January 21, 2013

Good Writing Vs Beautiful Writing - Sulo Moorthy

We, writers are lovers of words. We all love good writing.We also love beautiful words that sing and paint pictures in our minds. I often drool over beautiful writing and get mesmerized by the music of the words that I do  read over the sentence again and again.

As one writer puts it, " Well-written means that the language strives to be unambiguous, communicating  with clarity and straight forward purpose, while beautiful writing is enamored of the feel of the words in your mind and on your lips, creating a response that is more concerned with the aesthetic or sensual aspect of language." I agree with him , because I do taste the sweetness of the language on my tongue when I read a beautiful description.
Emily Dickinson put it in a better way when defining poetry-" If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know this is poetry."

Francine Prose,who wrote Reading Like a Writer encourages writers to have a designated section in their bookshelves for books written by authors whose work dazzle with beauty.

 "These are works you can turn to whenever you feel that your own style is getting a little slack or lazy or vague," she writes.

Beautiful writing is becoming rare these days. It is surely hard to write consistently beautiful prose without being caught up in love with your own words and come out as show off.
As we know, beautiful doesn't always mean better. It does have its drawbacks.and could become a hindrance at times. Sometimes the story is written too beautiful that the reader gets trapped  in the web of words  that he is no longer living in the story. Drawing attention to yourself as a writer is one of the fastest way to disconnect from your reader.

If you are reading like a writer, who is paying attention to how the author says something, rather than what she's saying, then such writing could be valuable to better your style of writing. But if you are a non-writer or reading such writing for the story sake, then the verbage  could slow down your pace of reading and even make you stop  reading the story. However there are great authors who have mastered in the skill of writing that they balance beauty and content in appropriate amounts to earn readers' satisfaction.

While simplistic prose can read dull and lazy for some readers, beautiful prose can come off "word heavy' for others.

In the past summer, I tried to read the following books which range from bad writing to beautiful to good writing in my writer's eye.

I picked up the first one to read because it had the New York Times Bestseller stamp on the front cover and it was the autobiography  of a writer-producer of a popular television series.

 "Very funny and witty," described many of the reviewers. Because I like both humor and biographies, I picked up the book as my first choice to read. I couldn't proceed more than a few pages because what the reviewers considered witty tasted bad and bitter in my mouth. Because it was sprinkled with swears and distasteful dialogues, I couldn't continue reading the book.

When I complained about the book to my daughter, she pulled out the novel Fugitive Pieces from her bookshelf and handed to me.

" I know you'd love this book, Mom" she said, " it's one of the beautifully written books."

I had to agree with my daughter, for the author Anne Michaels had done a great  job in trying to paint awesome pictures in our minds.. Let me give you a glance of her writing.

"The forest floor is speckled bronze, sugar caramelized in the leaves. The branches look painted onto the onion-white sky. One morning I watch a finger of light move its way deliberately towards me across the ground."

" The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque.  This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes."

By just reading the first few pages I had to admit it's an exceptional work of art. But it was too beautiful that I spent too much time mulling over the writing style that I couldn't proceed at my usual pace. So, I chose to put the book away for a while and read it leaisurely at another time.

Meanwhile, Salmon Rushdie's book Midnight's children, which I ordered on amazon.com arrived in the mail. Because Rushdie is considered to be a great novelist and a master of perpetual storytelling, I wanted to read one of his book for some time. I didn't start reading the book right away. I awaited for the perfect time, an undisturbed and auspicious moment to read such a highly acclaimed novel. To my dismay, I found the novel too sophiscated to my understanding. I couldn't read more than a few pages in this book either. Unlike Michaels', this book didn't make me to dwell in the lustre of the words too long, but I required ample time and thinking skills to enjoy such a book. Since  it's considered to be a marvelous epic that revolves around events in India, I would definitely want to read the book. But for now, it stands on my bookshelf with other unread books of mine.

A few weeks back, I saw the book The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins laying on our coffee table. My daughter who got the book as a Christmas gift must have left it there after finish reading the book. Because the book and the movie had drawn a huge fan club, I picked up the book just to  glance through the first few pages. To my surprise, I kept on reading. It was an easy read ,good writing and a great page turner. I could have read the book in one sitting, but I didn't. It's a dystopian novel with many themes and full of action, mainly targeted for young adults. Even though adults are also fascinated by the novel, I couldn't see myself enjoying such a novel. My age and taste probably won't allow me to do that.

As writers, we know that the markets decide what's on the shelves on the bookstores. The tastes of readers and styles of writers vary from one generation to another. It's up to us to decide what to tell and how to tell. Beautiful writing may be rare, but it's worth working at it. As always goodness last longer than beauty, so strive for it.

" The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power."  -Tony Morrison


  1. So, what kinds of books do inspire you with the beauty of the writing and yet keep you interested at the same time, Sulo? What do you like to write? I enjoyed your blog post - very interesting!

  2. I read a book lat year that was full of amazingly beautiful metaphors. The problem was, the story kept getting lost in the imagery. I suppose there needs to be a balance...

  3. Thanks Marcia for your comments. I'm more of a non-fiction reader. I like the writing of C.S.Lewis, Max Lucado, Philip Yancey, Ann Voskamp,Maya Angelou, Elizabeth George.

  4. Sulo:
    Beautiful writing is like a beautiful picture or sunset: it captivates.
    It is also disheartening--not the writing, but my poor ability to match it. I'm just a hack writer--get my point across with the least confusion.
    Yet we all have those moments of inspiration, when our hearts rejoice and our writing sings.
    That makes it all worthwhile.
    Thanks for the reminder


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