Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By Taehoon Noh

What makes a good writer? Determining what constitutes a good writer is a multifaceted and subjective inquiry. It is a question that often yields diverse and occasionally conflicting responses. While the definition of a “good writer” may vary, a writing competition’s rubric, discovered online, offers valuable insights. According to this rubric, a skilled writer possesses the ability to approach a question with depth and insight, employs thoughtful diction and varied sentence structures, organizes ideas in a logical and effective manner, and demonstrates proficiency in spelling and grammar. While these criteria hold merit, I believe that additional factors should be considered when evaluating the quality of a writer’s work. Thus, to provide a comprehensive answer, I will draw comparisons between writing and another art form that I am familiar with as a musician: musical composition.

Interestingly enough, the tenets of writing, encompassing categories like content, voice, organization, and grammar, can be applied to the realm of musical composition. In the domain of musical pieces, content finds expression through the narrative or the intended meaning behind a composition. For example, Prokofiev’s acclaimed composition, Romeo and Juliet, adeptly captures the essence of Shakespeare’s timeless tale.

Voice, in the context of music, manifests through the unique styles and signatures of individual composers. This is evident in the unmistakable distinction between the composing styles of Mozart and Chopin. Each composer’s musical language stands out, creating a recognizable identity and adding depth to their creations.

The organization finds its place in the structures employed in musical compositions. These structures include elements such as the arrangement of three movements and the implementation of ternary form, as well as the strategic use of melodic repetition. Such organizational choices guide the listener’s journey through the piece and contribute to its overall coherence.

While grammar may not be immediately associated with music, it can be defined in broader terms as the elements of language (noun, verb, adjective, etc.), their relationships to one another, and the constraints that govern their usage. In this light, musical grammar can be conceived as elements like the key signature, time signature, and tempo. These musical components provide the framework within which a composition unfolds, imbuing it with structure, coherence, and emotional resonance.

Therefore, these intriguing parallels between writing and music suggest a profound connection rooted in an overarching artistic and creative process. Both writing and musical composition share the fundamental aim of conveying a message or evoking an emotional response, and they utilize similar tools and techniques to achieve these goals.

The transition from J. S. Bach’s style to L. V. Beethoven’s provides insight into what makes a musical composition compelling. In the Baroque period, Bach’s music was held as the epitome of good musical structure. Thus, many composers imitated Bach’s style and followed the convention of Bach’s music. However, their musical traditions were relatively narrow and restricted during this period. For example, the augmented 4th chords were rarely used in Renaissance church music. They were considered the “Devil’s chord” because it was made out of six – the “devil’s number” – intervals of semitones and was dissonant. Therefore, most composers, including Bach, tended to avoid using the “Devil’s chord” in their pieces. Beethoven, however, who is arguably the most famous composer of all time, used augmented 4th chords in numerous compositions. Further, one of the most distinctive features of Beethoven’s style was his unique approach to form. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who adhered to established musical forms, Beethoven often eschewed these conventions and instead created his own, more fluid structures. This new style imbued his compositions with a sense of emotional depth and personal expression, which continues to inspire and captivate audiences to this day. By expanding and breaking free from the strict rules of Classical period music and composing in this unique style, Beethoven served as an essential bridge between the Classical and the Romantic style that his music would come to personify.

When a writer takes risks and deviates from conventions, they are essentially breaking the rules. This requires a great deal of creativity, imagination, and skill. It also requires a deep understanding of the conventions they are challenging, as well as the willingness to take risks and potentially face criticism. But when done successfully, deviating from conventions can result in thought-provoking writing that resonates with readers for years to come. This deviation can also inspire other writers to push the boundaries of their own writing, leading to further innovation and evolution of the genre. In Ulysses, one of the most influential novels of the 20th century, Joyce used only eight periods in his final chapter, comprising over 20,000 words, essentially concluding his novel with eight extensive run-on sentences. Virginia Woolf, among other modernists, spearheaded 20th-century stream-of-consciousness writing, which introduced an unconventionally non-linear, potentially confusing form of narration. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, used and popularized magical realism, a literary technique that blends fantastical elements with real-world settings and situations. Through his writings, Garcia Marquez challenged the conventions of traditional storytelling by introducing elements of magical realism that were not common in Latin American literature at the time. In these ways, these influential writers have inspired readers by challenging the pillars and rules of conventional writing.

Of course, this does not mean that every writer should deviate from conventions and come up with something novel all the time. It is difficult, especially for writers today, to be original when billions of writings already exist. As stated previously, one can be a good writer in multiple ways. A good fiction writer might be able to come up with interesting plots and characters, use imagery effectively, or deliver extreme emotions to the readers. A good poet might be good at using symbolism, metaphors, or imagery. And the list continues.

Nonetheless, I believe that a writer who deviates from conventions and gifts the readers with something fresh and unique certainly deserves to be considered a good writer. They have the ability to push the boundaries of their genres, inspire others, and create works that stand the test of time. Let us, therefore, applaud and encourage writers who are willing to take risks and challenge conventions, for they are the ones who invigorate and nourish the realm of literature.


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