Friday, July 01, 2005

What Constitutes Good Writing?

Since I entered postgraduate education, I've been exposed to a literary viewpoint emphasizing that there is a certain formula for academic writing that ought to be followed. It roots in a clean, spare style, eschews adjectives and adverbs, and favors a sentence order of subject, verb, object--"Politicians believed in a two-party system"--that feels somewhat dry to me. Now, I readily acknowledge that my writing can bleed purple at times; one professor memorably wrote on one of my papers that my style was "self conscious and florid." I had to laugh at that one.

I'm sure I deserve such comments at times, but I do have to wonder: is there a right way to write? Forget the idea that certain forums call for certain styles, which I can grudgingly accept. In general, is there one superior writing style? Are short, descriptive sentences best? Is a more stream-of-consciousness style preferrable? Or are all styles equal?

We could transpose this question to a specific type of writing to bring this question home. In preaching, you have several men that preach effectively, some think beautifully, and all with varied styles. Charles Spurgeon writes with prose so purple it threatens to turn navy blue, and yet his material stirs the heart as few other pastors can. John Piper writes with short, punchy sentences with a tone that resembles a sermonic style. Again, he touches hearts, and in my estimation, writes well. Mark Dever writes with the ghost of Puritans past guiding his pen, using a mere, penetrating style favoring sententious ("pithy" or "terse") phrases (often questions): "Jesus died with the weight of sin resting on his shoulders. I wonder--who bears your burdens?"

All are powerful, touching, moving. All in my opinion are good writers. So the question goes out, unanswered by me: what constitutes good writing? Chew on it.

1 Comments:

Blogger -JF said...

Spurgeon's prose may have been purple, but his favorite ink color was violet. Look at the Bible next time you walk past it.

4:31 PM  

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