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Subjective versus Objective Literary Merit

I noticed a lot of people don’t understand the difference between subjective and objective literary judgement (aka measuring literary quality). Here’s a list breaking everything down:

Subjective

  • Art – emotion, theme
  • Story – the internal journey the main character takes (isn’t limited by genre or target audience)
  • Style – a writer’s way with words

Objective

  • Craft – balancing conflict, pacing, story arc(s), and tension through action, description, dialogue, and narrative via varying literary techniques
  • Spelling and grammar – not only spelling a word correctly but also using said word in proper context
  • Syntax – the way parts of speech are arranged in sentences

One can judge the quality of writing based on those objective factors.

To objectively judge craft, ask yourself questions like:

  • Are the chosen elements and techniques balancing story with plot? (For instance, if the work is an action-adventure, but description outweighs action—in any form—9:4, there’s an imbalance.)
  • Would technique A have worked better—for sections X and Y or for the overall work—than technique B?

To objectively judge spelling and grammar, ask yourself questions like:

  • Are homophones and homonyms used correctly?
  • Is this word spelled correctly?

To objectively judge syntax, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does the subject and the verb agree?
  • Are clauses used with their proper corresponding parts of speech and punctuation?
  • Are there too many clauses between the subject and the verb?

 

Questions? Comments? Objections?

Syntax & Syl ● la ● bles

I’m a wordsmith at heart, and people often ask me the secret behind the musicality of my language.

Easy answer: syntax and syllables.

Regardless of style, the key to lyricism lies in the structure of sentences and the beats per words.

  • For instance, if you have a paragraph like this—

Subject verb. Subject verb. Subject verb. Subject verb. Subject verb.

—you have a monotonous paragraph.

  • If you have a paragraph like this—

Subject verb. Subject verb, subordinate clause. Subject verb. Subject, subordinate clause, verb. Subject verb.

—you have a more rhythmic paragraph.

  • If you have a paragraph like this—

Subject verb. Subject verb, subordinate clause. Subject verb. Subject, subordinate clause, verb, subordinate clause. Subject verb. Subject verb, coordinate clause.

—you have an objectively diverse and dynamic paragraph. The same applies to syllable counts within those sentences.

You don’t have to understand meter to know when it’s off; you’ll hear it. Most people think a word by itself is an issue of a sentence, but it’s how the word fits into the sentence that makes it work or not. If you have a sentence with mostly 1-, 2- and 3-syllable words, tossing a 5- or 6-syllable word into the mix will definitely screw up the flow of the sentence.

(Note: Beyond building rhythm through varied sentences and correlated syllables, parallelism is a great tool to aid with cadence.)

Here’s an example of inserting words into syntax formats:

This paragraph is dull. It does not flow. I only use one sentence structure. Do you hear that? The lack of rhythm? Me too.

This paragraph is smoother. I’m taking time to diversify my sentences, to give my words options. Everything sounds better. Words aren’t meant to be confined to a single structure, to do the same thing again and again and again. They need freedom.

This paragraph is best, the way I allow my words to roam from one structure to the next. They’ve been waiting for this moment since the day I locked them into one agonizing format, since the day I needed them for an example. No longer are they prisoners of my poor use of syntax. They are truly free, as they were always meant to be.

Figure out the way you like to read syntax, create formulas, and plug words in. TRY IT!

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

My first post, baby!

Oh yeah.

Anyway, I figured before posting about craft, I should pen an entry about why craft matters.

As I mentioned in the “About” section, I received my secondary education in schools for the arts.

“Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”

My former band director said this. Years later, I fully digested and utilized the meaning of his words. I’m grateful my mother enrolled me in band, at schools dedicated to the arts. I was surrounded by passionate teachers, who took their jobs seriously (seriously, some days they didn’t leave school until 6 p.m.). Band at Overton High wasn’t a hobby; it was a lifestyle.

I recall the day our band director kicked most of the clarinet players out the practice room (myself included) and told us don’t come back until we could play the piece properly. I recall sweating bullets, hoping our band director didn’t randomly call on me to play a section of music in front of 100+ band members (he did). I recall wanting to practice, because I was inspired to match our directors’ (very high) standards.

Though I never continued with music education after seven years of band, the lessons I learned from band carried into my writing lifestyle.

As a writer, I read not only for pleasure but also to study the whats and hows of why some books work and why others don’t. I study every element of storytelling and writing and how they intertwine to create true masterpieces. I apply what I learn to better my craft, step by step. I learned how to do this, thanks to band.

Thank you, former band directors. I won’t let you down.