Objectively Good Writing

Moon Guard
Writing is not art.

A story or a poem can rise to the level of being considered artistic, but writing itself is a craft.

Writing has more in common with a carpenter creating a sturdy, reliable table then a painter reaching for the sublime.

Art can be anything. It can be a work of exquisitely detailed realism, utterly surreal or a collection of colors splattered onto a canvas.

Writing can't be anything. The application of words cannot be haphazard and still be considered good. A splash of red across a canvas can instantly evoke certain imagery and emotion tied to the sight alone.

You can't do that with writing so easily. Words can be analyzed. Which words you use, when you use them and in what context can completely change the meaning of what you're trying to convey in an objective manner.
I disagree

To use your own example, yes, writing can be used for functional purposes, akin to assembling a sturdy table

carpenters, however, are still capable of putting together artistic pieces. There can be the reliable table, or there can be one with all sorts of engravings, etchings, etc.

like carpentry, writing has the mostly unique characteristic of practicality. paintings rarely serve such a purpose.

Functionality and artistic value are not mutually exclusive
03/05/2018 07:48 AMPosted by Dumizane
Writing is not art.

A story or a poem can rise to the level of being considered artistic, but writing itself is a craft.

Writing has more in common with a carpenter creating a sturdy, reliable table then a painter reaching for the sublime.

Art can be anything. It can be a work of exquisitely detailed realism, utterly surreal or a collection of colors splattered onto a canvas.

Writing can't be anything. The application of words cannot be haphazard and still be considered good. A splash of red across a canvas can instantly evoke certain imagery and emotion tied to the sight alone.

You can't do that with writing so easily. Words can be analyzed. Which words you use, when you use them and in what context can completely change the meaning of what you're trying to convey in an objective manner.


As I said, the context is important here. With sufficient mastery of a language, one could objectively describe the intricate detail of the dimensions of a finely crafted mechanical watch. Every thread pitch, every bevel, every minute curve of the cogwork, every single tolerance and clearance between the parts.

But would this be a good piece of writing? Perhaps in its astute usage of technical jargon. Beyond that, it would be nothing more than an exercise in futility when compared alongside a catalog of parts drawings in various relevant views.

In the same vein of your carpentry analogy, is a throne an objectively good piece of furniture? Depends on your perspective. A king's throne would have little place on a front porch during a warm summer evening. I'd much rather have a rocking chair. So what makes an objectively good chair? Stability, of course. Quality of the wood or stone joinery. But beyond this, it's hard to say without looking at a chair in a more abstract way then we're perhaps accustomed to. Just like a drafter could perhaps draw accurate scale drawings with proper dimension lines for an engineer, so too could a writer sufficiently describe how to install the part. But this is soulless. And in this narrow context, I could agree there is objectively good writing. But I don't think the careful crafting of laws and instruction manuals was what OP was referring to.

Much like building this chair, proper technique to using a wood planer can be objectively described the same as sentence flow and grammar. But joining technique and a finalized vision is something else.
You are correct, they are not mutually exclusive, and as I said, you can create art through craft.

There are buildings, for example, that are considered nothing less then works of art, but if you ignore the craft of architecture, that building will not stand. Likewise, the carpenter and the table. No matter how gorgeous the table might be, it can be wrong. The wrong screws might have been used. The legs might have been improperly measured.

The result is something that wobbles and falls apart under scrutiny. Great writing can be flayed open and deconstructed. Even something like Shakespeare can be pulled apart. You can demonstrate exactly how and why it works, both now and in the context of its own time. You can break it down to nuts and bolts.

It's much harder to explain why a particular piece of pure artwork draws an emotional response.

