The Many Faces of Good Writing

I’m going to dissect two different types of writing, both of which I think are absolutely genius and fascinating.

As juvenile as it may seem, a style of writing that I want to be able to emulate is that of the one and only, Dr. Suess. I’m not saying I want to write children’s books for a living, but many times in my writing I want to be able to send a message without getting bogged down in the politics of society. There are issues out there that I’d love to weigh in on, but I often find it difficult to voice my opinion in a world full of criticism and bias.   Through his creativity and use of simple words, Dr. Suess was able to influence the lives of children around the globe, and provide powerful messages from which all people can learn. As simple as his writing seems, I think it might be the hardest to emulate.

Take for example, this passage from How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Dr. Suess’ writing is not vague, complicated, nor overly nuanced, but has characteristics of good writing all the same.   “Good writing can flip the way the world is perceived,” Steven Pinker states in Good Writing. Dr. Suess does this with both the first and last sentence. Two things that, for kids, are illogical! First, the Grinch hates Christmas. And his heart is too small. Simple messages, yet Suess is able to develop the character of The Grinch, a figure that has appeared in media of many forms over and over again for years, in just one paragraph.   The second line of the stanza also has an interesting meaning. “Now please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”   Dr. Suess could mean many things with this line, but rather than going into a backstory of what made the Grinch tick, and giving the reader context, Suess seems to suggest that some people are inherently bad, a message that joins the philosophical debate of the goodness of human nature.

While I find Dr. Suess as a good person to emulate in some scenarios, keeping it short and simple isn’t appropriate in every situation. That being said, the most engaging and interesting essay I’ve read since I’ve got to college is without doubt an essay by Maryn McKenna entitled “Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future”.  

 

Her argument was something completely new to me. I had no idea that antibiotics are in danger of becoming irrelevant in a few decades, or that not only are people in third world countries feeling the effects of antibiotic resistance, but right here in the United States people are dying from seemingly commonplace diseases because all of the sudden there’s no cure. But what makes the argument so compelling is the way the essay is put together. At the start, there’s a family story that hooks the reader, and personalizes the story in a way that makes the rest of the essay seem more passionate, more desperate if you will.   Then there’s historical references, quotes from Nobel Laureates, and some crazy statistics that set-up why the issue is so crucial in today’s world.   The article also incorporates multimodal texts: A stark picture of a man’s back, with a quote in red that screams death and despair.   Infographics, more case-by-case examples and quotes from renowned physicians are incorporated in multimodal ways.   And although there’s always another side to the story, if you’re going take a stance on an issue, this is the way to do it.   For me, this article turned what was just another PowerPoint slide into a real issue that was staring me in the face.   Academic essays are not always the most enthralling, but this one was.

Although starkly different, both Maryn McKenna and Dr. Suess have an exceptional talent for capturing an audience.   I’m not sure what exactly I’m going to do for Major Project 1 yet, and it might not be an academic essay or children’s literature, but I can definitely use these pieces of writing as models for whatever form my writing will take.

3 thoughts to “The Many Faces of Good Writing”

  1. Cole– love the connection to Dr. Seuss, he is a literary genius. Anyway, I think it might be an overgeneralization to say that Dr. Seuss avoids more complicated or political issues! I think some of his work, particularly “The Lorax,” is a social commentary about how we treat our planet. However, I totally see your point: his tone is generally more playful, and simple enough for readers of all ages. That said, I think it’s feasible to aim for this entertaining genre, and I think it would be cool to see a fusion of his poeticism and his commentary in something that you re-purpose!

    1. Kit, I think you’re completely 100% right that Dr. Suess DID use his books for social commentary– The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, Yertle the Turtle, etc. Rereading my blog post, I realized I didn’t exactly explain what I meant by “getting bogged down in the politics of society”. To clarify that statement, what I am trying to say is that rather than writing rants on the incompetence of a certain political party or using his views for personal gain, he sent his message by putting it in terms that a young child can understand, and I think the innocence of his stories are what makes them such powerful social messages. Thanks for pointing that out, Kit!

  2. Cole,
    I completely see what you’re saying about wanting to say something in a way that is detached from the “politics of society.” I find that there are so many basic messages that children writers capture: be kind, do not discriminate, be yourself, etc., that loose their strength in the messy adult world. Just yesterday I was talking to my friend, telling her about how I’ve been feeling overwhelmed about life/ the future/ the purpose of it all and she asked if I had read Dr. Suess’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” As I read through her copy I repeatedly exclaimed yes! He is on point! His message is simple and universal. It applies to kids and adults alike.
    I had a similar reaction when I watched the new pixar movie “Inside Out” this summer. (If you guys haven’t seen it i strongly recommend it!) It speaks to universal struggles and feelings in a way that any person can understand. I think that as a society we often forget about the simplest, most basic messages that we learn as children. We need to start with those before we can get anywhere else.

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