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Good Writing vs. Good Book

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This week BTT asks:

I’ve seen many bloggers say that what draws them to certain books or authors is good writing, and what causes them to stop reading a certain book or author is bad writing. What constitutes good writing and bad writing to you?

Good writing alone doesn’t make a great book in my book (pun intended); but without good writing a book probably stands less of a chance to be great. Good writing presents relevant information to the reader in a manner that is easy to understand. Writing begins with (brainstorming of) ideas, words are instruments to express these ideas. Arrangement of words without the bound of grammatical rules expresses the relationship between the ideas. Good writing should reveal the author’s clear sense of audience and purpose. It is well organized; it should be lucid, simple, and direct. It exhibits care and imagination in the arrangement of words, sentences, and ideas—meaning, an essay full of sentences in basic subject+verb+object construct with no variation will not do.

A good book should at least observe some of the technical rules in syntax and grammar I mention above. But a good book should engage the reader with plot and/or character development, if not appealing directly to the reader’s emotions. A clear benchmark of success is something that all genre writers have. If you don’t feel suspense while reading a suspense novel or romantic while reading a romance, the author has patently failed. The difference between literary writers and genre writers is one that hinges on style. The reader makes the choice between curlicues of flourishing sentences and plain simple prose—trimming down to the bone, it’s a preference made on how a reader wants the story told. But as you consider your options for so-called beach reading (i.e., books that you actually want to read as opposed to books you’re supposed to read), it’s worth remembering there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. And if the pages keep turning, it means a writer has done his or her job.

10 Responses

  1. Good writing makes me feel. It touches me and makes a subject come alive. Bad writing will kill even the best of storylines whereas good writing will elevate a mediocre storyline. It is like the difference btw. a good healthy organic meal and a burger full of empty calories: the good writing nourishes me.

    • Completely agree. Good writing compensates for a story that doesn’t appeal to my heart and emotions. Bad writing might not have the capability to appeal to sentiment.

  2. Its funny, what I consider good writing isn’t uniform. Different writers that I greatly admire for having great writing have very different styles. I like the way in whcih the writing tells the story to be unique and to engage me. I like something a bit different…

    • I will notice good writing when I see it, or read it out loud. Good writing also has to do with how well an author achieves coherence and stitches different elements (if a book has more than one narratives) together.

  3. Nice post, Matt. Good writing is so hard to define- but you can tell when it’s bad.

  4. It is so hard to define great writing as Saramago manages to do it with hardly any punctuation and Flowers for Algernon contains numerous words spelt incorrectly, but both books were very skillfully written. I have no idea why some books seem to have better writing than others – books just seem to have that magic spark which grabs my attention.

    • I think it has to do with how consistent the style of writing is, or, could it be the voice that the author adopts in telling a story?

  5. I agree with Willa. Good writing makes me feel. I can tell that something is well written when I get that “warm fuzzy” feeling or a shiver down my spine. I think that good writing is emotion that comes simply from the way that the words are strung together.

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