What makes a good whatever?

Once again, issues from different aspects of my work highlighting a common theme:

1. Feedback from my editor on The Rosie Project novel.

2. Mike Sager’s post on data model quality – on which I commented – at http://mikesdataviews.blogspot.com.au/

The common theme is: how do we measure the quality of a creative product? Bryan Lawson, who, you may notice, I reference often on design issues, states that “Design inevitably involves subjective value judgment.”

In data modeling my single most useful tool is a one-page list of “quality dimensions” (you’ll find them in the first chapter of Data Modeling Essentials) as a framework for discussion, especially when trying to decide which is the “better” or “best” among alternative designs.  The list helps us to break down the assessment into different dimensions and understand the tradeoff: this model is more flexible, but this will be easier to code against; this embodies more rules but this one is more stable in the face of change etc. The dimensions give us a language for argument and discussion.

In screenwriting, it might be “the scene is funnier this way but the joke works against the character arc or this approach tells us a lot about the character but makes the first act too long.”

The level of subjectivity varies from one dimension to another.  I see a continuum:

At one end is the “right or wrong” rule – things that are so widely agreed that any violation will need special pleading. In a book, grammar. In a genre screenplay, length. In a data model “will it work?”

Then there are the principles that will have wide, but not necessarily unanimous agreement, at least amongst the experts. Introduce your hero early. Don’t go “beyond the tag” in a scene. Don’t build unstable structures into the data model.

And at the other end are purely subjective choices. Should I call my character Lorraine or Claudia? (Even here, there will be principles we can apply – unusual names may be easier to remember, names carry connotations of origin, class, age – but within these there will be many choices). What should I name this entity? Ditto!

So the message: In whatever discipline you’re working, knowing the dimensions of quality, and the level of subjectivity in assessing them,  is a huge advantage, especially when reviewing, advising, editing, conciliating, arbitrating.





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