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Pet Peeves About Language Usage: The Sequel

 
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1265

PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:11 pm    Post subject: Pet Peeves About Language Usage: The Sequel Reply with quote

Recent postings on the thread for "What I Did for a Duke" made me wonder if others have pet peeves related to romance writing. I don't mean themes or motifs so much since that has been well covered before in other past threads. So far the use of period titles, the use of period language, characters "fitting" into their times, and anachronisms have come up.

Do you have any pet peeves with how romance is written or is written about?


I have a pet peeve about the overuse of the word "well-written" in reviews, which to me can mean anything from "competent" or "I really liked this book" to noting the extremely creative and gifted use of prose. Since many reviews throw "well-written" in along with a string of other adjectives, or as "well-written BUT..." I tend to ignore or discount those comments.

This is on my mind because I just finished a book acclaimed as well-written. I thought the book was indeed competent with the author having everything under control, but there was nothing new or outstanding about her use of language, plot, or any insights for that matter...to me anyway.

I tend to see competent writing as a requirement for all books with only substandard or superlative writing worth commenting on. Leave "well written" alone unless what exactly is well done is explained. It's a phrase so overused it has become a meaningless throwaway term IMO. Picky, I know. What do you think?
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MissRubyJones



Joined: 22 Apr 2008
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As someone who reviews books, I agree that "well-written" can mean anything and nothing.

When I'm reading a romance novel (I read almost exclusively historical romance), I'm often reviewing it in my head whether I intend to review it in print or not. "Well-written" springs to mind when I come across a book that should work better than it does -- i.e., the book has prose that flows well, does not have glaring anachronisms and does not have anything that jumps out at me as, well, bad. Yet the book does nothing for me otherwise. It's not memorable, the plot is only meh, and/or the characters do not really come alive for me. "Well-written," then, is damning with faint praise.

If the book is a great book, with a compelling plot, intriguing characters and a realistic setting, then I can think of many more ways to describe it than "well-written." Well-written becomes, like you suggested, Eliza, superfluous.

On the other hand, when I'm reading non-fiction (which is what I review most often), "well-written" can mean a number of things. Creating a narrative from what is basically a list of names and dates, for instance, may prompt me to call non-fiction well-written, because anyone can make a list, but it takes skill to make it interesting to read. In some cases, the information presented may be interesting, but the writing itself dull, confusing, or just bad (a book I reviewed recently about Don Kirshner comes to mind).

A good example of this is a biography of an actor, musician or other creative type; the best biographies of these types strike a delicate balance between private and professional life. When an author achieves that balance, "well-written" may be among the terms I use to describe the book.

Of course, reading my own description of this now has me rethinking the use of the term. "Well-written" may have to be stricken from my vocabulary Embarassed
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Eliza



Joined: 21 Aug 2011
Posts: 1265

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

MissRubyJones wrote:
...On the other hand, when I'm reading non-fiction (which is what I review most often), "well-written" can mean a number of things. Creating a narrative from what is basically a list of names and dates, for instance, may prompt me to call non-fiction well-written, because anyone can make a list, but it takes skill to make it interesting to read. In some cases, the information presented may be interesting, but the writing itself dull, confusing, or just bad (a book I reviewed recently about Don Kirshner comes to mind)....


I agree that "well-written" with non-fiction is a different kettle of fish--with variations as you mentioned: readability of dry material, proper use of special terminology, balance of info dumps with conclusions and so on. I do like to know if a non-fiction book is accessible (while not being totally dumbed down), if the author clearly supports his ideas, if the author is mostly writing for other specialists in the same field, and the like. So ... please continue to use "well-written" with the kinds of qualifications you already mentioned. Smile

BTW, I tend to read mostly historicals too, and I tend to note writing vs storytelling, likeable characters and so on. Ain't it grand when it all comes together, especially storytelling with superlative writing ability?
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Linda in sw va



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 4708

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 6:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I see the term 'well-written' the first thing that comes to mind is bland. Beautifully written would be a more enthusiastic compliment.

Linda
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 2510

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To me, a well-written story is one in which the prose doesn't interfere at all, or if it does, it does so with Pope's dictum--What oft was thought but ne'er so well-expressed. I have a deep appreciation for author's whose figures make me pause for a moment in admiration for the justness of the way words fit the narrative. But although fine writing can make an interesting story better, all the fine writing there is cannot make a dull story better.
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Eggletina



Joined: 06 Jul 2010
Posts: 441

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Context is everything. I agree that well-written alone doesn't tell you much, especially if you don't know anything about the reviewer making that claim. Supplied with some examples, it becomes more meaningful, but is still just a very generic term that often gets thrown out there without anything to qualify it (and often, I think, because the reviewer isn't prepared to go into detail--I'm guilty of that sometimes).

Conversely, I get a little peckish about reviewers throwing out the 'it was poorly written' label without telling me why or providing some examples. So often in reviews, poorly written gets used as a substitute for 'not to my taste' or 'didn't like the message or characters' or any number of issues that should never be confused with poor writing. To give an example, I once came across a reviewer who called Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner poorly written. She was British and objected to what she called the many Americanisms in the book which she thought degraded the writing. There are many criticisms I would accept as valid criticism for that book, but poorly written (especially because of Americanisms) isn't one of them.
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xina



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 6635
Location: minneapolis

PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2012 1:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have to admit, I've downloaded many samples on Amazon that I consider poorly written, but for the most part, I think stating that in a review is just a cop out. So often "poorly written" means that the book had no appeal to the reviewer.
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