Exceptional Books discussion

Sharon's section > What makes writing good?

Comments Showing 1-25 of 25 (25 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
From your viewpoint, what makes writing good? What it is about an author's writing that makes you take notice or makes you love it?

message 2: by Hemanth (new)

Hemanth (hemanthkumargurram) | 1 comments I think the authenticity in the subject matter makes for a great book. A Writing that is honest to the subject makes for a memorable reading.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

A good plot, believable characters, well described locations and no errors in the time it is set. I onece read a novel that was supposedly set in the UK in 1940 and the war was never mentioned.

message 4: by David (new)

David Lentz (wordsworthgreenwich) I have thought a great deal about this subject as a novelist. One approach to rating a novel is to apply key performance indicators against the writing within the novel.

1. Stylistic Invention
2. Craftsmanship
3. Point of View: Does the Narrative Voice Intrigue?
4. Characters: Round or Flat?
5. Do You Care What Happens to the Characters?
6. Do You Love or Hate the Protagonist?
7. Credible Dialogue
8. Settings: Sense of Place
9. Verisimilitude: Is It Real?
10. Depth of Scope – Macro or Micro
11. Immersion: Does the Novel Transport You?
12. Emotive Range: Comic Wit and/or Tragic Depth
13. Does the Novel Inspire You?
14. Originality: Is It Inventive?
15. Subject Matter Expertise: Does It Enlighten?
16. Literary Contribution: How Big a Book Is It?
17. Did the Writer Work Hard Enough?
18. Major Obstacles the Writer Overcame
19. Does the Novel Improve the English Language?
20. Does the Book Transform You?
21. Audience Reach
22. Literary Awards a Nice Plus
23. Assess the Total Literary Experience
24. Will the Novel Be Read by the Next Generations?
25. Do You Wish You Had Written This Book?

message 5: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
Such a great list, David. I like the last two. Great input from everyone so far. Credible dialogue is so important. Some of your points touch on this, but a superior command of the English language, or whatever language the author writes, is important for works that last. Keen insight and observation of people matters, too. It's also the turn of a word, events, thoughts -- a whole approach to a story. It's hard to describe good writing! We all know it when we see it, though.

No. 17, about the writer working hard enough. Can we ever know that? We don't know how familiar the author may be with the book subject.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Excellent list, David.

message 7: by Magda (new)

Magda Allani | 14 comments Honesty in writing is absolutely crucial, but what sort of honesty? There is a vast, mysterious gulf between the writer's intellectual and emotional viewpoints, and it is from this gulf that the magical and haunting qualities of writing - both fiction and non-fiction - are to be plucked.
In many ways, we live in a dogmatic age - scientific reason, political correctness, etc - and many of the big names of contemporary literature are too anxious not to fall foul of the latest dogmas and to maintain 'intellectual' integrity. Perhaps because of this, one arrives at the end of many a good book only to find a conclusion that is non-committal. That type of ending makes this author feel she has wasted her time. I want to finish a book with the feeling that I have benefited from the author's unique experiences and viewpoints and shared his prejudices and personal preferences rather than witnessed his intellectual prowess.
Perhaps this is just a rambling way of saying that whilst mastering all the skill mentioned in the list above, authors should always WRITE FROM THE HEART!

message 8: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Dunn | 6 comments Bad writing takes you right out of the story because you go back to reread that last line and wonder how it ever got past an editor. Great writing can sometimes do the same thing. You go back to reread a particularly beautiful line, which also jars you out of the story.

Parhaps the best writing is writing you do not notice.

message 9: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
Food for thought, Kate. I enjoy great writing, and you're right, you do notice it, but that doesn't spoil anything for me. I find bad and cliched writing distracting. There's truth in what you say.

message 10: by Lena (new)

Lena | 47 comments I like to be jarred out of a story by great writing. The author needs to find some balance, though, so you're not taken out too many times. But I for one love to come across a line that's so wonderful I have to sit there a minute and roll it around in my head and really enjoy it.

