something other than their ability to put together a coherent sentence or paragraph.

Of the few network sitcoms I've enjoyed, nearly every one of them stayed on the air for one or two seasons too many. In some cases the final season was so disappointing that it soured the entire series for me. The best programs delivered consistently and came to a graceful and satisfactory ending. Similarly, in sports, the players generally considered to be great are the ones who were consistent performers.

I wonder if the glib pronouncement that {famous author} is good or bad has some utility as an opinion of their ability to bring a story or series of stories to a satisfying conclusion. My purpose here isn't to defend King, but I think there's something to his pronouncement in terms of the way Meyer and Rowling ended their respective series.*

What do you think most people mean when they say someone is a good or bad writer? Is there utility in the notion that one is a good writer to the degree that they consistently satisfy readers?

*I'm under the impression that many readers found Meyer's Breaking Dawn something of a let-down.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /