Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, writing-related question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.
QUESTION: What do you think makes good writing? Where have you found it recently? Please share a link if you can. This can be for fiction or non-fiction.
Wendy Thomas: Good writing is when you don’t notice the writing. Seriously, I have read so many books and pieces that inadvertently but constantly remind me I’m reading. There’s repetition, poor editing, wrong use of words – *sigh*, shall I go on? A perfect example is the Twilight series, the writing was so poor that I started to pay more attention to that than to the story (now is where I tell you I stalled around page 100 of “Grey” for the very same reason.)
Good writing is invisible. It flows seamlessly. One way to judge if something is written well is how you remember it. If you recall it as text – then it was a nice try. If you recall it as a story you “saw” while you were reading it? There you go, that’s an author with talent.
As far as examples? Check out some of the travel essays in cookbooks. A Well-Seasoned Appetite by Molly O’Neill and The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes come to mind. Not only do I “see” the landscape and adventures, but both of these authors have my mouth watering and me reaching for a glass of wine after finishing the chapter.
Diane MacKinnon: My definition of good writing (or good art) is that I’m still thinking about it weeks or months after I’ve read it (or seen it). And I don’t mean thinking about the typo’s or the fact that the woman standing face to face with the man could see the phoenix tattoo on his shoulder blade (“Wait. How could she see that? Does it wrap around to the front? Is she kind of off to the side?”), I mean that I’m still thinking about the story weeks or months later. Examples that come to mind are: Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb, and Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. I still think about these stories, and I read them years ago.
Lisa Jackson: When I can get lost in what I’m reading — fiction, non-fiction, poetry — and actually forget that I’m reading, that’s my definition. If a piece pulls me in so well that the world around me is tuned out, call me completely satisfied. I love and savor those moments, and may spend time lingering in the moments, but then I move on and hope for the same response to the next thing I read. There’s so much to explore and find and get lost in.
Julie Hennrikus: For me, good writing has three components. First, that I don’t notice it. Nothing jars me out of the story. Second, that the use of a word or a phrase makes me smile, or weep, or do something. And three, that I can’t stop. Craft combined with storytelling.
Deborah Lee Luskin: Good writing transports me into the world of the story, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. Two stand-out examples of good writing that I’ve recently read include Jeffrey Lent’s Lost Nation (fiction) and Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (non-fiction). And here’s T.S. Eliot’s description, from Little Gidding, the last of the Four Quartets:
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.
Susan Nye: I like to get lost in the characters’ live and stories. It is wonderful when the rhythm and flow of an author’s words somehow just seems to match the tale. I’m happiest when a book draws me in and I get wrapped up in the people and their stories. I loved Henry and his stories in Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and all of the women in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I also like to laugh and Nora Ephron’s essays do that for me.