I say all this not to diminish writing in the least, but to point out that anyone can improve upon a craft, regardless of innate talent. There is a tendency among some to equate writing with some mystical art open only to a specific sort of person called an Artist and you either are or you aren't.
My grammar is subject to error 50% of the time.
I feel like a part of this entire line of questioning is people trying to justify their pastime/hobby. You don't need to. You're allowed to have fun. No WoW player is creating high art, and that's okay, because with any luck you and your RP friends are creating memories, stories that have meaning to you, characters who feel alive like they have real estate in your brain.

Some of these responses have been fantastic, though! And some display a... shall we say... healthy ego? ;) But hey, if you fancy yourself the MMO equivalent of Lord Byron on JRR Tolkien, that's awesome, as long as it doesn't lead to gatekeeping or unsolicited RP policing!
Good is an inherently subjective term. i.e. nothing will ever seem "good" to everyone. There's a difference between taste and quality, yeah, but just because something is overly "good" and appeals to a majority of people doesn't mean it's perfect, because there will be at least one person out there who finds fault with it.

Guarantee you there's someone who feels Arthas is the most horribly written Warcraft character out there.
I believe the real question to ask here is: What constitutes "bad writing"?

The answer to which, I've found to be completely subjective.

Personally, I find bad technical skills combined with a character that has little depth, purpose, or sense of progression to be a kind of writing I have little tolerance for. I'll acknowledge it if approached, of course, but I'd be remiss to omit the fact that I actively avoid role play of that sort.

However, my standards are for my own enjoyment. One could reach and say I'm elitist towards "bad writing" in that respect, but I believe the more important focus one should have is towards enjoyment. If you are someone who enjoys storytelling of a less complex nature, then far be it from me to dictate its quality.

We play this game—and write—for fun. Writing which achieves that, regardless of its form, is of the positive variety in my opinion.
I think there's a considerable difference between "good writing" and a "good story". Good writing, in my view, is pretty straight forward (albeit different throughout various cultures, good writing to a Westerner is different than good writing in the Middle East, but both are pretty clearly defined in their respective spheres). Does the piece have a coherent plot? Does it pull the reader in? Are the characters well fleshed out? Is everything tied together nicely? Imo, you have to answer "yes" to most, (if not all) of these for something to be considered good writing. Do you have to like the story for it to be good writing? No. For example, I'm not a huge fan of a lot of John Steinbeck's body of work. Does that mean Steinbeck is a bad writer? No. He's an excellent writer, I just don't care for several of his books (especially "Travels with Charley").

This leads me to "good stories," which are far more subjective in nature. My ex-girlfriend (an English Lit major who worked for the Washington Post) loved "Travels with Charley," I hated it. Neither of us is wrong (although I was "wrong" while I was dating her), we were just drawn to different kinds of stories. A great writer can put together a story that many people think is awful and a bad writer can put together a story that a lot of people think is pretty good (despite its mechanical flaws).

Let's take another extreme example in the realm of cinema. The crème de la crème of bad cinema. The "Citizen Kane" of bad movies. Yep, "The Room". Tommy Wiseau's magnum opus is almost universally panned at the worst movie ever made. As the author of the book "The Disaster Artist" put it, "It's like a movie that was made by an alien that has never seen a movie, but has had movies thoroughly explained to him."

It has a cliche plot, several sub-plots that are casually introduced but never finished, zero character development (the viewer doesn't even know who half the characters are), and the acting is, well... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPBPa2BQFRM

Despite all of "The Room's" heinous flaws, it draws a huge, devoted cult following. I am included in this cult. Why is that? "The Room" is not a good movie, it doesn't move me in the way art typically moves me, but at the same time, I can't hate it because it brings me so much joy. I happily pay $15 every few months to go to midnight screenings of the movie in D.C.. I've met Tommy Wiseau at one of these screenings. I live for this kind of stuff, and it's not even about the significant amount of time and energy I spend mocking the film while I watch it. It just makes me happy.

That's the difference as I see it. I hope that helps. Oh, hi Mark.
These are all interesting replies so far. I'd say my goal of the post was to get a sense of the community and how they feel on this subject. I bring this subject up after recently viewing an argument on post length preference. One party advocated for multi-paragraph posts, capturing various details including character thought; the other party advocated for shorter, more punchy emotes with concrete descriptions.

The person who found shorter emotes as more favorable went on to argue that 5+ paragraph emotes that devolve into abstract descriptions and extensive ramblings are objectively inferior given that you're diluting good substance with said ramblings. For them: say what you want to say and be clear about it, needless detail doesn't add life, it worsens your prose

The use of "objectively inferior/better" made me bring up this topic, and now thinking on this topic, I'd like to expand further...

Perhaps my thoughts are not fully formed here, but it does seem like those that 'RP Police' are given a club to beat people over the heads with if we concede that there is such a thing as objectively good (or bad) writing.

Sure, they have no right to tell people what to do and how to have fun, but they are 'right' in the sense that they're pushing for objectively better writing.

Do the means justify the ends? No, but the ends would be justified, right?

An immediate counter is that perhaps it's important we distinguish objectively good writing and objectively good experience. While one could argue the former exists, the latter most certainly does not. Experience is subjective, so far as I know.

I'm rambling at this point. Continue.
03/05/2018 02:07 PMPosted by Alexbaker
These are all interesting replies so far. I'd say my goal of the post was to get a sense of the community and how they feel on this subject. I bring this subject up after recently viewing an argument on post length preference. One party advocated for multi-paragraph posts, capturing various details including character thought; the other party advocated for shorter, more punchy emotes with concrete descriptions.

The person who found shorter emotes as more favorable went on to argue that 5+ paragraph emotes that devolve into abstract descriptions and extensive ramblings are objectively inferior given that you're diluting good substance with said ramblings. For them: say what you want to say and be clear about it, needless detail doesn't add life, it worsens your prose

The use of "objectively inferior/better" made me bring up this topic, and now thinking on this topic, I'd like to expand further...

Perhaps my thoughts are not fully formed here, but it does seem like those that 'RP Police' are given a club to beat people over the heads with if we concede that there is such a thing as objectively good (or bad) writing.

Sure, they have no right to tell people what to do and how to have fun, but they are 'right' in the sense that they're pushing for objectively better writing.

Do the means justify the ends? No, but the ends would be justified, right?

An immediate counter is that perhaps it's important we distinguish objectively good writing and objectively good experience. While one could argue the former exists, the latter most certainly does not. Experience is subjective, so far as I know.

I'm rambling at this point. Continue.


I was mostly taught how to write by my journalist mother and by history professors. Throughout my education I was trained to keep things pithy. Write just enough to make your point clearly; no more, no less. Therefore, some of my emotes are rather short, some are longer, it really depends on what I'm trying to convey.

I'm also rambling, but I tend to promote the KISS philosophy in all my writing.

Keep
It
Simple
Stupid

I don't view RP (or writing in general) as a competition and I like to keep it accessible to as broad of an audience as possible. I think excessive multi-paragraph rp isn't necessarily bad (I'm in a guild full of people who do it, and they're all excellent rpers), but I get the feeling a lot of people on this server use long emotes to become a sort of RP peacock, i.e. "Look how shiny and beautiful my emotes are! I'm clearly the best RPer in the room!" To me it can easily be used as a way to intimidate less experienced rpers, thus making role play less accessible.
I'd like to take a moment to thank OP for opening the floor to this interesting discussion. I admit my immediate concern for this thread was that it'd devolve into the usual outcome of "ur havin fun wrong," but thus far most everyone has actively reassured that that is not a conversation worth having.

Continue. I'm going to keep reading other's interesting opinions surrounding Art, RP, and Objectivity.
Thanks for the clarification, Alex. The context helps! As for style, I try to keep my replies short, only going a bit longer when needed, but by a bit longer, I mean 2 paragraphs at most. I have played with some that go longer more often than not, but it hasn't interfered too much. I have more issues with the random NPC convos in parts of Stormwind scrolling the chat window, tbh, lol.

