What is good writing and who writes well? In my college essay writing class we have looked at three famous writers from different ages who are considered to be good writers—Seneca the Younger (3-65 A.D.), Plutarch (46-120 A.D.), and Michael de Montaigne (1533-1592 A.D.). Although they are from different times and places, these writers mastered the art of good writing. Albeit they wrote about different things, there are three aspects of their writings that they all have in common–they write about a topic that will catch the interest of the reader, they write clearly, and they are concise.
Writing about something that interests your reader is a very important attribute for a writer. In Seneca’s On Noise he wrote about something that everyone can relate to, that is noise. Everyone has dealt with noise that has distracted and annoyed them, so by writing about it Seneca piques the interest of the reader because they want to see how he deals with and what he has to say about the problem. Plutarch’s Consolation to His Wife is of interest to readers because of the intimacy involved between a husband and wife even when dealing with the subject of the death of a child. There is something voyeuristic by nature in human beings, so this story captures one’s interest. Montaigne’s Of a Monstrous Child interests the reader because of the bizarre deformity of the child. Like the interest in what everyone has in common and voyeurism, people are also curious and interested in oddities.
To be a well-written piece, a writing must also be clearly and understandably written. Seneca, Plutarch, and Montaigne all write with very good grammar, using common words and thoughts to express themselves. In their works these three writers are able to get their points across in a very easy to read fashion. Anyone who has had to try to stumble through a poorly written piece appreciates a work that is clearly written in an understandable manner.
An other “must” for a writer to be considered a good writer is that his or her work be concise. Writings that seem to ramble on endlessly are a bore and torturous to read. Our three writers make good use of the virtue brevity. Seneca wrote what noise he encountered, how he dealt with it, how he thought it should be dealt with, what he was going to do about it, and then ended. Plutarch explained to his wife how to deal with her grief and how much he admired her for acting the way she had, and then ended. Montaigne wrote about the deformed child and his thoughts on deformities and finished in one page. Talk about brief! Readers like to read works that do not ramble.
So what makes good writing? As Seneca, Plutarch and Montaigne show in their works, it must be interesting, understandable, and concise. By writing in this manner a work can transcend the ages and be as valuable today as it was when it was written.