I like David's list, and this is covered in some of his points, but something that makes writing good for me is sentence structure and variety. I sometimes find books where every sentence starts the same way, or ends with the same type of clause. Maybe it's just me, but it distracts me so much I can't remember what I'm reading about!

Also, I think that if a plot is engaging enough, most people don't notice the writing. But I don't think that means the writing is good. Just my opinion, though!

message 11: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Different writing is good for different reasons. What can be bad in one writer's hands can be great in another's. I mean, (and maybe SK is a poor choice as a lot of people write him off because he is verbose and commercial, but I think he manages to write interesting stories with characters you invest in) what if Stephen King punctuated like Cormac McCarthy? People would assume he had too many painkillers left over from his traffic accident. On McCarthy, it works. (Which isn't to say that McCarthy's charm is in his punctuation, but rather to say that he will sacrifice rules to style.)

I guess what makes writing good, is for the author to have a clear intention, whether that intention is to craft a story arc, or breath life into a fictional construct of turn poetry into prose, and maximize their literary strength while minimizing their weaknesses.

I guess it's like anything.

message 12: by Bette (new)

Bette | 29 comments My opinion regarding 'what makes writing good' is great dialogue. I want the dialogue to be so specific to the character that I can "see" them as I read. I think some of the best dialogue was written in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. When the young lad meets the policeman, the cop only has a few words, but they are so "right" that I immediately had an clear image of the cop.
Other good writing for me is wonderful description - such as the paragraph or two about the different kinds of snow that one finds in The Shipping News.
Another pleasure is the 'writing voice' of the author. Robert Waller writes with a musical rhythm - of course, he's a guitarist. It's a joy to read his prose because of the cadence.
I also like books that are well crafted...where the story unfolds somewhat magically although I can't think of a favourite example at the moment. Maybe The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt.
I'm sure there are many other reasons that make writing good, and I expect, within reason, it is a matter of personal taste.

message 13: by Bill (new)

Bill (kernos) | 54 comments David wrote: "I have thought a great deal about this subject as a novelist. One approach to rating a novel is to apply key performance indicators against the writing within the novel.

1. Stylistic Invention

That's way too complex and time consuming for me. The simplest criteria I use is how badly I want to re-read a given work. I view it like pornography, hard to define, but easy to recognize.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

I think the author has to be passionate about their book. Too many prolific writers write wonderful books to begin with, but then fade away into insipid writing with limp or melodramatic characters and silly situations.

message 15: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
Bette wrote: "My opinion regarding 'what makes writing good' is great dialogue."

This is important in a book, in my opinion. I've read books that were great stories but lacked much dialog, often because the author is a journalist. Dialog makes characters and situations come alive for the reader.

message 16: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
What about books like The Hunger Games series? The story is so compelling for many that it's hard to put down, and yet the writing isn't stellar at all. Maybe the book has wide appeal for just that reason. In general, the story and the writing have to be above average for me to consider it exceptional.

message 17: by Thart2002 (new)

Thart2002 | 2 comments The Hunger Games story line went on a steady decline. The first book was interesting. I didn't know if I would be able to finish the third. There wasn't enough character development or story line to keep me interested. The author just kept writing about the same thing over and over and over again. Good writing to me is a a natural flow of words and sentences. Good character development with realistic dialog and a good plot. Hate books where the author has a child in the book and they have the kid saying things and doing things a kid that age wouldn't say or do. Actually, when I think about it kids must be one of the major challenges authors face because a lot of them don't portray kids realistically.

message 18: by Grace (new)

Grace (gracecorley) Sometimes I think I have read a really good book and I forget about it soon and realize it was little better than trash. Other times I am forced to read a book for school and hate it but several years later find myself thinking what a good book that was. So what really makes a book stick with you? For me there are three things:
1. The author needs to RESPECT the English language. That means using the language artistically, properly, and using a wide vocabulary. Too many authors these days are an insult to the English language.
2. Originality and creativity-with characters, plot, everything. I hate cliches. And it seems that too often, when I read books by different authors, I'm reading about the same characters.
3. Themes. Good books explore deeply the complexities of the human nature and other such intellectual meanderings.

message 19: by Kato (new)

Kato | 18 comments David wrote: "I have thought a great deal about this subject as a novelist. "

That is a superb list. Very thoughtful. In some way I feel like you've saved me a lot of work. Not that I would likely have come up with all of the criteria you mention.

