So is being well-written subjective, or is it being confused with style and/or voice? Maybe style, voice, and how the book is written are just so intricately connect that they can’t be separated. Maybe, but maybe not.
I recently came across this post by ex-agent now author Nathan Bransford. He wrote this post in response to his blog readers questioning his claim that Fifty Shades of Grey is “not that badly written.” He talks in the blog post about how he defines good and bad writing.
“When I talk about "good" writing and "bad" writing, I mean the prose. Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level? Is there a flow? Is there a voice? Do I get tripped up by a lack of specificity in description or are the details evocative? Is the hand of the author too apparent or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book?”
I think this is the perfect definition of good writing. It really gets to the heart of what is important in writing, and it separates, as much as it can be separated, the very subjective style and voice from the writing itself. And I’m not entirely sure if my interpretation is correct, but this is my take on the points he makes and how they relate to good writing.
“Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level?”
I think clarity is the key here. The sentences need to be free of grammar mistakes, and they can’t be too convoluted or poorly constructed. The reader shouldn’t have to struggle to understand the sentences.
“Is there flow?”
It isn’t enough to have clearly written sentences, those sentences need to connect to each other. The ideas need to logically flow from one sentence to another, and then from paragraph to paragraph. In good writing everything is connected to what came before with smooth seamless transitions from idea to idea as the story progresses.
“Is there voice?”
Voice is kind of this nebulous thing that agents and editors seem to want but no one really understands. I know that voice is far more complex then I'm going to get into here (and Melanie gives a great definition of voice here), but I think an important aspect of voice is consistency. There needs to be a consistent style throughout the entire story that holds the writing together. It doesn't have to be a specific style. It just has to be consistent.
“Do I get tripped up in lack of specificity in description or are the detail provocative?”
I think this has to do with confident writing. Vivid details help the story and the world feel real, but I think there is more to it than that. I think there is a confidence that comes from writing that is very specific, and that confidence in the prose makes us readers more willing to trust that the writer knows what he/she is doing.
“Is the hand of the author too apparent, or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book.”
I think this is the most important aspects of good writing. Good writing shouldn’t get in the way of the story. It shouldn’t be awkward or repetitive in structure, ideas, or words, but it also shouldn’t stand out and steal the spotlight from the story. It should paint a scene, evoke emotion, and put images and ideas into the readers mind, but the words themselves should be invisible.
I think these things, clarity, flow, consistency, confidence, and invisibility is what makes up good writing. Honestly, I’ve never read a traditionally published book that I didn’t think was well-written on some level, even Twilight, The Da Vinci Code, and Harry Potter.
So what are your thoughts? What is good writing to you?