Edit: If you're in a player-dense area like the Cathedral or a tavern, though, keep it short. Save the more in-depth stuff for places where there's a lot less showing up in the feed.
I would consider objectively good writing that which is technically correct. Complete sentences, proper grammar, capitalization, and punctuation, lack of misspelled words or typographical errors, consistent verb tenses, knowing when to split up paragraphs, etc.

However, this is purely from a technical aspect. Objectively good writing isn't always necessary for good storytelling. On the other hand, someone can also be an objectively perfect writer but a bad storyteller. Hell, sometimes good technical writing can get in the way of a good story.

Writing can be objectively judged, but what constitutes a good or bad story is always going to be subjective.
I think we can all agree that the steamed hams sketch from The Simpsons is objectively the greatest piece of writing in human history, and anything we attempt may only scarcely scratch the surface of its literary brilliance.

/thread
The purpose of writing is to communicate ideas clearly to an audience. In that way there is such a thing as objectively bad writing; if an authors writing doesn't accurately convey said authors intent to their directed audience, the writing is bad because it's failed its single purpose.

That can be in a single sentence of dialogue, it can be in a 4 para emote. It can be with ten dollar words and very 'high class' prose and it can be using the simplest words in the most concise way possible.

People in this thread, I believe, are focusing too much on the trees and missing the forest, in that way. What is good writing in one area is bad in another. If I'm in a crowd of newer roleplayers and have 8 people talking at once, dropping a 5 para monster post is terrible writing because it stifles the flow of RP and they aren't used to that. If I'm in a 1 on 1 RP with a good friend of my character in a quiet place, there is more leeway to be more in depth with my posts depending on the person.

Good writing is flexible and variable. Good writers are able to tailor their style to their audience, and change it to most accurately convey ideas.
Enjoy yourself
Often that good writing is interpreted differently between people. Literature as an art is taken in many forms that others will decide upon. How visual art will try to convey an emotion or idea, the same can occur with writing. How words can illustrate an image and behavior and still have different opinions. Though many can have similar experiences, others can take certain passages and take a different meaning.

What I write can be recieved well from others, and others could find it tasteless or dramatic. Or how my pie msitress can be good in terms for character progress, while others find it overdone.

I say that the themes of which the writing tackles also plays its hooks into our own particular interests. Whether its romance, drama, dark, heroic, fantasy, surrealism.
03/05/2018 08:49 AMPosted by Dumizane
I say all this not to diminish writing in the least, but to point out that anyone can improve upon a craft, regardless of innate talent. There is a tendency among some to equate writing with some mystical art open only to a specific sort of person called an Artist and you either are or you aren't.


Art is a craft, much like writing. Creating art is a skill, much like writing, much like public speaking, or running marathons, or pole-vaulting, and so on. The more you create art, the better that art will be. The more you study artistic expression, the more you'll be able to define and shape your efforts to create art. The masters of Renaissance-era art were the pioneers in much of what we now consider to be the basics of art - specifically the elements and principles of design. They are considered masters because they created a lot of art throughout their lives.

Sure, some people can have a certain advantage before they ever pick up a paint brush, or put words to a page, but even with that advantage they will never be truly great without putting in the time and effort.

03/05/2018 07:31 PMPosted by Therinthas
Writing can be objectively judged, but what constitutes a good or bad story is always going to be subjective.


I also disagree with this. There are certain elements that exist across all stories that are considered universally good. These elements include dynamic character/s, and conflict, among other things. Without the most basic narrative elements, it would likely produce a bad story.

Stories, art, film, music, it can all be objectively judged on its quality. However, as the old saying goes, there is no accounting for taste. You can like bad forms of art. There are some terrible pieces of art that I love. There are some amazing pieces of art that I can't stand.

