There’s been quite a discussion lately on a readers listserv about good and bad writing — sparked by a discussion about Dan Brown, the mega-selling author who no one has ever called a good writer and some have said a lot worse about.
Everyone seems to agree that bad writing is easy to define:
- awkward phrasing
- vagueness and confusion
- flat, one-dimensional characters
- self-indulgent description and/or philosophizing
- hard-to-swallow events
Some readers think the ability to write an effective description is a trait of good writing. Yet other readers dislike and/or skip descriptions. Some say good writing is poetic, but many readers don’t like poetry and would prefer to read Louis L’Amour or Elmore Leonard. And what exactly is a “nice turn of phrase”? Could you get a handful of people to agree that a certain group of words was a nice turn of phrase?
After giving this much thought, I’ve come up with this vague, but functional description of good writing: Writing that does not draw attention to itself as writing, but pulls you along smoothly, eager to read more.
I know some of you can do better than that? What is good writing? Does it have a universal set of qualities? Can you name some?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the highly praised mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, and her new Detective Jackson story, Secrets to Die For, has just been released. Her third Jackson story, Thrilled to Death, will be published next summer. When not plotting murders, Sellers enjoys cycling, hanging out with her family, and editing fiction manuscripts. Contact her at: Write First, Clean Later.