And they've got me thinking.

14. Originality: Is It Inventive?
Some authors can go overboard on this and wind up sabotaging
21. Audience Reach

Then there's 19. Does the Novel Improve the English Language?
I think I understand where you're coming from. When considering the works of, say, James Kelman you're going to get a lot of debate. Some would say he debases language by writing in dialect and others would say it is genius.

Then there are those books written in languages other than English.
One author I am particularly fond of has had two different translators. One translator is amazing and the other is practically unreadable. It's a tricky thing.

Though not a writer myself, it probably still comes down to
25. Do You Wish You Had Written This Book?

Again: stellar list.

message 20: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (goodreadscomstellabella) | 22 comments I suppose to explain whether or not something is well written is to explain your reaction to it. I have read many wonderfully plotted novels, stories that resonate for ages afterwards because of the dialogue or the unexpected twists the authors drop on you...but...two writers (and many poets) I have read recently have done more than this. I was sitting out under a big old ironbark tree reading Murakami's The Wind up Bird Chronicle one summer's day last year and suddenly I looked up from the pages and the world took on this sharpened vivid clarity. It was like reading Murakami's words made the world seem more vivid, more alive, more real. The plot of the book was forgettable...but the way he described even the tiniest moments made me more aware. Wallace Stegner also seems to have this affect on me. His prose is much more beautiful than Murakami's and his plots more interesting..but...his style of writing is similiar. Of course this is a very personal reaction to literature and because I love poetry and nature, these books appealed more powerfully. But in essence any book that stops you in your tracks, colours the world around you, pulls you into another reality or awareness...is surely well written.

message 21: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
I like Wallace Stegner, too, Lisa. He wrote so beautifully, it almost didn't matter what the story was about.

When you rate a book after reading it, what do you look for? Or what do you compare it against? Do you consider the story itself, the level of writing? Do you compare it to books in the same genre or to all books you've read?

message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa (goodreadscomstellabella) | 22 comments Sharon wrote: "I like Wallace Stegner, too, Lisa. He wrote so beautifully, it almost didn't matter what the story was about.

When you rate a book after reading it, what do you look for? Or what do you comp..."

All very good questions, Sharon. I have read a lot of books and I am fairly specific in the types of genres I keep coming back to, so I have many to compare each new read with. It's the prose I am drawn to at first - even if the plot is excellent, the concept really clever..I won't persist if the prose doesn't (I hate this word...) resonate with me. Once I have read the book my response to it is surprisingly simple - I don't consciously compare it to other books but because I have read so much I have all those books in my subconscious and I suppose I have the freedom to just react emotionally to the prose, the imagery and the characters without really pondering at length on them. It's a gut thing, as they say. It's like art - I have painted and drawn for years so I don't have to labour over technique any more I just know when something is working.

message 23: by Sharon (new)

Sharon (sharonstar) | 63 comments Mod
Thanks Lisa. I paint, too, and understand perfectly what you say here.

We'd like to hear how everyone else rates books as well.

message 24: by Emma (new)

Emma Good writing is writing that is so good yet nuanced that it seems effortless.

message 25: by Vane (new)

Vane (avecesviajo) I think I will keep this two from Davi's list:
11. Immersion: Does the Novel Transport You?
24. Will the Novel Be Read by the Next Generations?

From my point of view, a fun story maybe nice to read, but I prefer having a book that left me something a bit more deep, a lesson or something more than just the fun.

back to top