It’s easy to tell when you’re reading something that’s good or something that’s, well, not. But it’s not always so easy to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes one work stand out as being better than another. While there are definitely subjective elements when it comes to enjoying a written work, these five key elements of “good” writing transcend individual stories and styles.
If you want to separate your work from the rest, be sure that…
Have you ever read a few pages, or chapters even, of a novel and realised you don’t remember any characters and can’t picture the setting? That’s because the writing lacked specificity. Providing specific clues, often visual, allows your reader to envision what’s happening in the story, making it resonate on more than one level. Think about these two examples: “It was morning” versus “It was an unseasonably warm morning, and the sun’s rays bathed the attic floor.” The second example gives a far stronger sense of where the novel takes place and the morning itself is meant to be perceived. Otherwise, what’s the point of mentioning it at all?
Being specific doesn’t necessarily mean overloading on details. There must be a balance between specificity and simplicity. No author has better achieved this than Ernest Hemingway, who is as celebrated for his concise writing style as for his memorable characters and clearly defined worlds. Simplicity means not using three words when one would do, as opposed to avoiding descriptive phrases all together.
It Has a Point
Writing can be beautiful and elegant, but if it doesn’t have a point the impression left on the reader will be minimal. Think back to the written works that stand out most in your mind. Are you remembering specific turns of phrase or the feeling that you were left with? It’s the “point” of a work that leaves that feeling with a reader. Not everything you write needs to have a clear thesis and points to back it up, but a reader should be able to answer fairly quickly, and concisely, when asked what the story was about. Whether you are writing because you have a political theory to prove, an unrequited love to share or simply want to make someone laugh, you need to have a reason behind writing for it to make an impact.
It Remembers the Reader
You can’t please everyone with your writing, but you should still write with the reader in mind. This doesn’t mean altering your own voice or viewpoints to suit a specific audience, but it does ask you to be aware of the colloquialisms, abbreviations and other “lingo” you use. If you pepper your writing with too many in-jokes or local sayings, you will have trouble connecting with readers beyond your immediate friends and family.
It’s Well Edited
Writing can be specific, simple, focussed and accessible, but if it’s sloppy it will fail. Readers aren’t going to try and make sense of poor grammar, spelling mistakes and confusing punctuation to understand your story. There are a lot of other books out there, and if yours is too hard to read people just won’t bother. If you take only one piece of advice from our Writing Wednesdays, make it this: proofread, proofread, proofread!
What makes a piece of writing “good” to you?
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