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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Writing Is…Uh…Yeah.

Sorry, I haven’t been posting as often as I should. I’ve been swamped with edits, outlines, and finishing the second book to my series. Between nervous breakdowns, I’ve actually interacted with sunlight and engaged in some leisurely reading. I stuck with my regimen of reading one crappy book for every three good ones, but it appears that the definition of “Good” is subjective. I try not to put too much stock in online book reviews, or anyone under the age of eighteen for detailed and extensive commentary, but it does pose the question: What is good writing?

I hear a lot of critics and average Joe’s rip a book apart with a grocery list of faults: corny dialogue, adverb abuse, ass-backwards plot, one-dimensional characters, etc. But they don’t put as much energy into dissecting a good book.

Grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure aside, what constitutes as good writing? Is it the pacing? Is it the complicated plot? Is it the clever usage of words and description?

You can have a fast pace with little time to get to know the characters. You can have the most vivid descriptions with nothing going on. All these ingredients are important. The trick is to include a certain measurement in your story, but no one tells you the recipe. I’m not sure if there is a “secret sauce” for good writing, because every dish is different; therefore, it caters to taste and it’s open to interpretation.

Now, I could be wrong— and please correct me if I am—but I think it boils down to style and narration. The reader has to believe whoever is telling the story before they can buy what’s being said. If the narration—especially if it’s first person—has to reflect that speakers personality and own a casual tone as if relating the story over a cup of coffee.

As far as style, well that’s anyone’s guess. I know what gets my motor going, that thing that makes me drop a book and start revising my manuscript, or curse up a storm for not being as well-versed, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s what the big wigs in Hollywood call the “It factor,” an appeal that goes beyond a pretty face, or pretty prose.

But what is IT? What’s that thing that keeps the reader up at three in the morning trying to reach the last page and breaks their heart when they finally get there? I would love to hear your take on it—the more precise in your observation, the better. For some, good writing comes naturally, but for the rest of us, we need a cook book.

4 comments:

  1. I think good writing is best described with the phrase "je ne sais quoi." "Good" really is indefinable and intangible. I just read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and it was definitely GOOD, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It had a lovely setting and great narrative voice, but I've read a lot of books with good settings/voices that weren't nearly as intoxicating. I couldn't put it down!

    It's important to remember that what's "good" will vary from reader to reader, too. Quality is subjective once you get past all the nuts and bolts of writing.

    Sara
    http://smreine.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Good" is based on personal preference. I look for honest and believable narrators. I can't keep reading if I think the narrator isn't being honest (and yes I've come across that).

    But, my definition of good will probably be totally different from someone else's.

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  3. I think characterization has a TON to do with enjoying a book. I don't have to like the protagonist, but I want to find them believable. If their voice rings true to me, I'll follow their journey.

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  4. What a very good question. I actually had to sit here and think about it for awhile. I haven't done a lot of reading lately that doesn't involve studying for school. I don't know why since I was an avid reader when I was younger.

    I think for me that a really excellent book is one that I wind up subconsciously placing myself in. Even if it's a topic I know nothing about like Robin Cook's medical thrillers if enough is explained to me and the protagonist has enough strengths to make me root for them and enough flaws to make me identify with them I wind up placing a small part of me into them.

    This winds up making the plot very personal. I want to know what happens, I can't put it down because subconsciously I'm reading about myself.

    As a writer I know that every character I create is both extremely unique in their personal development and yet still somehow a piece of me. So, when I identify with a books characters I am essentially identifying with the author in some small way. This is why I will often enjoy most things written by the same author.

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