Why care about the writing?

Recently on a forum that I’m part of, someone wrote, “I don’t care about the writing – I just care about the information.”

All right, I suppose that’s one way to deal with things. He’s a writer himself, which I know because he followed up with a plug for his own ebook.  When a writer – particularly one who has been disparaging about traditional publishing – starts talking about how he or she doesn’t care about the technical aspects of writing, I suspect it’s because those technical aspects are, or seem to them to be, too hard to learn.

Maybe he was traumatized by grade-school grammar; he looks about my vintage, and goodness knows I had lots of classmates who struggled with grammar and the other technical aspects of writing. (One of the reasons I didn’t was that my mother loved grammar, and she made it seem interesting to me.)

I’ve heard, “I only care about the information…” and I’ve also heard, “It’s the story that counts, not the writing.”

In non-fiction, clarity is the best reason to care about the writing. It may be the only reason that you can get people who say they only care about the information to acknowledge.

Use three quarter inch pine boards for this project. Does this mean “Use three pine boards one-quarter inch thick for this project”? Or does it mean “Use pine boards of three-quarter-inch thickness for this project”?

The knowledgeable woodworker will probably go with the latter – I doubt you can get quarter-inch pine boards unless you have them custom-planed. If the sentence were written “Use three-quarter-inch pine boards for this project”, there would be no doubt, and you’d save a lot of money, and frustration, on the planing. Beginners’ instructions, at least, should be written to be understood by non-experts. Two little hyphens make all the difference here.

All right, but what about fiction, then. Isn’t the story the only important thing?

There were these two families, both rich and really powerful, but they were on opposite sides of the political fence, and had been forever. One had a boy, and one had a girl, and those kids fell in love. The families weren’t crazy about it, and made a lot of trouble, and the two kids wound up killing themselves over it. After that the two families stopped feuding.

or

Two households, both alike in dignity/in fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

from ancient grudge break to new mutiny,/where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes /a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

whose misadventured, piteous overthrows/do, with their death, bury their parents’ strife.

Okay, maybe Shakespeare isn’t your thing, but my bet is people who say they don’t care about the writing would actually care about it very much indeed in the movies they watch, the music they listen to, their light reading, and certainly when they research something for those non-fiction articles or books they write in which only the information matters.

You can’t make people care about the quality of their writing – they have to see for themselves that it matters. I believe it does; yes, information and story are more important, but good writing lets them shine, makes them clear. It’s the best reason to learn to write well.

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This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Going on About Words, Who are these people? and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why care about the writing?

  1. deshipley says:

    The way I see it, if you can look past someone else’s lousy writing and simply enjoy the story, more to power to you; I bet that saves you a great deal of frustration. But it everybody would care about the quality of his or her *own* writing, there’d be a lot less lousy writing out there to frustrate people who can’t get over that ungrammatical tangle to save their souls.
    Do you really want to make people have to work to like your story? Keep in mind, people can be lazy…

  2. ecreith says:

    I’ve often said that being a writer – and caring about writing – has spoiled a lot of reading for me. On the other hand, I recall being in grade eight (about twelve or thirteen years old) and trying to read one of the “Doc Savage” novels the guys were all crazy about. I could see even then that the writing was – mediocre. So maybe I was never able to ignore that “ungrammatical tangle”.

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