In truth this discussion is much bigger than good vs. bad. It's much bigger than "Here's a list of what exactly makes art good." It excites me that this discussion is even happening, even if it means I find that I am at odds with many of my fellow Moon Guardians.

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Now, on the subject of if writing can be objectively good, and how that applies to RP, well, I think that the criteria for 'good RP' and 'good Writing' are two circles in a Venn Diagram. They share some aspects, but are also different enough to be considered separate beasts. I write very differently when I am working on a book, than I do when I am chatting on Discord. RP is a blend of the two, but I tend to treat it as closer to the second.

There are so many other factors influencing my writing when I'm roleplaying. Holding the audience's attention is so much more immediate, requiring a faster turnaround from starting a written thought to presenting it to the audience (as in, my RP partner/s). I don't want to lose them, I want to keep them engaged, and so I tend to write faster, presenting multiple, shorter sentences rather than long paragraphs. Personally I dislike super long RP posts unless we're in a secluded place.

So, in short, being a good writer does not make you a good RPer, nor does being a good RPer make you a good writer. They share elements, but are ultimately their own animals that can both be improved upon with the proper research and practice.
03/05/2018 02:07 PMPosted by Alexbaker
These are all interesting replies so far. I'd say my goal of the post was to get a sense of the community and how they feel on this subject. I bring this subject up after recently viewing an argument on post length preference. One party advocated for multi-paragraph posts, capturing various details including character thought; the other party advocated for shorter, more punchy emotes with concrete descriptions.


Now, I think that there's a point to be made about what makes for "good" writing is likely different than what makes for "good" RP, in that the two activities have different goals when you're talking about prose vs. RP emotes, and mistaking the goal of what you're doing can lead to frustration in RP.

When you read a novel or a story, the goal is to be immersed in the world and characters. The writer is a storyteller, spinning a tale that you want to be engrossed in, and often detailed descriptions and artful turns of phrase and nuance help with that. It's a writer writing for an audience of one, or at least one person at a time, drawing them in and creating worlds and people out of words.

In RP, artful turns of phrase can be interesting and provide character depth, sure, but intricate, lengthy descriptions of action, thought and nuance aren't necessarily...needed? As much? Because the goal isn't for the person emoting to be a solo storyteller, building a world. The world is there, the character is often sketched out already in their profile, and while an arch of an eyebrow or a downturn to the corners of the lips can help provide detail that the character model can't display...

I don't know how to put this and not make it come off like it's going to, so I'll just say, the people you RP with aren't here to be entertained by you. At least not by you alone, RP is a group activity with potentially a lot of participants at the same time. They're generally not seeking to be immersed in just your character's internal world, and you don't need a lot of description to immerse them because the visual game world itself is already, to a degree, handling the immersion angle. Not to say that everyone dislikes that level of detail or aren't entertained by it, but it's not the primary objective of our emotes where it is much more the objective of prose that you read.

The purpose of RP emotes is to stand in for your character communicating with others, filling in detail that character models and the limited in-game emotes can't provide. It's almost as much acting as it is 'writing', and by slowing everything down to a crawl with a lot of extraneous, irrelevant detail - because let's be honest, writing five paragraphs of emote at a time seldom takes less than a very long time - it comes off as discourteous to the others who are also taking the role of storytellers and participants in a scene just as much as you are. It also tends to "flood out" emotes from other people nearby who are often not involved in what you're doing.

Another sub-brand of 'multi-para' that I see going around is when it's used during action or fight scenes, and this is especially frustrating since those emotes often contain, instead of just one action, many, MANY actions without allowing others in the scene to interrupt or respond to each action individually. And, again, often they take a very long time to compose and post, making everyone in an action scene wait in a long queue to get to participate.

Ultimately, I don't really think it's about good or bad writing. It's about using writing that would be 'good' in one setting, for one purpose, and using it in ways that don't quite always work in another venue, because the purpose of the writing itself is different.

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