Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What Makes A "Good" Writer?

Ask anyone who reads about a particular writer, and you’ll usually get an assessment of “He’s good” or “He stinks.”  That got me wondering what makes a good writer.

I’ll start with my usual stipulation that reading tastes are subjective.  That said, it’s a lot easier to identify a bad writer than it is a good one.  However, there are things I identify with a writer being “good,” so I thought I’d share them:

1.  Character depth – a good writer creates characters that are more than an inch deep.  Further, these characters are all distinct.  I’ve read a number of books where the characters are usually just the same person with a different name.  I look for characters that have different personalities, wear different things, and have different interests.  And when you probe them, they aren’t caricatures.

2.  Lack of adverbs and adjectives – using lots of adverbs and adjectives can get annoying.  Don’t say someone runs very quickly – say they sprint.  Instead of saying a woman has a beautiful face, say her face glows with radiance.  Overuse of adverbs and adjectives show an insecurity with whether the audience will get what you want to say, as well as a limited vocabulary.

3.  More than rote description – don’t tell me that the main character is “five foot nine, 170 pounds, with blond hair and broad shoulders.”  I might as well be reading a police report(and we all know how exciting those things can be).  Instead tell me that he’s “tall as a cactus, with golden hair and a broad barreled chest.”  Don’t tell me that the assistant “has a limp.”  Tell me that he “lumbers his way across the dirt covered floor, creating new trails with his approach.”

4.  The plot makes me want to turn the page – lots of writers have a simple good guy/bad guy formula.  Good writers add depth.  They make it hard to see around the corner, but we’re all clamoring to get there.  For example, in Harry Potter, yes, Voldemort was the bad guy, but did any of us envision Snape killing Dumbledore?  And once he did, did we ever envision him being asked to, and doing so out of love for Harry?  We want to be kept guessing.

5.  Few to no grammar and spelling mistakes – yes, a copyeditor should catch this, but I’ve read books – admittedly, most in the indie model – that are rife with mistakes.  We all make mistakes, especially in a first draft, but for the love of God, fix them before you publish whatever you’re working on.  If spelling and grammatical mistakes are catching my eye, I’m not enjoying the story.

Even with this list, it’s still subjective.  Things like story originality, character interaction, and breaking down chapters are all important, but this should be the baseline we can all agree on.  Yet it’s still easier to figure out “bad” than to find “good.”

No comments:

Post a Comment